When I was a kid I met an uncommonly nice man. He was my new doctor – an actual genius, extremely well read, and had incredible experience. I was 8 years old, so clearly I figured we were on about the same level. He certainly made me feel that way, and he treated me with the respect as if we were equals. That’s the beauty of this man, he truly believes that we were equals… he saw that we are. While he has gifts far beyond most people, he also recognizes that one person is not better than another, and he extends that perspective to children as well as adults.
I met him because I needed a neurologist, and a damn good one at that. Hold that – I already had a damn good neurologist, but he just wasn’t responsive or connected to his patients. That is when we switched over to this new doctor. I walked into his office and it didn’t even feel like an appointment, he just talked with me. He listened to me, he answered my questions. I saw a plaque on his desk with a Latin phrase on it – it was a secret joke and he taught me how to solve it (Semper Ubi Sub Ubi — still a favorite of mine). I remember asking my mom after the appointment if that was really a doctor’s appointment because it just seemed fun and he didn’t do any tests. But he had – he had been gathering all kinds of data through our interactions, just in a connected and empathic way.
My mom and I went through the entire first appointment not realizing until the very end that the doctor used a wheelchair. He sat at his desk the whole time and was so connected with me that it seemed like nothing else in the room existed but the two of us and whatever we were playing with on the desk. At the end of the appointment he simply said “Excuse me if I don’t get up” and we thought nothing of it, and then walked past the wheelchair and realized. The entire appointment had been about me and us, not about him. It was never about him. And that is how every appointment was. He was open about his Muscular Dystrophy and the impact it had on his life. He let me ask questions. He told me all about the cool van he drives and how he drives it. It sounded awesome. Through his own example, he showed me that people who have challenges – physical, neurological, whatever – can not only succeed but can blow people out of the water with their abilities.
He helped me find the right medication balance and taught me about properly caring for my brain (plenty of sleep, giving it time to wake up, etc.). Equally important he taught me how to “slow my body down” so that I could relax, go to sleep when I needed to (even when stressed), and maybe even avoid having seizures. This was back in the 80s and I have been doing it ever since. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that what I was doing had a name – Mindfulness. I’m not sure it even had that name back when he taught it to me – it certainly wasn’t as mainstream as it is today. I can honestly say that this practice has impacted every facet of my life, not just my seizure maintenance. The funny thing is that I just read an article today about “groundbreaking” research that suggests that Mindfulness may help reduce seizures, and there he was teaching me this 35 years ago. The guy is ahead of his time.
He was my pediatric neurologist, but we have kept in touch over the years. I contacted him when I was in college and let him know how I was doing – he was so kind and said that he loved learning what his former patients were doing, and encouraged me to keep him updated. My mom and I have each talked or emailed with him over the years. I emailed him tonight after reading the article to thank him for introducing me to Mindfulness as a kid, and to share with him what it has meant to me and how it has helped me. That is when I learned of his passing.
I know that I didn’t know the full man, I only knew him as a kind neurologist, but I can tell you that he is unlike any other doctor that I have ever known. I have had wonderful doctors before, truly kind people and empathic people. This man set the bar. He brought a wit and a wisdom and a connection to his practice that can only come from personal experience… and he had the courage and beauty to use that experience for the benefit of others. He treated the whole person – not just as a medical diagnosis but as a person with thoughts and feelings. He recognized the powerful connection between emotions, the mind, the spirit, and the body – that balance lies in tending to all of these dimensions. And he didn’t just tend to me, he tended to my mom. While I went for tests, he sat with her, listening to her concerns and offering her support. He recognized that even when we feel most broken we are whole, and it’s important to honor both the broken and the whole aspects. And he recognized the impact we have on each other, and that our supporters need support.
You might notice that I speak of him in the present tense. I speak of our interactions in the past tense because they happened in the past, but I speak of him in the present tense. There is a reason for that. See, I don’t feel like he has actually gone. He is no longer in this physical world, but he has helped shape me in a very significant way, and the legacy of his work continues to this day. I’m very grateful for his presence in my life – past, present, and future.