Writing this post, I am sitting in a luxurious hotel room half a continent away from home. Well, actually, this city was home for six years. It still feels like home, in a strange way, whenever I return and drive around its streets for a day or two. This is so, even though it's been ten years since I left. Ten years...
This was an exciting place to live. I remember driving here in the moving van, young and idealistic, freshly married. I bought my first house here, had our first (and only) child. I learned my craft here, entered the fires of neurosurgical residency. After six years, the crucible decanted me into a busy, thriving private practice in my original hometown. Now, I am part of the storied history of my training program, one of only four women to graduate, one of many well trained neurosurgeons this city has disseminated across the front lines of America's hospitals.
I am proud of my training program and its history, its traditions. I am humbled by and deeply grateful to my mentors here. So, when the news came that my program chairman was retiring this weekend, I immediately rearranged my schedule so that I could be here for the celebration.
This man is one of the great names in neurosurgery. He is technically a master of complex skull base surgery. He has held the most august academic positions, has received international honors. He is, quite simply, one of the most brilliant men I have ever known. And yet, as he said in his speech last night, he feels that his greatest accomplishment is us, his residents.
We all have a dream that we spend a life to pursue. We work, we suffer, we make sacrifices - and we keep dreaming.
He said last night, "It's never been about me. It's been all about the residents, the education. Anybody who does this knows that teaching residents is like raising kids. The people I chose to go through this program are a reflection of me; their success or failure is my responsibility. It's been about teaching the next generation, making sure this program lives up to its tradition of greatness."
We were his dream, us and his own five kids and twelve grandkids.
At dinner, many of us had a toast to make, a story to tell. Mine was about a favorite memory from residency. We had journal club once a week, at 6:00 or 6:30 am, over breakfast. One morning, the topic was sports injuries. We reviewed several articles comparing different sports and the risk of serious neurologic injury in each. Ice hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball were all on the charts, but football was way up high at the top of the list. There was a huge gap between it and the next sport down. We spent 45 minutes seriously discussing the ramifications of this.
Then the room got quiet, and my chairman piped up, not having said anything up to this point. He stated cheerfully, "I like to play football." We stared. "Because I like to hit people!" he finished.
We must have laughed for five minutes!
At the end of telling this story, I mentioned that now I have a 13 year old son who plays football. Every time he takes the field, I think of my chairman and chuckle a little. I finished by stating, "Thank you for being the best possible example. You showed us all that you can be a neurosurgeon and be brilliant... but also be a real person, and a great guy."
We will remember our chairman, who could give the presidential address at the big national meeting and then greet us on a Saturday at the local IHOP, driving up for breakfast in his beat up gray pickup truck. We will remember how he always asked about our families, and how proud he was of the number of babies the residents had.
Cheers, doc, mentor, friend. You deserve all the honor and respect you have gained from us all. Your dream allowed us to realize ours. We will pass it on, and on. My dream will help my son realize his one day, whatever his turns out to be.
We all have a dream, probably more than one. That guy playing blues on his saxophone outside my window right now has one. Mine has been to succeed in the most difficult, and most rewarding, career that I could have imagined; to also succeed in constructing a happy, healthy family. We work, we suffer, we make sacrifices. We hold onto the dream. It may come true, or it may not. But in the end, we will know that we have given it our best.