Giants of Urology: A Movable Feast: Len, Ben and Friendships

By: Kevin R. Loughlin MD, MBA | Posted on: 05 Oct 2021

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris was a moveable feast.” These words by Ernest Hemingway, taken from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1950, are found on the title page of his memorable book, A Moveable Feast. What do these words have to do with urology? The recent death of Len Zinman caused me to reflect about this on many levels.

Len Zinman
Ben Gittes

If I may paraphrase Hemingway, if you were lucky enough to have trained in Boston as a young man (or woman, although there should have been many more of them) in the 1980s, then whatever you did in urology for the rest of your career, the Boston training stayed with you. When Ben Gittes returned to Boston from San Diego in the late 1970s, one of the first things he did was to establish a Saturday morning city-wide–really a region-wide–grand rounds. It was held in a large meeting room on the top floor of the Harvard Countway Medical Library and quickly became known as Countway Rounds. There were 3 cases presented each Saturday morning both by private practitioners and the residency programs in the region. All the visiting professors at the regional residency programs were invited to cap off their visits by presenting to the entire urological community at Countway, so it quickly became an intellectual resource for national as well as local talent.

In addition to these academic resources, what became a movable feast was to observe the weekly interchange between Len Zinman and Ben Gittes. Although they were 2 of the urological giants of the era, what has endured, for me, was their friendship and affection for each other.

Many academic urologists, given time, can prepare a good lecture; what separated Len and Ben was the spontaneity of their insights and analyses. Challenging diagnostic and management dilemmas would be presented, and either or both of them would rise and come to the quiddity of the case instantaneously. Beyond that, their interchanges, filled with anecdotes, would exhibit the underlying respect and fondness they had for each other.

Among the young residents who were lucky enough to live in that urological crucible that was Boston in the 1980s, as Hemingway did in the Paris of the 1920s, were Bill Bihrle and myself. Both of us were raised on Long Island with very similar backgrounds, starting with attendance at rival parochial high schools and finishing with surgical stints at Bellevue before coming to Boston for urological training. Len and Ben shared a friendship for almost 40 years, about the same time Bill and I have been friends. Whatever professional accomplishments Bill and I have achieved are due to Len and Ben and the other outstanding Boston faculty of the era. However, Len and Ben gave us something much more durable than simply urological knowledge. They demonstrated the value of lasting friendship going through our careers together. Paris for writers in the 1920s and Boston for urologists in the 1980s–both moveable feasts.