Classic Cars, Classic People – First Do No Harm

my favorite car at the show

Last Saturday I was excited to attend the 33rd Annual Winter Park All British Car Show. As you know, I’ve recently jumped into the old car hobby, purchasing a 1967 Triumph TR4A almost a year ago. Having little experience in auto mechanics, especially about the vehicles of 50 years ago, I’ve had a lot to learn. Fortunately, the members of the local Triumph and British car clubs have been welcoming and helpful. They encouraged me to enter the show.

I’m glad I did. The weather was fantastic, leading to a great turnout of cars and people. My car didn’t win any prizes but I made some new friends, had many nice conversations, and learned a lot more about my particular model and old cars in general. Or should I say “classic cars?” Most owners (certainly the ones showing their cars) cherish their vehicles and are very careful to treat and maintain them well. I’m trying to do the same.


Naturally, I had several conversations about best practices in maintenance and repair. Sharing a story of mine about a simple attempt to replace a light bulb – which led to a broken lens, disintegration of old rubber fittings, and a failed electrical connection – elicited knowing smiles.   The worst part was the light bulb had been working! These cars are fragile, and since then I’ve adopted a cautious attitude to any elective repairs.

Among the group, there seemed to be two schools of thought. One, like mine, was “be cautions;” just do the minimum for safety and reliability; don’t push the limit. Or in doctor language, first do no harm. The second is “make it perfect.” Any mechanical part that’s not quite right gets fixed or replaced. No job is too big. That works fine with classic cars (with enough money and expert help) and these are the ones that win the prizes.

It doesn’t work so well for “classic people.” Like cars, as we age, we often get more fragile. And things break or become blemished. But repair isn’t a simple mechanical matter. It depends on our innate biological mechanisms, mechanisms that degrade with advancing years. Sooner or later we die. It’s good to remember that.

a nice line up of MG TDs

Too often in healthcare we approach classic people as if they were easily repairable, or as if every issue should be fixed, made perfect. And it’s not just physicians; many patients think like that too. Let’s be more careful. Let’s keep the big picture in mind. Fragility and finiteness should be part of our calculation. What’s required for safety and reliability? What are the risks of any proposed “repair?” Like my light bulb story, we can always make things worse.

My car is 51 years old. I just turned 57. Does that make me a “classic person?” Regardless, I’m looking for doctors with philosophy number one. If you’re a classic person, I recommend you do the same.

Take care,


my car

B-17 hood ornament









  1. Deborah Novak says:

    I always love receiving your blog. Raises important issues around aging and what we do to prolong life and at what cost to the person and family. I know you get to have favorites, but don’t let Trevor get jealous. He needs love too.

  2. Gene Truchelut says:

    Nice car Pete! Ah, I remember the days of those devilish Lucas electrical parts well. ( back in the 1960s, the second car I owned was a 1960 Anglia).