The Box of Slides
It was a big, dusty cardboard box and it sat along a corridor outside the departmental offices where I did my fellowship. The faculty members in my department were preparing to move to new offices. Boxes, files, and cabinets all sat in haphazard piles waiting to be moved or pitched. Among the items waiting to be sorted was this box, filled to the brim and labeled “SLIDES.” It, too, awaited its fate.
I lifted the flap and peered inside. My eyes widened as I saw a potential treasure trove of old slides, carousels, and movies. The slides had clearly been tossed in the box in no particular order. Some of the cardboard frames had fragments of old rubber bands stuck to their margins; others had deteriorated, partially releasing the slide film from their frames, but many of the images were still intact. The pictures ran from the mundane to the dramatic: small tumors, large tumors, extensive resections, major reconstructions, preoperative and postoperative pictures.
My curiosity aroused, I picked up a few of the loose slides and spent several minutes holding them up and letting the light from a nearby window shine through them. Some of the slides were labeled, but I did not recognize the handwriting.
“Whose slides are these?” I asked one of the nearby attending surgeons. “Some of these photos are amazing!”
He, too, dipped his hand into the box and shook his head in recognition. “These slides belonged to the former chairman. When he died suddenly a few years ago, someone apparently tossed all of his lectures and presentations into this box. I tried to go through them once, but could not. They aren’t of use to anyone anymore.”
What a thought! As surgeons, we sometimes gather images of patients for their records and for lectures, assemble them carefully, and keep them ready for presentations. Why wouldn’t these photos be of use?
I tried to imagine the process of putting them into some sort of order. I would have to go through the charts, record dates and treatments, sort and catalogue the images, and make some sense of the piles. For several minutes, I considered doing just that.
The one thing I would not have been able to retrieve, though, would be the stories that accompany each set of images. With no story, each picture would have lost some of its ability to reach beyond the screen to preserve and to teach.
Even still, I briefly debated setting the slides aside to consider spending some time with them. Maybe I could have made some sense of a few of them.
In the end, though, I decided that the stories and the teacher who had gathered the stories had been lost forever. I hesitated, closed the lid, and retreated down the corridor and back to work.
Posted 11:32 AM