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Titanic, Impact, April, ISHLT

Vincent G Valentine, MD
Links Editor

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vincent valentineAt a cost of $7.5 million to build and $4300 to sail across the ocean, capable of accommodating 2600 passengers and 885 crew members, she consumed 825 tons of coal a day. Just over 260 meters long and weighing in at over 42 million kilograms or 46,328 tons with engines generating 59,000 horsepower, colliding with an iceberg at a speed of 21 knots she delivered over 1 million foot-tons of energy that shredded her iron and steel shell like tissue paper at the point of impact.

Travel 100 years ago by open sea was the primary means of transoceanic travel across the Atlantic and actually occurred thousands of times by boat in the early 1900s. A capacious passenger liner, the RMS Titanic was considered by the writer and seaman Joseph Conrad to be the "marine Ritz" - the London Hotel. Instead of "state-of-the-art," she was "state of the market."

The excitement and result of the great progress in the early 1900s featured a trio of ocean liners built by Harland and Wolff for the White Star Line. A "stunning promise" for greater things to come was steering the course of travel. Today the sinking of this luxurious and technological marvel does not rattle our bones or brains like the recent tragedy of 9/11 that shook us to our core. However, both ill-fated events similarly represented technological and economic achievements impacting many lives 100 years ago and today.

Not much different than the Twin Towers, Titanic was believed to be impervious to nature and man. A cycle of promise and dejection emerged, however, as accurately explained by Conrad who wrote that Titanic was a "real tragedy of the fatuous drowning of all people who in their last moments put their trust in mere bigness." music note

Other technology with the progress of Titanic included the wireless Marconi telegraph, but with this progress came hubris and problems creating confusion and rumors about the tragedy. Blame emerged and included the ship—no longer considered a manmade object of iron and steel, but as something animate. Terms like "monster" and "leviathan" were used to describe her, as if the Titanic "had a soul with destructive tendencies." music note

But when all is said and done the impact of such an event on 4/15/1912 can be summed up by Conrad—berating the "bloodless departments" that had determined the number of lifeboats with regulations 16 years out of date. A final impact still reverberates from George Orwell with shock waves lingering through WWI. "... Of all lists of horrors ... the one that most impressed me was that, at the last, the Titanic suddenly up-ended and sank bow foremost, so that the people clinging to the stern were lifted no less than three hundred feet into the air before they plunged into the abyss." music note

Today by comparison—air travel to Prague from any point on the globe with a major airport is a snap, and there are no icebergs in the upper atmosphere. 100 years of technology converted nearly a weeklong (or more) transoceanic trip to under a day or less. Tremendous technological progress has allowed similar advances in surgery and medicine making heart and lung transplantation what it is today from scientific achievements beginning at the dawn of the 20th century following the great industrial revolution.

The evolution of transportation, telecommunication and transplantation along with significant tragedies has certainly had an impact. But maybe we should be more cautious with the use of the word impact, and instead use the noun effect, or the verb affect. Doesn't it seem that every event has a tremendous "impact" on our lives at some point—almost daily, but especially in April at our annual meeting? Who could forget the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in Iceland in 2010 and the impact it had on our Chicago meeting?

Maybe the repetitious use of this word is enough to shake your nerves or even rattle your brain given the fact that impact implies some collision. Multiple impacts can make our daily lives loud and dull and drive a man insane music note but, more importantly, weaken the importance of this word. In our choice of words from the English language, why insist on using a jack hammer when a putty knife will do?

Significant historical events are capable of hammering the word impact into our malleable brains, influencing or effecting our responses and behaviors into who we are today. This powerful word may lose its force from incessant, repetitious use. Every rank of society including the ISHLT wants to impact our malleable minds. Forget not the economist who drones on about fiscal impact and the lawyer who dwells on the legal impact; those pompous professors and public officials who lecture us on the social impact of "whatever"; the do-gooders who focus on a positive impact. In the past, we would mention something about the influence or effect of something, calmly and clearly. But today, brute force is demanded and perhaps expected by our society.

Great figures, accomplishments and tragedies in life have impacted many. Let's think about these for a moment as April and the word impact pound our skulls. You may have read about Wilmer McLean and his red brick house in Appomattox, Virginia, where Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865 to end the American Civil War. McLean had previously moved from his plantation in Manassas, Virginia, where the first battle took place. It is said that the Civil War started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. He moved his family to try to live out the war in peace. Did this impact his life? Did it impact ours?

What other April events may have had an impact? Let's rattle off a few:

Literary giants:

  • the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
  • Washington Irving (1783-1859) was born in New York City
  • French writer Emile Zola (1840-1902) was born in Paris
  • fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was born in Odense, Denmark
  • Mark Twain died April 1910
  • publisher Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) was born in Budapest, Hungary

US presidents:

  • George Washington took office in New York as the first President of the United States
  • 3rd President Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743
  • 5th President James Monroe was born in 1758
  • 16th President Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14 and died April 15, 1865
  • 32nd President Franklin D Roosevelt died April 12, 1945

Of note:

  • Italian inventor and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi was born on April 25, 1874
  • birth and death (on his 37th birthday) of Italian Renaissance artist Raphael (1483-1520)
  • American aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) was born in Millville, Indiana
  • Film comedian Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) was born in London
  • Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, died on April 12, 1912, at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland
  • On April 16, 1912, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel
  • Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was killed on April 28, 1945, and two days later, Hitler (born in April) and Eva Braun committed suicide on April 30, 1945
  • United States forces freed 32,000 prisoners from Dachau concentration camp in Germany on April 29, 1945
  • Winston Churchill was made honorary U.S. citizen April 19, 1963
  • Civil Rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.

Natural—and unnatural—disasters:

  • the great San Francisco earthquake and fire occurred on April 18, 1906
  • Worst nuclear accident occurred in Chernobyl April 26, 1986
  • Oklahoma City bombing of the federal building occurred on April 19, 1995

And of course, this April marks the centennial anniversary of Titanic's collision with a "blackberg" on April 15, 1912. What an impact! music note

Considering that in medicine, the only things really impacted are teeth and bowels, I wonder how many of us who are impacted by the abstracts, posters and presentations in April 2012, when all is settled, said and done, after reflection and our return home from Prague, will we need to be disimpacted?

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.