Bernard Denis is a doctor and cardiologist, and was Head of the department of cardiology at the Hôpital A. Michallon in Grenoble. Now retired, he enjoys writing short stories in English. Grenoble Life invited him to submit this one, ‘My Oldest Patient’.
My Oldest Patient – a character that all people living in the Dauphiné should know
by Denis Bernard
During my professional life (as head of the Department of Cardiology, Michallon Hospital) I had the opportunity to be consulted about a famous character. I won’t tell you yet who he is. It’s not a question of medical secrecy, but I prefer to give clues which will allow the reader to discover, through anecdotes, the personality and therefore the name of this character.
He was born in 1543, in a region not far from Gap: Le Champsaur.
He grew up in a Protestant family and became a remarkable warrior.
He was very skilful, wise, courageous, and he won a lot of battles.
He was cunning and that’s why he was called “the fox of the mountains”.
He became one of the richest citizens of Le Dauphiné and maybe even of France.
He was very generous and devoted to his province.
Often he acted as though he was the King of the Dauphiné – an illustration of his ambition.
He also built the well-known Chateau de Vizille. On this subject, an awful event shows how this character was sometime jealous and cynical. In Vizille there was an old castle named le Chateau du Roi and our character couldn’t stand this kind of competition.
One day he organised a huge party in his castle. All the inhabitants of Vizille were invited, especially the noble family living in le Chateau du Roi.
The party was magnificent. After sunset, the crowd was invited to go up to the balconies of the castle and admire a special firework display. On the skyline everybody could see the awful spectacle of the le Chateau du Roi disappearing in flames.
He had young and pretty mistress, Marie Vignon, whom he married, after the death of his wife. He still looked handsome but he was old for this time (in his sixties).
The wedding was simple – the celebration took place in the chapel of le Chateau du Touvet. After the marriage ceremony, a light lunch gathered all the friends of the couple in a large room on the first floor of the castle. The wine helping, everybody was happy and joyful. Unfortunately, in spite of the noise, our character heard somebody joking about the difference in age between him and his wife. Immediately very angry, he shouted, “If I catch the person who is joking about my wife and me, I’ll throw him through the window,” and a ripple ran over the audience: everybody knew that the groom was able to do what he had said.
The last clues: in Grenoble there is a street named after him, and the Jardin de ville is located just before a big house which was also his castle (now Maison de l’international).
I think it’s easy to find the name of this character. Do you give up?
His name is François de Bonne, Duc de Lesdiguieres, Connétable de France.
Lesdiguière was 83 years old when he died. In the seventeen century the life expectancy in France was about 45 years. Now in 2009 the life expectancy of the men in France is about 77 years.
Lesdiguières took care of Le Dauphiné with great success, he resisted a very dangerous illness and his life was uncommonly long. In spite of his many flaws, everybody in Le Dauphiné is proud of this character
And now, how did he become one of my “patients”?
In 1988, I received a letter from René Raymond, author of the book L’Insolite et Images fortes du passé. He needed the help of a cardiologist in view to give him a diagnosis based on the Lesdiguières autopsy report.
The Connétable died on September 28th 1626 in Valence. After his death the body had to be embalmed but first an autopsy was carried out. A Capucin monk named Father Benoît de Montbrison wrote a report and here is a translation of a part of this report. (Don’t be afraid, it’s not frightful!).
“At the opening of the body we found that the noble parts were sound, we only noticed that the lung was a little dry and adhering to the ribs … But the most admirable thing was something that nobody – among the five doctors, some surgeons and apothecaries who were here present – had ever observed before, nor read, nor heard. It was that his heart, which was physically small (as is said about the heart of Alexandre the Great, and was observed about the heart of King Henri IV, le Grand), was crowned by a crown of small bones and cartilage. These things myself and my reliable comrade have touched and fingered, testimony of the truth of the grandeur he should attain”.
In spite of lack of details, it was not very difficult to give a diagnosis with a high degree of reliability.
As a matter of fact, the pulmonary lesion with adherence to the ribs and the very specific heart abnormalities allow us to diagnose the consequences of tuberculosis, which occurred probably during the youth of the patient.
This disease healed up spontaneously, with no clinical symptom of pulmonary or cardiac disease during his life. (The death of the patient was probably due to a disease without any evident link with the previous tuberculosis).
This history of tuberculosis makes this case so particular because in this period, and until 1945, tuberculosis was most often rapidly fatal.
Before sending René Raymond my answer, I thought I had better get the approval of my medical team.
In my department, there is a weekly meeting gathering all the doctors, surgeons, residents, trainees and students. Many difficult or odd cases are shown and opened for discussion.
Then, just before the end of the weekly meeting, I took the opportunity to read the autopsy report of the Connétable de Lesdiguières, as though it concerned one of my patients who died few days ago; but of course, without giving his name.
After an animated discussion, my diagnosis was approved unanimously.
And, when I said that the name of my patient was Lesdiguières, my respectful colleagues congratulated me on having among my patients such a famous old character.
But, through a light murmur in the room, I heard a student tell his friends, “If he took care of this patient throughout his life, I suppose he is the oldest teacher I have ever met”.
Fortunately I don’t look like the Connétable, and we were in a meeting room without windows!
After a short silence, everybody burst out laughing, the ice was broken and the meeting ended amicably, as always.