Medicine: The Fat of the Land

  • Share
  • Read Later

(7 of 9)

From a short hitch as assistant powder monkey in a Colorado gold mine. Keys came home with a new straw hat and $75 —and finally stayed long enough to finish high school. A budding chemist in his freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley, he loaded up with brain-crushing courses (chemistry, physics, calculus, German, Chinese, English), worked 30 hours a week in the university library, took his classmates for "$20 or $30 a month" playing bridge, and kept a big bag of dried apricots beside his dormitory bed. That spring, embittered by his failure to capture the chemistry department's sole scholarship, Keys signed on as an oiler aboard the President Wilson, bound for China, and quickly dispensed with nutritional niceties. "The diet was mainly alcohol," he says. "I don't remember eating anything." Back again at Cal, Keys switched to economics, graduated in two years, went to work for Woolworth, quit in boredom after eight months and returned to the university.

Although he had never before taken a college biology course, Student Keys entered the school of zoology, completed a major in six months.

Up, Down & Around. Three years and a Ph.D. later. Keys headed for Europe on a National Research Fellowship and began a seven-year odyssey that took him to Copenhagen to study under Nobel Prize-winning Biochemist August Krogh, to Cambridge University for another degree, to Harvard for human-fatigue experiments, and to an 18,000-ft. peak in the Chilean Andes for high-altitude studies of miners. Then he landed at the Mayo Clinic, where he found himself "in a real medical environment" for the first time. Dr. Keys also found his wife-to-be, Margaret Haney, when he interviewed—and hired—her for a medical technologist's job at Mayo. By 1940 Keys had moved to the University of Minnesota to open and head its Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene. His broad franchise: "To try to find out why people got sick before they got sick."

An early riser (6:45 in winter, 5:30 in summer), Dr. Keys eats a leisurely breakfast—half a grapefruit, dry cereal with skim milk, unbuttered toast, jam and coffee. Then, brown paper lunch bag on the seat beside him, he drives to work in a two-toned Karmann-Ghia. Although lunch is slim—a sardine sandwich, an olive, a cooky and a glass of skim milk—Keys eats with deliberate slowness. "I don't like to insult food," he says. Lunch done, he sits back, closes his eyes, and goes to sleep for exactly ten minutes in his office chair.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9