It was a family affair at the 20th annual William T. Sirridge, M.D., Medical Humanities Lectureship on March 13 at the School of Medicine. Mary Sirridge, Ph.D., spoke first, discussing her late father’s appreciation for the arts. Stephen Sirridge, Ph.D., then introduced his brother, Christopher Sirridge, M.D., ’78, as their mother, former Dean Marjorie S. Sirridge, M.D., sat in the audience.
Christopher, an oncologist and hematologist at an affiliated private practice of the University of Kansas Hospital, presented his lecture titled, “‘From the Heart of Hell, I Strike at Thee’: Reflections on Moby Dick,” which explored the prominent themes, symbolism and human issues in the novel and how they relate to the art of medicine. Sirridge said he was honored to be the featured speaker for his late father’s lectureship and mentioned storytelling as one of his father’s greatest talents. The first graduate of the School of Medicine’s combined, six-year program to also major in English, Sirridge shares his father’s appreciation of literature’s insights on humanity.
The 1991 School of Medicine Alumni Achievement Award winner said his father instilled in him the importance of listening to his patients and their stories.
“Listening is the greatest technique as a physician; let the patients tell their story,” Christopher said. “My dad used to say, ‘if you listen long enough, they will tell you what they have. If you listen longer, they will tell you what they need.”
Christopher mentioned the traditional literary themes of morality, man’s inhumanity to fellow man, loss of innocence, death and dying, failure, lack of forgiveness and unfiltered shame and how they are entrenched in Moby Dick. Christopher described his moment of loss of innocence in the beginning of his career. As a resident at the Cleveland Clinic, he was preparing to do a routine blood gas as a resident at the Cleveland Clinic, and as he pushed up the man’s sleeve, he saw the patient’s Auschwitz tattoo. The man instructed the young Dr. Sirridge to insert the needle into the “6.”
“This was a huge loss of innocence for me,” Christopher said. “Remember, your moments of loss of innocence and convert them to pillars of your character.”
Christopher went on to say that everyone is unique, and “we all have our own Moby Dick.” The whale symbolizes what is frightening and unknown.
Another message Christopher had for the audience was to “be tolerant and understand the uniqueness; let’s be dependent upon one another and celebrate uniqueness.”
Throughout the years, Christopher has remained invested in supporting the humanities not only at the SOM but also in the Kansas City area. His expansive medical career spans the military, academics and private practice. After graduating from the SOM, he completed an internal medicine residency program at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, followed by fellowships in oncology and hematology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Since 1984, Christopher has been active in the United States Army Medical Corps. He began as a captain in 1984, was promoted to a major in 1986 and then served on active duty as a lieutenant colonel from 1993-2000. Christopher has received many distinguished honors within the military, including three Meritorious Service Medals, four Army Commendation Medals and five Army Achievement Medals.
He has also had several academic appointments including the director of ambulatory services in the Oncology Clinic at Truman Medical Center-East, assistant professor of medicine of hematology and oncology at the SOM, and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Medical School and the University of Kansas School of Medicine.