What Archibald Cochrane’s prison camp experience can teach us?

I am currently in the middle of a fascinated autobiography of Archibald Cochrane, a world-famous pioneer of evidence-based medicine. I first learned about him from Prof. Jonathan Sandler’s lecture at the 8th International Orthodontic Congress in London. 

Today Cochrane’s legacy is embodied by an international organisation which helps to conduct and disseminate systematic reviews. Cochrane Reviews are generally carried out to a very high standard and some of them are dedicated to orthodontic topics.

Before going to the area of medical research, Archibald Cochrane took part as a medical officer in both the Spanish Civil War and WWII. So far, I have learned a great deal about the Spanish conflict and was surprised by the author’s accurate and funny depictions of the Russians he got acquainted with just before the V day. 

However, I want to focus my attention on Cochrane’s first clinical trial which he carried out during his confinement at the Nazi’s prison camp in 1941. He later depicted that experience in a 1984 article with an elegant title “Sickness in Salonica: my first, worst, and most successful clinical trial”. Long story short, his clinical shrewdness saved the lives of many prisoners and ultimately – it saved his own mental well-being.

“August  in Salonica was perhaps the grimmest month in my life – so bad that I almost gave up. I managed to survive, chiefly, I think, because I had responsibility.” – writes Cochrane.

Just two years after being liberated from the camp, Cochrane would arrive to the USA where he received a fellowship and started his scientific career.

Reading this during a self-quarantine in Russia, I find the story especially uplifting. Sometimes we tend to overdramatise our current conditions and are getting very upset as a result. 

I think Cochrane’s story teaches us that the only way out from any turmoil is just doing your immediate work. Diligently and responsibly. 

As orthodontists, we are blessed with a beautiful craft in our hands. And even in the midst of an orthodontic holocaust perpetrated by DIY aligners companies and alike, we should be focused on what we can control – on delivering meaningful treatment to our patients.  

The darkest hour is before the dawn.

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