Robert Bárány: observe and demostrate
Robert Bárány was born in 1876 into a wealthy family in Vienna, Austria. Maybe having been born in a relatively well-positioned family was crucial for the tuberculosis he suffered in his childhood did not end his life, as it did with almost 80% of children who had it at that time in Austria.
But if we look at the epic, we will say that this was the first sign of his verve and determination to overcome the difficulties. What there is no doubt is that this disease, and the aftermath he experienced in the form of ankylosis in one knee, failed to make him complex.
Robert was a brilliant young man in school and in college, where he graduated in Medicine in 1900 with the best honors.
After that period, he began a training itinerary that took him through several hospital centers in Germany learning about internal medicine, psychiatry and neurology. It is a historical fact that he attended lectures given by Sigmund Freud.
However, as it has happened so many times throughout History, there are people who know “see beyond” and turn challenges into opportunities. That happened when Robert Bárány met Gustav Alexander during his surgical training in Vienna. They became friends and Gustav encouraged him to be part of one of the most important otological schools in history: Adam Politzer’s ear clinic in Vienna. That was the opportunity.
Observe. And understand. Those were two constants in the life of Robert Bárány. Observe how some patients who cleaned their ears became dizzy and understood that this was caused by endolymphatic currents in one or another direction depending on the temperature of the water. Theorize about observation and get to demonstrate it.
In a school with the characteristics of the otological school in Vienna, full of brilliant doctors, it is easy to assume that the conversations about the findings made in patients should be exciting. The number of brilliant ideas must have been countless. That is why we can understand the conflicts that occurred over the authorship of some of the most important findings in the history of Otoneurology.
In a weak and undetermined person, those accusations could have caused irreparable damage. But not in Robert Bárány. Between his determination and his irony he knew how to overcome those great problems that came to the questioning of his Nobel Prize.
That determination to which we alluded constantly was what led Bárány not to hesitate about helping his country in the First World War. Leave everything to become a surgeon in a hospital in Przemysl, on the Russian border, where he was captured by the Russians in 1915 and taken prisoner to Merv, in Turkmenistan.
Something that gives us an idea of the character of our protagonist is his comment about his time attending war-wounded in Przemysl: “one of the happiest periods of my life”. He did not leave his innovative and brilliant spirit in Vienna, he took it to war.
Prisoner in Turkmenistan (where he had developed malaria), Robert received the news of the awarding of the Nobel Prize.
Thanks to the intercession of the King of Sweden he could be released and go to receive his Nobel Prize.
The problems about his credibility, which had not been solved in Vienna, could have a definite influence on Robert Bárány, accepting the proposal of the University of Upsala to become a professor of that institution. Another opportunity.
Although from the melancholy and sadness of not being close to his home, his country, his people, Bárány and his wife settled permanently in Sweden, where he continued inexhaustibly with his scientific work and from where he could go to many countries to impart their knowledge and be in contact with other brilliant minds, such as Santiago Ramon y Cajal. He took advantage of his trips to explore knowledge, never being too interested in the rest of the arts. And although some of these trips, such as the one he made to the United States, served to be medically evaluated, his reference in this regard was still in Austria. His beloved Austria.
He knew how to see and recognize talent. As the wise do. And support it. That he did with Rafael Lorente de Nó, who ended up being a friend after being a disciple.
But that is another story.
ANGEL BATUECAS-CALETRIO MD, PHD
JUAN MANUEL ESPINOSA SÁNCHEZ MD
History Comitee for the XXXI Barany Society meeting