Sunday, February 12, 2012

Black History -- A Personal Note

This being Black History Month, here's a personal addition to the record.

Bad Health and a Bad Fall
Last week, my good friend and mentor --  and a former Dean of Howard University who is now 80 years old and in very bad health because of repeated bouts of heart failure in the last four years -- fell down the stairs to his basement and smashed his skull on the concrete floor. Being a stubborn, rugged individual, he got up, went back upstairs, and tried to ignore the headache that began immediately. He didn't call call for help until two days later, by which time his headaches had become extremely painful.  So I rushed to his house and drove him down to the Emergency Room (ER) of Howard University Hospital.

The CT Scan showed blood on his brain, i.e., a "subdural hematoma" ... to be healed either by time or by surgery ... as in "brain surgery" ... as in the "rocket science" of surgery. After 48 hours of observation, it was determined that additional time would heal the injury; therefore my friend was discharged. Someone else drove him home. I was pleasantly surprised when he called to say how much better he was feeling.

So you can imagine my concern when he called me again two days later to ask me to meet him at the ER because he was being driven back to the ER. The blinding headaches had returned.

Brain Surgery
Having worked at Howard University for almost 40 years, I can sing the old school songs as loudly as any 40 year old, drunken alum at a frat reunion, but given a choice for brain surgery between Howard's Hospital and Johns Hopkins, my first choice would have been Hopkins in Baltimore … or Sibley Hospital here in DC, which recently became an affiliate of Hopkins. Howard has a strong reputation in urology and oncology, but I never heard anyone rave about its neurosurgeons ... until this fan letter that I am now posting on the this blog because some really good things aren't supposed to be secrets ... :-)

Surgery was scheduled for 8:30 p.m. By 7:30, the junior members of the surgical team and the anesthesiologist began to file into the surgery intensive care unit (SICU) to chat with my friend and explain the procedure. I was struck by the low key, but unmistakeable professionalism of their demeanor. Yes, this is a big game, but this is what we do. You understand? This ... is ... what ... we ... do.

At about 8:05, the surgeon arrived -- hereafter referred to as “Dr. Good Hands” ... which, as I learned the next day, is what some of the senior nursing staff call him. Dressed in a black leather jacket, Dr. Good Hands rolled into the SICU like a Rock Star, exuding confidence, checking with his team, with his patient, and with me -- shaking my hand with a powerful grip that instantly assured me that my friend’s skull and brain would be cut precisely where this doctor's Good Hands intended to cut, but no more and no less than was absolutely necessary.

Three hours later, my friend was wheeled from the operating room back into the SICU, where I watched him sleep peacefully for about half an hour, just to be sure that everything had gone as well as it seemed to have gone.

On the Road to Recovery
I'm posting this note a few days later and my friend's recovery is still on track. His headaches are gone and, as far as I can tell, his mind is as incisive as ever, perceiving all manner of verbal nuance as keenly as before. His recovery gives me great relief because he's such a good friend and because his recent health has been so incredibly bad. Did I mention that I've driven him to the ER more than 10 times in the last four years? Indeed, given my aged friend's incredibly bad health, if I were a religious man I would swear that his recovery from the fall and from the required brain surgery was a miracle. But I am not a religious man, so his recovery fills me with immense Black Pride for the world class surgical skill that made his recovery possible.

Thank you, Dr. Good Hands.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can! Yes! We can!!!!! ... :-)

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