You Know You’re at a Plastic Surgery Meeting When…

My friend Dawn and I recently attended an evening meeting of the Houston Society of Plastic Surgeons.  Since we were invited guests, and not plastic surgeons, we didn’t stop on the way into the lovely formal dining room to pick up our name badges because the organizers had not made them for us.  On the way out, however, we both noticed clear plastic perfectly formed oval objects sitting on the table, looking for all the world like crystal paper weights.  I picked one up and it slithered out of my hand, slippery as a water balloon.  It was then that I realized that the beautiful paper weight was indeed, a silicone breast implant made by the company that sponsored the dinner.  After all, what do you expect when you attend a gathering of the plastic surgery clan?

I have learned in medicine to expect the unexpected.  The reason that I got in my car and drove 970 miles from Santa Fe to Houston was that my father, now nearly 91 years old and an emeritus Professor of Plastic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, had been asked to give several lectures as a visiting Professor for the residents and fellows in training.  Several is a bit of an understatement.  He was actually asked to give five separate talks, including three on consecutive days at 6:30 am, because as we know, surgeons start their days early.  After assuring Dad that I would not be getting up to attend ANY 6:30 am lectures, I set out for Houston in the midst of some of the worst rainstorms and flooding seen in that town in over thirty years.  Dad has had to curtail his practice over the last few years due to significant health issues, and when he came down with a bad cold days before the trip, I tried to no avail to convince him to stay home.  He of course wouldn’t hear of it.

His assignment for the evening lecture last Thursday night was to talk about his surgical missions overseas to repair cleft lips and palates, other birth defects, and contractures due to severe burns and other injuries. Especially since he retired from active practice, he has participated in several trips a year with Surgicorps International, traveling to Guatamala, India, Bhutan, Viet Nam, Zambia and other countries to attempt to give a normal appearance, and thus a normal life, to those unfortunate enough to require his services.  Devoted parents travel great distances to wait all day for their children to be evaluated, and once the schedule is set, surgeries proceed for the next 7 to 10 days, twelve hours a day, until the work is done.  Dad methodically showed the construction of each trip, from soliciting donations, to transporting equipment, to evaluating prospective patients, to post-operative care. At the end of his talk, he showed a blurry photograph of a 43 year old man who had lived his entire life with a severe facial deformity.  He told us that when the patient woke up in the recovery room, the first thing he asked for was a mirror.  When he saw his own face, swollen from surgery, but yet distinguishable as a normal human face, this patient burst into tears.  As my father told the story, everyone in the room did the same.

Plastic surgeons often get a bad rap.  In our youth driven, appearance conscious world, it is all too easy to make jokes about their bread and butter cosmetic work—the breast implants, the face-lifts, the nose jobs, and the botox.  At dinner last Thursday night, my friend and I, and the residents in the room, were privileged to catch a glimpse of what these talented surgeons can do to change the life of a child, and that child’s family and future.  The residents in the room are lucky—in a few years they too will have the skills to give the gift of a normal appearance and normal function.  As for me, well, I think it’s time to get back to work treating cancer patients.

Back to the Future

I am in Houston, Texas today—the place where I grew up.  From the moment I got off the plane on Wednesday, I had a strong sense of déjà vu—the small town feel of Hobby Airport, the banners welcoming me to the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, the drive to the Texas Medical Center where I visited my Dad at his office as a child.  But there is no possible sense of déjà vu more powerful than I felt today, in the sunny courtyard of my former medical school, waiting for the results of “The Match” to be unveiled.  For those of my readers who are not doctors, and who do not come from medical families, the Ides of March is the day that every fourth year medical student in the country finds out where they are going to do their residency.  Earlier in the year, aspiring internists, pediatricians, surgeons and obstetricians applied for internships and residencies, interviewed and finally made a list, in order of preference, of programs they wished fervently to attend.  Residency programs did the same, for students they fervently wished to attract.  And then a computer program called the National Residency Matching Program did its thing.  Today at precisely 12 pm EST, the results were announced in a white envelope.  The tension, as they say, was palpable.


Exactly 34 years ago today, I stood in the same place as my daughter stood today and felt my life change.  I would be leaving my hometown, my boyfriend, and last but not least my dog, to move to a city where I knew absolutely no one, because I had been given the gift of an opportunity to do my internal medicine residency at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, now known as Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center, one of the three Harvard training programs in internal medicine.  While I was there, I learned to practice medicine from some of the finest teachers and clinicians I have ever met, people who remain friends and mentors to this day.  I met my best friends, I married my husband, I got my first Scottish deerhound and I had my three children there in that order.  I hated the cold weather, but I loved the values which were instilled in me there, and which I hold to this day—in medicine, the patient always comes first;  family and tradition are paramount, and the Red Sox must ALWAYS beat the Yankees.


At 11:02 today Central Standard Time, the waiting and the culmination of four hard years ended.  My daughter opened her envelope and learned that she too would be headed for Boston, to the same place her father and I met so many years ago.  I think she was very pleased.  As for me—well, I did what any proud parent would do.  I beamed, took a picture, and burst into tears.   Well done, Alex, and I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much!

On Friendship, by Jackie Widen

My adult daughter and I were having a discussion recently about friendships.  She is at that awkward age – mid 20′s and graduated from a college that is now 2,000 miles away, early married and living in a city different from where she grew up.


Her circle of friends has changed over these past couple of years and it distresses her.  During a great chat about the nature of friends, their evolution and how some friendships change with age, life events and geography, we were able to identify two basic types of friends.  The first type is those you meet up with in common activities–your school class, the gymnastic or cheerleader squad you’re on,  student council, your various carpools, the church youth group. Growing up, there are limitless opportunities to encounter situations where everyone has a commonality with you.   College brings on another fertile breeding ground for friends– the dorm, campus life, parties.  As the years pass and majors are fine-tuned, you find yourself with a familiar group of friends who are taking those final courses for that specialized degree.  Pacts are made to always remain close, no matter what, and for a while, those promises are easy to keep.  But then life and choices sometimes alters those bonds.


As the years pass these “passage friends” fall away.  Phone chats are forced or inconvenient and interests change.  People marry and begin lives that suddenly involve a new circle of acquaintances.  But then there is the second type — those special friends who stay in your heart no matter the time spent away, the miles apart, the changed interests,  the new job.


Kind of like me and Miranda.


I like to call this type of friends “forever friends” because no matter how your life changes you always have a touchstone with these special people.  I find it more so with women than men who don’t communicate as well in general.  They don’t call up their bestie to cry when their Dad suddenly dies, or when they find out they are having twins with already a 2 and 4 year old.


Miranda and I are polar opposites.  We met when we were 10 years old and swimming for opposing teams.  We swam different strokes and seldom competed against one another, but we were both the best at our respective events.  Circumstances brought us to join a third team during our teen years and that’s when we really became good friends.  We lived close to one another and our mothers teamed up for carpooling to and from our 2 -a day workouts  in Houston.  Back in the 1960′s we could whip across the Houston freeways from the southern areas to Memorial in 20 minutes.  Now it would take more than 20 minutes just to gain access to the freeway.  By the time I turned 14 -legal driving age back then – I was given the keys to the family vehicle and I drove us to and from our practices.  I remember when we stopped at the convenience store after morning workouts to get giant Slushees and candy bars.  We used to compare the new eye shadow colors we liked.  We even shared a boyfriend.  No!  It wasn’t anything naughty – it was just an innocent crush on a guy who turned out to be a Blue Ribbon Jerk.  But he drove a red Corvette!


Miranda was Jewish and I was Methodist.  That didn’t seem to matter.  In our spare time during the spring and summer we put on our little bikinis and lay out by her pool to get some color on our pale bodies.  Practicing in an indoor pool didn’t allow much tanning.  When we were bored we would look at her father’s slides; all those plastic surgery cases.  Sometimes we would wish we could trade hair.  Mine was stick straight and I had to force it to curl.  Hers was curly and frizzy and she would slather on the gel to make it behave.


We chose different adult life paths.  After college I married and spent my time on the Mommy Track raising 4 small children spaced way too close together.  She went off to be brilliant in medical school and excel at her challenging Internship and Residencies.   I would ask her “Isn’t it difficult to do all those long rotations?” and she would smile and answer “Not as hard as our swimming workouts.”  And when she learned I had juggled all those kids with an alcoholic husband for over 25 years – she asked “Wasn’t that horribly awful?” and I would answer “Not as hard as our swimming workouts!”  Though our commonality was rooted in our swimming days, little did we know we would be bonded for life because of discipline and hard work.


We’ve made the effort to try and stay in touch during the past five decades.  Gee whiz – Did I say decades?  She lives in California and I live in Texas.  When we do have dinner or occasionally chat on the phone it is like the years dissolve and we are still teenagers.  As I approach a very significant birthday, I am profoundly grateful for my “forever friend”, Miranda.  We have birthdays only 2 days apart, and so I always think of her when I celebrate my special day.  This year, my 60th (yes I am the senior, she is a baby at nearly 59) I would like to say Thank you Miranda, for being a Forever Friend.  It is a rare and special thing to call you a friend for 50 years.  As I toast myself this coming weekend, I will raise a glass for you too.  Life is so very short and we need to remember the things that matter in our lives:  Faith, Family and Friends.   Especially Forever Friends, like me and Miranda.  Happy Birthday to us!


Thank YOU Jackie!  I couldn’t agree more.  Miranda