Zsolt Ori admits that he was a hyperactive child in his native Hungary. While all of his family members were avid readers, he was more interested in running and playing games.
But all of that changed when he was about seven years old.
He describes the tile oven in his family’s home, where the heat generates from the tile even as the fire dies down. “It was beautiful and warm,” he said.
“My mother thought ‘Tom Sawyer’ would be a nice introduction to reading,” he said this week, as he prepared to leave his temporary stint as a physician at Hannibal Regional Hospital, for a move to North Carolina.
“She thought she would raise my interest in reading. In the evening hours, we were sitting at our tile oven and she was reading me the story of Tom Sawyer. It was the most captivating story for me.
“Emotionally I became connected to Hannibal through the story of Tom Sawyer in my reading. I remember the stories. It was late evening when she finished. I wanted to hear more.”
The Hungarian-born physician has been working at Moberly and Columbia, Mo., for the last 20 years. He is now headed to Durham, N.C. “I’m very lucky I got a primary-care position there. It is a university.” He explained that he has done research in nutrition. “One of my biggest challenges in this life is fighting obesity. I’m not an obese person. But in the last 20 years in Moberly and Columbia, I encountered a tremendous problem with obesity. I’m working on an instrument that would tell a person how many calories they ingest; this would help them gauge. Everyone underestimates how many calories they ingest. I have a degree in engineering, as well. This is an engineering solution to a medical problem.”
When Dr. Ori learned he would have an opportunity to work in Hannibal prior to leaving for North Carolina, he couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“I told my colleagues here that I’d never been to Hannibal,” he said. “Mark Twain made such a mark on my life and I know many feel the same way – we’re connected through the stories. This is a great human experience.
“I deal with computers all the time. This is something that computers can never offer. Reading. The fun of reading, sharing all these memories.
“Your town is very precious to me. I feel like it was a privilege to work here. My wife took a picture of me while I was holding the painting brush (in front of Tom Sawyer’s fence.) I sent to my brother in Hungary, who sent back ovations.”
That internet connection with his brother adds another dimension to the Mark Twain connection.
“Somehow the same story happened to my brother, who was 7 years older than myself.”
The same book, Tom Sawyer. The same mother, reading in front of the same tile oven.
Since moving to the United States, “My brother did not keep too much connection with me over the years,” he said. “I wrote to him an email that said I would be working for a short time here in Hannibal. I tried to explain to him. You know, Tom Sawyer and the Mississippi River. He immediately wrote me; he became very enthusiastic and started asking me questions.
“Immediately it created a tremendous emotional bond between us that hasn’t been there for years. He learned English by studying literature; he told me the story - one of the lessons in English - the cat of Aunt Polly and Tom gave the cough medicine to the cat. My brother was laughing about it. He was telling the story to a degree that tears were coming to his eyes. He has his own emotional bonding, to this city and this place. We found each other at an emotional level.
“The message, you have a great city here and a great hospital. You may not know there is a lot of emotional bonding all over the world. Everybody is telling the same thing; everybody immediately chimes in, what a fun city. It’s amazing how people connect. It appears to be such an important thing for so many people.”
After Tom Sawyer, “I also read Huckleberry Finn. I became a reader also, somehow it creates emotional intelligence.
“It’s a complex thing, you go beyond the usual story lines. It becomes a wonderful experience that you are able to connect.
“Socialization is another word for emotional intelligence. This is very important for human life. I try to bond with my patients as well and I think I became a better physician because of it. It’s an important part of life. You don’t get that experience through a computer,” he said.