Stories of Ordinary Medicine: Memories of Augeas Stables

That Jiřina Jedličková would become a doctor was probably written in her destiny. But as it happens, it came true in a different way than she or her parents had imagined. As a result of the post-war political and social developments, but also by coincidence - admittedly, no doubt fateful - it happened that instead of a doctorate in law, she spent her entire professional life as a doctor of medicine. Although her - in the perspective of the ruling communist regime - "wrong origin" was remembered until the revolutionary events of 1989, she developed into a renowned hematologist at the Third Internal Medicine Clinic of the St. Anne's University Hospital in Brno and a regional surgeon for hematology, and later, in the 1990s, the head of the local blood bank. Those close to her say that she is "unstoppable", which is also true of her narrative, in which she allows a number of minor characters to enter her life story, and manages to fill in even slight deviations from the main line with remarkable details. These aren't always pleasant memories, and so one can understand the "Unfortunately, I remember everything" uttered with a slight sigh in her voice. When it should be "Thank goodness." For if you read in monographs about someone that "as an experienced functionary, he contributed to the consolidation of the hospital with his positive attitudes," in the context of the harsh normalization of the time, such an assessment is only one side of the coin.

4 Apr 2024 Václav Tesař

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How do you remember your childhood? Your family comes from the Zábřež region, your grandfather Vilém Antonín Karger was a member of the Moravian Provincial Assembly for the Agrarian Party and also the mayor of the village of Lesnice...
...where he founded the gymnasium and the singing group Vlastislav, as my father, the last of five children, boys, was eventually called. My grandfather had a large farm and I loved going there as a child. I used to sit with the calves and sing to them, pick eggs from the hens... The Jeseníky Mountains, a very beautiful landscape, were already beginning in Lesnica, and my father liked to return there at least in the summer for holidays. My mother, on the other hand, was from a completely different background.

Were you born in Brno?
Yes. My dad was a lawyer, before the war he represented, among others, the well-known Neumark family of textile industrialists, Tomáš Bat'a and the Moragro agricultural company. He went through several trainee positions, from Zábřeh, through Uherské Hradiště, Prague or Slany, where he also met my mother. Mum's dad had apprenticed at the hardware store U Rotta, and as he had no successor, he offered to sell the business to my grandfather after his apprenticeship. And my grandfather did buy it. At that time it was something like Vichr in Brno, an important company. They were one of the first ones to have a car in Slany, they regularly went to Prague to see Voskovec and Werich performances... And my grandfather decided then that my mother had to speak German properly, so he put her in a boarding school in Decin for a year, and because the First Republic was enthusiastic about the French, he put her in a boarding school in Rouen. Thus, as a seventeen-year-old girl, my mother got to know Paris perfectly, where she met many cultural leaders of the then republic, including Bohuslav Martinů and his wife. In Prague she had a small apartment behind the theatre, where she went to all the possible performances, and in the meantime she learned to cook at the Hotel Paris... So she had such a cultural foundation and she and my father met in Slany, at tennis, and they got married. My mother got a huge dowry then, two million crowns!

That must have been huge money at the time!
You know it was! A two-storey villa in Brno, in today's Masaryk district, cost 175,000 at the time, so imagine that. But my mother's brother advised her to let the money sit for two years and then he would get that much again. But in two years Hitler was already here and a stop-state was in force, where you couldn't sell or buy anything. So before the war, they put the whole dowry into securities of the Homeland Defense Fund. The money was still valid after the war, but it could only be used to buy confiscated property from the Germans and Jews, which many Czechs also bought. However, my father said that he would never buy such confiscates because he did not want to heal on the misfortune of others. So when the currency reform came in '30, everything collapsed...

From protectorate to communism

How did your parents get to Brno before the war?
In Brno, on Svobody Square, in the house U Čtyř mamlasů, on the first floor, there was a large office of a doctor named Mačák. He was already an old man, he had tuberculosis, for which he went to Switzerland for two years for treatment. He wanted to leave his law office to someone reliable and chose my father. Dad grew professionally until he was representing all kinds of architects and so on. I had a babysitter, but I still remember that I went to a lot of business meetings with him because my parents had nowhere to put me...

How did you experience the war as a child in Brno?
We lived in a tenement house on Grohova Street and all the families stuck together during the war. We lived a kind of community life. But there was also one German family living there, an elderly childless couple with a grandmother, and we were all afraid of them. They didn't do anything to anybody, but they didn't do anything for anybody either. Then, when they were removed, we discovered that they had a cellar full of chocolates and other foodstuffs. They could have given us, the children, a plate or something, right... Daddy bought a telescope from them when they were removed, so that they could have a rifle... But there were more German families in the neighbourhood. There was another young German woman with a little boy, Horst, who lived on Grohova Street and she used to swear at Hitler... Then there was another family a short distance away who had a daughter, Hertha, whom my mother used to take to the theatre with her and later she used to take me in the pram. My father was devastated during the war that he couldn't go to Lesnica because my grandfather was already old. And this Hertha, through her father, who must have been a tradesman in the German party, got my father a pass so that he could go to Lesnica at least for the last six months before my grandfather died in his forty-third year. So we did not experience any hardships from the Germans during the war. Something else was the air raid in November 1944... A neighbor scolded my father that it was irresponsible of him to stay with a small child in Brno, so we moved to my uncle in Kunštát, where I lived the most beautiful part of my childhood until the end of the war.

Jiřina Jedličková with her dad in Beskydy mountains.

When the Communists took power after the war, if your dad was a lawyer, I guess their rise didn't just mean the loss of savings for you, right?
Well, no, my father became a member of the Bar Association after the war, before he was fired from the Bar in '40 and sent into production like so many other colleagues who didn't fit the bill. My parents had existential problems, they lost everything, I was a schoolgirl and now what about me. I couldn't go to high school because of my qualifications. The problem wasn't so much my father's profession, but the fact that my uncle had been Deputy Minister of the Interior (Jan) Černý in the past. I even listened to "how dare I even apply to a grammar school with such a background". Thanks to a lucky coincidence, I finally got into the Vesna medical school for girls, on Jaselska Street, where children with bad origins were accepted. The level was different from the gymnasium, but we had a class that stuck together a lot, because we were all from families affected by communism in some way. For example, me and another classmate - also the daughter of a lawyer - were not allowed to stay in Brno if we wanted to start working immediately after school...

You were not particularly attracted to working in healthcare since childhood, as many doctors are? Actually, you had no choice...
Absolutely not. If times were different, I wouldn't have gone to medical school because I would have run my dad's law firm and practiced law. But that wasn't an option back then. So it happened that my parents somehow arranged for me to go to dance classes with my friends from high school, which got me married, and that in turn led me to study medicine. The niece of a notary who had a bad walk after having polio, was also a bit overweight and had no dancers. Whereas I was a kind of enfant terrible and I had a lot of dancers. Among them was one Jura Fukal, who was a relative of the girl here and used to go to dance classes with her so that she would have someone to dance with, while he was already a fifth-year medical student. But one day Jura got angry and decided not to be an asshole anymore and took a friend to help him, who turned out to be my Vasek... (laughs)

So you found the love of your life and your destiny through dance classes that neither of you were actually supposed to go to in the first place...
Vasek was an athlete, a rugby player after the war. He was studying medicine, but he was ten years older than me, so when I graduated, he was already starting to practice. But I was not allowed to be employed in Brno, so they sent me to Jihlava and my friend somewhere in South Moravia. At that time, Vasek was starting in Hodonín, where a new hospital was being built, so we wanted to exchange, to be closer to him... By the way, the wife of the then chief of surgery, Mrs. Jiřina Drobná, was the sister of the famous opera singer Sonia Červená...

“Since my future husband was a doctor, I decided to study medicine too, so as not to be below his level.”

Jiřina Jedličková

Were you able to replace the placements?
No, you didn't. I, being otherwise well-mannered, when I left the personnel committee at the time, everyone froze as I was relieved , "Shit!" (laughs) Besides, I didn't enjoy the transfusion station I was assigned to at all. But at that time there was a threat that I might end up in Pacov, in the Pelhřimov region, which would have been completely absurd for a commute, so my parents got worried, and somehow they arranged for me to be admitted to the transfusion station in Třebíč.

What finally brought you to the Faculty of Medicine in Brno?
Because my future husband was a doctor, I decided to study medicine too, so that I would not be below his level. The chief physician from Trebic, MUDr. (Jan) Vacl, helped me to get a place in the hygiene department in Brno, thanks to which I could start taking a preparatory course for admission to medical school, and I got so attached to it that I didn't perceive right or left. After a year's course I passed the exam, but it was of no use to me because the Ministry of Health would not release me to study. The release was granted to a colleague who had not passed the exam for medical school at all... I therefore went to complain directly to the Ministry, where the head of the personnel department was so horrified by the courage of an 18-year-old girl that he finally sent me the release three days before the registration. (laughs) But after a year of study I got married and changed my name, so the main bullying from the communists was over for me.

Jiřina Jedličková in period photographs as a student (left photo from dance classes).

dentist out of necessity


Where did you go after your studies?
Imagine that you study for six years and then they tell you that you have to go to Ústí nad Labem or Ostrava. My husband, he had a good cadre profile. His father was a cooper in a brewery and as a social democrat after the war he fell in with the communists. And although he was not politically involved, he founded a cooperative of coopers in Modřice, so that suited the regime... My husband was an assistant at the second internal medicine department, I had a small son in my sixth year, my dad had some strokes and heart attacks, so in order to stay at least in the region, I signed up to retrain as a dentist, of which there were few. I didn't know much about it and was terrified of the drill, but I accepted to go to a dental clinic for a year. That's where I met the wonderful Professor (Josef) Svejda. I ended up in Slavkov u Brna, where I commuted every day, and from six in the morning on the way, I listened to women arguing on the bus about leadership positions. That was something awful! I did learn a little something there, though, and applied it in retirement a few years ago.

What do you mean?
When my husband was dying, he was on a biologic medication that had the side effect of disintegrating his upper jaw. Didn't that affect him?! So I went to the clinic with him all the time to extract the sequesters, and it was during the covid, so I remembered I was learning extractions, took the nail clippers, burned them, poured some cologne on them, and sovereignly pulled out one of the sequesters. (laughs)

How long did you stay in Slavkov?
Well, they tricked me then because they promised me that if I became a dentist, I could stay in Brno. Today you might think it's ridiculous, but at that time commuting to Slavkov was also difficult and many times I missed the bus and came home from work late in the evening by hitchhiking. When it snowed, it was often for life. Only once, when our bus crashed in the snow near Pindula, I vowed to quit. Besides, being in Slavkov with those colleagues who were always arguing was awful. In the end, I was in Slavkov for three years before I realized that the only way to get out of there was to give birth to a second child... I was only on maternity leave for three months, but because I was originally a lab technician, they put me in (Associate Professor Vilém) Hule's lab.

“I enjoyed haematology, looking into the microscope reminded me of art paintings.”

Jiřina Jedličková

Vilém Hule is considered the founder of Brno haematology. What was he like?
He used to work in Olomouc, where, by the way, many experts from Brno helped build medicine after the war. He was a very clever, a bit strange man who had his own problems. They never gave him a professorship because he was locked up. Some lab technician made a mistake in the blood bank, mixing up two bloods and the patient died as a result. Hule was on a business trip, so he had nothing to do with it, but in those days it wasn't the people who made the mistake who were punished - especially if they had some "background" - but the bosses. So they arrested Hule, even though everyone knew how extremely clever he was as a biochemist, hematologist and experimental pathologist. Besides, he drew beautifully. He was the first in the country to draw a hematological atlas. He was locked up for three years, but his scrawl was such that he was then taken in by Professor (Miloš) Štejfa (Jr.) out of mercy, who took him to his laboratory at the first internal medicine clinic, where Hule then trained a number of excellent hematological and biochemical laboratory technicians.

But you didn't stay under it long, did you?
I was with him for a while, but it wasn't very satisfying because I wasn't that dazzled by the lab environment. I was more interested in the clinic, and because I already had something behind me, I knew something, so then Professor (Jaroslav) Pojer pulled me into the clinic. But in the meantime it happened that nobody wanted to do hematology. They offered it to all kinds of communists, but they would prefer to have the results served on a golden platter, for which they would just take away the associate professorships. I, on the other hand, enjoyed hematology with Professors Pojer and (Edgar) Ninger, they both liked me and I was a star before the occupation. And my mentor was Associate Professor (Zdenek) Churý of Experimental Pathology, until the vetting in the seventies, when he moved on to be the city hematologist.

What all changed for you with August '68?
The examinations came, Ninger fell into disfavor... Professor (Lubomír) Malinovský, an anatomist, was behind everything. He was the person who dismissed several people, including, for example, Professor (Karel) Žlábek... During the war, his name was Miller, then he had himself renamed after Marshal Malinovský... (smiles) Because of Malinák, basically the whole third internment was blown up, because all the assistants at the internment expressed their opposition to the entry of the occupation troops. I was one of those who signed that such a person had no business at the medical faculty. Although he was professionally clever, his moral qualities were such that he was unacceptable as a teacher of doctors. He also had a son who had to go to medical school, he didn't enjoy it very much, but somehow he graduated and then became a musician. (Luboš Malinovský, drummer of the alternative bands Pro pocit jistoty and Podchodem vchod - author's note.) Our boys said that he turned out to be quite a nice guy for the kind of parents he had... He tried to marry his daughter off to Italy for a change, like any good communist of the time, which he also managed to do... (Malinovský himself became unacceptable to the faculty for political reasons after the revolution in 1989 and in 1990 he was stripped of the leadership of the anatomy institute. He retired in 1991 and worked at the University of Rome for the next few years - author's note.)

I. internal medicine clinic of FNUSA, 1968. Jiřina Jedličková on the right, second from the right, then hospital director František Konečný. On the left is Chief of Medicine Kratochvil, in the foreground the head nurse.

the only one far and wide

You didn't fall from grace?
I decided I couldn't stay at the clinic after 70 years. I had an offer from Associate Professor (Dusan) Mrkos from the other city hospital to go to work as a city hematologist. Mrkos was also fired from the faculty, but he was such a classy person, a smart, already older gentleman, and he became chief... In those days, chief didn't mean as much as today, and the regime didn't mind. He was also a hematologist, and because hematologists were such outsiders then - nobody really wanted to do hematology - so we all knew each other and we kept to ourselves. But I enjoyed hematology; looking into the microscope reminded me of art paintings. We used to go to Prague for professional meetings and afterwards we always had turtle soup and halibut on a spit in Wenceslas Square. In those days, turtle soup cost ten crowns, today you wouldn't pay for it. (laughs) The position of the town hematologist was previously held by Dr. (Zdeněk) Ditrich, a wonderful gentleman, but he died tragically in 1971. He used to do this stupid show with an egg, like he was going to swallow it, but he didn't, he always spit it out. Until one day the egg got stuck in his throat, and nobody thought to give him a tracheotomy and he suffocated. And because Mrkos knew that I couldn't stay in such an Augean hovel in the third internship, he offered me to be the city hematologist. I went to see Pojer, who had been fired by then, and he discouraged me because the city hematologist had his own outpatient clinic, but no beds. Instead of me, the offer was accepted by Associate Professor Churý, who had no professional future in experimental pathology because the building on Komenský náměstí was occupied by veterinarians instead of clinicians, who took care of bulls and pigs for the cardiologists' research.

So you decided to stay at the third internship, even though, as you say, the environment resembled Augie's pigsty?
I did! For example, Dr. (Pavel) Přikryl, the same year as me, was a notorious alcoholic. But he must have been grateful to Malinovsky and did not pose such a threat to his Vladěnka (Malinovsky's wife), who then immediately got a post-doctorate... Once they sent him to America for a traineeship, but he made a disgrace there, got drunk to the point of stupor, went somewhere he shouldn't have, and ended up in a hospital... And as the world is small, after the divorce he married a second wife, whose first husband was a classmate of mine from high school, who ended up badly too. In those days the boys were sent to Ostrava after high school, among the miners, where they learned to drink, and this classmate of mine ended up particularly badly. In a delirium of tremens, he stripped naked, hid behind some kind of a shack in the house where he used to live, and they didn't find him there until after winter. Completely mummified.

That doesn't sound like an environment you'd enjoy working in...
Malinovsky really did liquidate the third intern. It was the worst-hit clinic in the entire country. I even resigned at that time, but Professor Pojer, who was my biggest personality, told me: "Colleagues, stay there. You have beds there, you have a certain reputation there, and you can help people much more than you can from an ambulance." And they would hardly let me go, the directorate didn't accept my resignation and threatened me, saying that they had educated me... But I stood up to them, because none of them did anything for me. They finally admitted it and let me go. However, they didn't care at all how or where I would work, so I had a piece of the corridor built up and kept my job because no one else was doing what I was doing anyway. In fact, I only survived there because I was the only one far and wide who had a hematology certification.

Professor Lukáš Fasora writesin the publication History of the Faculty of Medicine that "relations between the leaders of the normalization at the faculty were complicated"...
Well, as I say, Augie's pigsty! Whoever was appointed associate professor at the time, I'd be ashamed of myself. (laughs) Imagine how my husband, otherwise of working-class origin, paid the price for me and how gullible I was. He and his colleagues were working on a project, but they didn't have the space and quiet for him in the clinic, so I offered them the use of a room in our house. The colleagues were commies, but they pretended to be friends, only to take it up later, saying we had a bourgeois lifestyle! Such creatures worked there...

“Whoever was appointed associate professor at the time, I would have been ashamed.”

Jiřina Jedličková

On the other hand, who do you remember fondly from that time, besides Professors Ninger and Pojer?
For example, the then director of the hospital, MUDr. František Konečný, who was a wonderful person. Capable and very friendly. He never harmed anyone, on the contrary, he helped many people, including Ninger and Pojer, whom he respected as honest and modest people. But he didn't do well himself...

What happened to him?
My son was bitten on the face by a dog at the age of seven, and to help his scar heal better after the operations, we were given passes for trips to the seaside, to France or Italy. Once I forgot something in the clinic just before I left, and when I stopped there, one of my colleagues greeted me so theatrically that he had to show me something. I thought it must be some kind of stupid thing, because it was a common joke in the hospital that someone was lying on a bed pretending to die. But at the time, Director Konecny was lying on that stretcher and he was really dead. He had a heart attack. That was in 1969, the Communists were already pressuring him... his heart failed because of the pressure?
Well, yeah... Unlike, say, the Beard. He was the head doctor at the clinic who was made chief at the military hospital. (Colonel MUDr. Jan Brázda, internist, chief of the Military Hospital in Brno from 1972-1974 - author's note.) I remember one social event where the older ones sat at a larger table and a few of us younger ones at a smaller table. The guard asked us why we were sitting on the side, and we replied that we had seceded like Biafra, which had just declared independence at that time. (The Republic of Biafra was a state formation existing between 1967 and 1970 in southeastern Nigeria. The French writer Louis Aragon used the term "Biafra spirit" in the autumn of 1968 in the context of the possible prospect of a post-war Czechoslovakia - author's note.) Brázda was so angry that he got up and, drunk as he was, pulled out a gun and it looked like he was going to shoot... He was a nasty, such a die-hard commie!

Jiřina Jedličková, January 1984.

You didn't think about emigrating after '68?
My husband would emigrate in a heartbeat. I didn't have the nerve. But when I told you about the German woman from the neighborhood, Hertha, she called us one day and invited us to Frankfurt, where she was living at the time. We were staying in Vienna for a few days at the time and we really thought about not going back, but I didn't. I suddenly started to miss my father, I missed the little things I had at home, the Highlands... But I did the right thing.

Did I?
And so I took care of my sons, and even though I was often in the hospital, my mother helped me. So the idea of being somewhere in Frankfurt, without being able to speak proper German, with no one to look after the boys properly, because my husband was always away with the rugby players he used to go with, first as a player, later as a doctor... So I decided to go back.

Have you ever regretted it?
You know, on the one hand, he was Augie's pigsty, but on the other hand, we had great friends. Most of them were peers of Vashko who had lived in a completely different time, people from the ranks of artists or sportsmen, so we were living next door. You must know Ivan Ruller (Ivan Ruller, architect and in 1990-1994 dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the BUT, he was also involved in rugby - author's note), after whom a waterfront in Brno will now be named, he was also persecuted by the communists and he stayed here. Or the sculptor Zdeněk Macháček and the painter Bohumír Matal... Not that we were exactly dissidents, but we were in such opposition...

“Ultra communists remained in some positions after the revolution and pretended that they were no longer communists...”

Jiřina Jedličková

You stayed at St. Anne's until the first half of the 1990s...
Well, because at that time the third internment was de facto divided and moved to Bohunice. Professor (Jiří) Vorlíček wanted me to go there with him and be his chief. But I said in nineteen forty-four that nobody would get me into Bohunice because I knew what kind of people were there. The bosses at that time were suddenly not communists, they said they were mistaken, and suddenly they were as pure as a lily. I wouldn't go somewhere I didn't like.

How did you feel about this, as they say, changing of coats?
Some ultra-communists stayed in some positions and pretended they were no longer communists... Some people have more inhibitions, some have less, some have none at all. I took it for what it was. As a reality. I may feel sorry - not personally, but sorry for human nature - but that's just the way people are. Let's have no illusions.

Jiřina Jedličková, březen 1990.

So you spent the last years of your career as chief of the Blood Bank of the FN USA...
I thought I'd somehow live out my retirement working in clinics as a consultant. But that turned out not to be the right thing to do, because nobody really cared about the consilium anyway, and the doctors were more or less on their own. It wasn't until the director of the St. Anne's University Hospital in Brno, Alena Štětková, approached me with the idea that I should become the head of the Blood Bank. At first I was not very enthusiastic, but then I realised that it was the best thing I could do. There were great people there who became friends and I stayed there until I retired in 2001. I don't want to forget anyone, but there were many colleagues who became friends over the years. In addition to the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Ninger, Professor Pojer and Associate Professor Churý, there were also the Hrubiškis from Bratislava, Professors Libánský, Klener and Koutecký from Prague, Vaňásek and Pecka from Hradec Králové, Professors Lokaj, Štejfa, Bravený, Klabusay and Černý from Brno, and neurologists Nedbal, Chrást and Nosová. I will always respect them for their expertise and their friendship in difficult times.

Although you come from a family of lawyers and one of your sons also found himself in law, your other son Václav confirms that the medical profession often passes from parents to children, right?
Yes, he didn't get in the first time - you know, it wasn't like the children of communists who got in right away - but then he and his friend were among the top students of their class because they appreciated being admitted so much that they gave everything to their studies. Today he's doing lung oncology. He is a student of Professor (Pavel) Pafko, a very nice guy and people like him very much. What more could I ask for?

Jiřina Jedličková at the Blood bank FN USA, 1995.

Jiřina Jedličková, 2024.

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