by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/06/10 00:01 -07:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/michkap/archive/2005/06/10/427550.aspx
I was looking through email today trying to find a particular one, and ran across one that slayed me. This is a story I have never really told anyone in full before, for reasons that I cannot fully explain. It was not really a love story or anything like that. But it was a something of a defining friendship for me, and maybe I was just holding on to the story to keep it whole, for me....
I was reminded of the whole thing two nights ago at the "Women in Technology" Birds of a Feather that Julie Lerman gave. I even talked about my friend for a bit and I think my voice was steady.
You see, four years ago, I was sending a nervous email to someone who had once been aq good friend of mine from back when I lived in Connecticut.
Dr. Sherry Apple, who years before had been a neurosurgical resident at Hartford Hospital, and I had an interesting relationship. Almost 20 years senior to me, she looked at this somewhat lost young man with some dreams that did not look like they were going anywhere, as she herslf sat in a neurosurgical residency program headed by someone who did not feel women belonged in neurosurgey at all, especially not this mouthy blonde from the South. I guess we were kindred spirits in a way, both feeling like we were being held back from what we wanted, whether by random or by not-so-random circumstances in life. And as I helped her study even way back then for her boards, while daring to dream of maybe even taking them myself some day. I still know my cranial nerves, and I still crack that Manter and Gatz from time to time, remembering those days.
Those days when she helped me believe in myself again, at a time when I truly needed someone to help me do that.
When I left Hartford, we lost touch for a few years. But when I needed to have a radiofreuency rhizotomy done for trigeminal neuralgia, I asked Charles E. Poletti, M.D. if he would do it, and Sherry asked me (almost shyly!) if I would be okay with her scrubbing in for the procedure. I told her I would not want it any other way....
It is an interesting surgery, where they use a short acting anasthesia (Brevital) since the neurosurgeon has to wake you so you can answer questions about sensation. As they work to deaden a small part of the trigeminal nerve without destroying too much of it. By the report of both the doctor and one of the nurses who was there, when I started acting up, Sherry holding my hand was all I needed to keep calm (I was a bit too doped up to remember it, but she admitted it reluctantly later when confronted with the story). I did well post-op and flew home, and we lost touch again for a while...
Suddenly I came across a random article about that same mouthy blonde, who was neitherradio announcer nor singer nor guitarist (though she had been each of those things, over the years!). She was a neurosurgeon in practice in West Virginia! She was the president of WINS (Women in Neurosurgery) and I felt a pride that I have seldom felt before or since, knowing that at least a few times that she wanted to give up I helped convince her to stick with it. And she made it!
I sent her a tentative email, afraid she may not remember who I was -- I have known several neurosurgeons who tend to not remember the people who knew them when they were less than done with their training. Or maybe afraid that she would remember and be disappointed since I had so clearly taken a different path, miles away from medicine.
But such fears were unfounded in this case -- she not only remembered me but had just been thinking about me in relation to something she was working on. And we were soon emailing back and forth frantically, as she asked if I would be willing to help her find or maybe even write something for her that would help her create Kaplan Meyer curves for a study she was wanting to work on (none of the things she had found seemed to fit exactly. I readily said yes, and after it became clear that she was correct -- none of the packages I saw either would do exactly what she was looking for -- I started working on something to do the job....
The last email I have from her was dated May 24th, 2001. I had almost finished putting together an initial prototype of the software we had discussed and even had a resrervation to visit and show it to her, for the middle of the summer. A ticket that as it turns out I was never to need.
In July of 2001, Sherry was boating with her husband in Upstate New York when the boat caught a wave, ejected her, and then crashed into her. She was killed in this terrible accident, in what was not even her 50th year.
When I heard what had happened, I actually cried. Not because it was so sad (though frankly, it was). I cried because she had accomplished her dream, she outlasted that department chief who wanted her out, she was the only female neurosurgeon in the state where she practiced and had made quite a name for herself with some of the amazing surgeries she had performed, and the tender care she gave to her patients. It felt unfair to me that she had so little time to live the dream that she had so clearly and finally accomplished. Hadn't she earned the time?
It has been nearly four years since that day. And whatever else I learned from her, I am proud that she did not ever give up, and it is one of the reasons that I won't. Because I want her to be able be proud of me, no matter where she is now.
# Jose Antonio Morales on Friday, June 10, 2005 10:19 AM:
# Nancy Apple on Monday, July 04, 2005 12:38 PM:
# Michael S. Kaplan on Monday, July 04, 2005 7:44 PM:
2007/10/13 Not exactly a career
2006/04/06 Dandy of Johns Hopkins
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