M*A*S*H is one of, if not the, most beloved TV shows of all-time, and no one from the show is more loved than Alan Alda. He’s starred in movies and shows for decades and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know his face, if not his name.
There are some things that Alda has kept out of the spotlight however, like the time he almost died.
The 81-year-old actor had won numerous awards before he retired from acting in 2015. In addition to countless roles, he’s also directed and written everything from plays to novels. While best known for playing Hawkeye Pierce on the iconic TV show M*A*S*H, (a show he also wrote and directed for) he’s memorable as other characters from movies and the small screen.
After he got away from the camera, Alda started to delve into a different career that would make his character from M*A*S*H happy. He started the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, a school where he also works as a part-time professor.
The goal of the center is to teach doctors and researchers how to properly communicate what they are doing to the public at large. Alda wants to make sure that scientists don’t forget about the people they’re trying to help.
His passion all stems from a terrifying incident in Chile 14 years ago – it’s where Alda learned the importance of communication from doctors.
Hear Alda’s terrifying story on the next page
While vacationing on a picturesque beach in the South American country Alda felt a “tingling” in his gut. After a few minutes the tingling became a searing pain.
“It was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life,” Alda said.
He called for help and the resort sent a medic to him at the beach, but the medic wasn’t able to ease the pain.
“I don’t think he had ever done anything medical in his entire life,” the always friendly Alda said. Luckily Alda would have better treatment in the small town of La Serena.
“Here in this little dingy hospital is this wonderful surgeon, and he knew immediately what was wrong.”
Alda said the doctor explained exactly what was going on, what would happen, and what he was going to do to fix the problem. It was the way the doctor communicated with him that made Alda feel better.
“I wasn’t scared…in a few hours I was going to be dead along with my intestine. As they put the mask on me I thought ‘This might be the last time I’m awake’ but I wasn’t frightened.”
Here, miles away from the renowned doctors and hospitals of America, Alda received the best medical treatment he had ever had. His life was saved, and changed, by a doctor in a small Chilean town.
Having spent a good part of his life playing a doctor, Alda was shown just how important bedside manner was to medicine. Now he’s teaching the lesson to the doctors and scientists of the future.
Alda gave an address to graduates of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, he told the gathering that they should be the “type of doctors who care about the patients and not the disease.”
A good lesson, even if Alda had to learn it the hard way.