Photo query answered; medical question raised

President John F. Kennedy (middle) invited the South Carolina newspaper publishers to the White House in 1963.

A reader, Gene Atkinson, DMD, of Orangeburg, sends along a most interesting historical artifact, pictured above:

“I am attaching a significant picture in SC journalism,” he writes.

“In 1963, President Kennedy invited the publishers of all of South Carolina’s newspapers to the White House for a reception, lunch and discussions. This picture is from that luncheon. As an Orangeburg historian, the widow of our longtime local publisher of The Times and Democrat, Dean Livingston, let me have this picture to scan.

“In the White House picture, Dean Livingston is on the left with his hand on his chin. Next to him is Mrs. Annie King, longtime publisher of The Aiken Standard and Review. Her husband was a distant relative of mine.

“Regarding Dean Livingston, he and your father were very good friends and would sometimes travel together to national press conventions. When your father died, I gave Dean the editorial extolling your father that was in The Post and Courier.

“If you can recall who your publisher was in 1963 and identify him, that would be helpful.”

I certainly can and thank you, Dr. Atkinson. His name was Peter Manigault and, although it might be hard to discern, he is pictured third down from the president’s left on the same side of the table.

***

In the age of public awareness about head injuries, concussions, post-concussive syndromes, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and so forth, I wish someone would explain to me how woodpeckers manage to avoid all that and not end up hopelessly and permanently punch drunk.

We have an interesting assortment of fowl in our neighborhood, among which is a small woodpecker (a downy, I believe), which most mornings this time of year finds his (or her) way to the top of a telephone pole outside our bedroom and just hammers away. This has been going on for several consecutive springs. It’s impossible for me to say if it’s the same bird, but all we ever see is one bird, whose appearance doesn’t change, who visits for a brief period of time during the morning hours and during the same season and then goes away.

So it’s tempting to conclude that it’s a familiar friend on a repetitive migratory pattern year after year, but I can’t say that for certain. What I can say is that he’s an absolute delight, with his remarkably loud staccato drumming that’s way out of proportion volume-wise to what might be expected from such a small creature.

In fact, with the neighboring walls and houses, it’s almost like experiencing Sensurround. People walking by will hear this gigantic rat-a-tat-tat, stop dead in their tracks, look around, and yet don’t see anything. And then it happens again, sounding like a jack hammer (slight exaggeration). By this time people are spinning on their toes, looking every which way, shielding their eyes, craning their necks. The sound bounces around so that it’s hard to tell where it’s coming from.

“He’s up there,” I’ll point out, en route to the car, coffee cup in hand.

“Where? Oh, you’re kidding. He’s so cute! Is he yours?”

“No, not really. Actually the neighborhood guineas are in charge of the woodpeckers.”

(Blank stare.)

And then they’ll do a double take, look back up at the top of the pole, and see this tiny bird clutching and hopping around, pausing intermittently to unleash a torrent of microdestruction on parts of the aging wood. One can almost feel the sound and vibration extending throughout the pole, which functions not only as a food source but also as amplifier.

Our friend will probably be around here and there for another week or two and then flit away to wherever until early next spring, only to return again, right on cue — with all faculties intact, despite sustaining what amounts to thousands of medium-impact blows to the head as the number of pecks adds up.

I don’t get it. Whoever can solve the mystery of how woodpeckers escape CTE should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine — assuming there might be a type of human application that would extend beyond routine use of headgear.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.