Aug 7, 2018

Dr. Prats Gets Written Up

Like many newspapers of the era in the U.S. and throughout the world, Camaguey’s daily El Camagueyano had a weekly Professionals Page noting the comings and goings of professionals like doctors, lawyers, architects, “serious” musicians and the like.  

Dr. Benito Prats Respall
Photo from the newspaper article
Earlier this year, Wilfredo Rodriguez, a Cuban architect and architecture historian, and friend of one of Mariana’s sisters, came across a newspaper clipping from El Camagueyano in Camaguey’s Provincial Library. It was undated but was probably published in the late 1940s with Benito H. Prats’ photo and it reads as follows.

Dr. Benito Prats Respall

WITH MERITED HIGH praise Dr. Benito Prats Respall arrives on this page, since by his own hard work he has reached a prominent and prestigious standing.

He graduated Baccalaureate from the Escuelas Pias here in Camaguey in 1938 ready for the next step in higher education.

Devoting himself to a calling of Doctor of Medicine, he enrolls at the National University in Havana and brilliantly performs his scientific aims, becoming one of the best students of his class.

Having graduated on December 21, 1944, and eager to master bigger and deeper studies in the medical specialty he has chosen for his career, he takes a course on Diseases of the Biliary Tract at the same university with the eminent professor Dr. Fernando Milanés.

He subsequently departs for New Orleans to continue the acquisition of knowledge with the noted professor Dr. McHardy, continuing to Philadelphia to study under the well known professor Dr. Henry L. Bockus at the Post Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Newspaper Clipping
Click on the image to enlarge
Returning to Cuba he opens an office for his practice in Camaguey, the city where he was born on April 25, 1918, successfully pursuing his specialty of Gastroenterology along with Internal Medicine. In a short time he has earned a select clientele, attributed to his unerring diagnoses in this delicate sector of the practice of medicine.

Dr. Prats is a member of the Cuban Gastroenterology Association and Specialty Consultant at the Brotherhood of Workers Maternity Clinic and with the League Against Cancer, responsibilities he zealously discharges.

He is also the founder in 1946 of the Gastroenterology Department at the Camaguey General Hospital, of which he continues as its director, having introduced all manner of progress.

He has presented a number of papers on significant studies of the digestive tract, which have advanced his professional and personal achievements that today supports his distinguished credentials.

Dr. McHardy has a clinic named after him at Louisiana State University medical school, and Dr. Bockus later founded the gastrointestinal department at the University of Pennsylvania. So he learned from the best.

Benito’s practice was at No. 53 Avellaneda Street in Camaguey in the home of his grandmother, Rufina Pereira. She and her adult granddaughter Bertha Respall lived there all alone in that big house and were thrilled to have him there every day. His large sunny consulting room off the main entrance included a fluoroscope, and in a tiny room out in the inner courtyard was an x-ray machine, the first in a private practice in Camaguey.  

A 1940's Fluoroscope in Use
The x-ray tube is behind the patient,
the glass screen with a fluorescent coating
shows a live image of internal organs or bone.
To operate the x-ray machine he would don a heavy lead vest.  One day his grandmother tried to lift it and found out how heavy it was. After that  whenever she saw him use the vest she would prepare him a glass of horchata (an almond milk-less milkshake) and take it into his consulting room. It was to renew his strength, she said.

Olive Oil and Lime
Early on in his practice he was known for his gall-bladder purges, a shot glass of olive oil and lime juice on an empty stomach, that he prescribed I don’t know for what malady. His nurse-receptionist would prepare it and he would say to his patient, “drink it down without stopping!” It was a regimen for a week or two and patients would stop in every other day for their chupito — their “shot.”

Dr. Chalon Rodriguez, his good friend and an urologist first in Camaguey and later in Falls Church, Virginia, would tell of his work at the Gastroenterology Department at Camaguey’s General Hospital. He was affectionately called “Benito Memorandum” by his colleagues because he would dash to the train station when he heard that a politician was traveling through town and would hand him a typewritten memo lobbying for funds for this or that piece of equipment for the hospital’s gastroenterology unit. His department became the best equipped of any hospital outside of the capital.

Horchata, Cuban Style
Blanch almonds in water until
their skins loosen. Discard skin.
Mash or grind to a fine paste.
Add equal amount of sugar by weight
and mix well. To serve, dilute with
equal part very cold water.
Americans today would probably prefer
a more diluted horchata, maybe
with twice as much water.
Dr. Prats had to shutter his practice when he emigrated to Maryland in 1965, leaving all his books, furniture and equipment with his grandmother. His niece, now a doctor in Madrid, and maybe ten years old when he left Camaguey, tells of the hours and hours she spent over the years at her great-grandmother’s house in his dusty consulting room poring over his books, kindling in her the desire to follow in her uncle’s medical footsteps. She would talk shop with him—long distance via mailed letters and the very occasional phone call—while she studied at the University of Havana and later as she practiced gynecology and general surgery in a number of Cuba’s hospitals.

On his arrival in Maryland, Benito interned at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda and obtained licenses as a general practitioner in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, practicing part-time while working for the D.C. government at Glen Dale Isolation Hospital in Maryland (Glen Dale was a D.C. hospital) and then for the federal government at the Veterans Administration. When he retired he continued to practice at the Free Clinic in Langley Park well into his eighties. And he never stopped studying the latest advances in medicine.

An excellent diagnostician, all his life he enjoyed figuring out what was wrong with people and how best to cure them. He loved to talk shop—but only if you brought it up first—even with non-doctors like you and me.