American Experience
Early Years: Pivotal Decisions
Pivotal Decisions: Should a Flash of Anger End Their Relationship?

Nashville, 1930
Shortly after their working relationship began, an incident in the Vanderbilt lab threatened to destroy the budding partnership between Vivien Thomas and Alfred Blalock. In a heated moment, Dr. Blalock blew up and swore at Thomas for a mistake he made in an experiment, forcing Thomas to reconsider his future there.

For two months, Blalock and Thomas had worked together smoothly in the Vanderbilt University experimental surgery lab. Thomas proved to be an apt student, carefully observing the steps and processes Blalock demonstrated in his quest to unlock the secrets of shock trauma. Almost immediately, Blalock gave Thomas increasing responsibility for preparing the shock experiments. Within a few short weeks, Thomas was conducting procedures on his own, never quite certain when Blalock would drop in to participate, observe, or offer guidance.

One morning, when Thomas made an error in a procedure, Blalock, without warning, exploded in a profane rage and stalked out of the lab toward his office. Although shocked, Thomas had remained calm in the wake of this tirade. He learned from his colleague Sam Brody that this type of behavior was not unusual following a "bad night." After changing from his lab clothes, Thomas crossed the hall to Blalock's office to find him at ease and working, as if nothing had happened moments before. Regardless, Thomas told him that he would not tolerate foul language or disrespectful treatment and would be looking immediately for work elsewhere.

Select one of these three choices:

Choice 1
Blalock should offer a token apology to cool Thomas down.

Blalock realizes that Thomas has picked up the complex lab procedures very quickly and performed them well. Appearing inflexible could cause the young man to leave.

Choice 2
Dr. Blalock should not apologize for his blowup with Thomas -- and let him resign.

Progress on the shock work is extremely important to Blalock and errors represent a loss of time and money. He is within his rights to make his opinions known in no uncertain terms.

Choice 3
Blalock should sincerely apologize to Thomas for his outburst.

This type of behavior is more the exception than the rule for Blalock. He wants to correct the situation and get Thomas back to work in the lab.