The Cheerful Oncologist

Des Moines, Iowa, 1961 – Martin Polzhappel, a 25 year-old carpenter, visits his family doctor for yet another bronchial infection. Instead of giving him the usual intramuscular injection of lincomycin, today the doctor decides to try a new oral antibiotic called ampicillin. Mr. Polzhappel is only too happy to avoid subjecting his buttocks to the not-so-tender mercies of the Hermann Göring look-alike masquerading as the good doctor’s office nurse.

Our patient takes his prescription to the Katz Drug Store located on Euclid and 2nd Avenue, now considered by historians to be the site of one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine. True, it was here that the first prescription for the invaluable drug ampicillin was filled, but that is not why we remember this date, nor this place. The legacy of the Katz Drug Store revolves around a Mr. Leonard Kirkendall, who was filling in for one of the pharmacists that afternoon. This tenacious American, considered a hero to pharmacists everywhere, worked throughout the night and for most of the next day, taking no breaks (other than to drive home once to feed his pet goldfish) until he cried out “I’ve got it!” By then a large crowd had gathered, and those who remember that day say the cheers could be heard as far away as the Hi-Ho Grill. What was Mr. Kirkendall’s achievement?

I’m sure you guessed it by now – he was the first pharmacist to successfully decipher a doctor’s handwriting. Here is another example of his work, taken from the Museum of Pharmacological Oddities in East Lansing, Michigan.


According to the accompanying notes, the legendary Mr. Kirkendall translated this prescription as “Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna man you should have seen the kick in Edgar Allan Poe I am the eggman they are the eggmen I am the walrus goo goo g’joob goo goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob goo goo goo g’joob goo goo.” We are still paying homage to his genius.


  1. #1 emmy
    October 10, 2007

    …and Dr. Pepper’s band played on….

  2. #2 dr_clairebear
    March 11, 2008

    that translation was hilarious.

    before i went into residency, i used to wonder why people made such a big deal about doctors’ handwriting. having been the product of a private school with cursive writing lessons, i have very legible, neat, but small handwriting. or at least i HAD it. due to the sheer bulk of charting and prescribing in one day, my handwriting went to hell really fast.

    now i understand why doctors’ handwriting is so hard to understand.

    nonetheless, it doesn’t make it easier for us to read our co-resident’s endorsement notes to know why his handwriting is so horrible!

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