Wedding Day, Take Two
I’ve been reminiscing lately about my life. Writing a memoir by definition dredges up memories. Sometimes the strongest memories are those we don’t drag up from the depths by effort of will, but those that surface on their own in response to a situation or a chance remark. Such was the memory of advice that was given to me on my wedding day by my Chief of Surgery.
I had not thought of J.R. in many years. He died too young (only three years older than I am right now) back in 2002. He was one of only a few people in my life who profoundly affected the course I would take. His teaching shaped the surgeon and thus the person that I would become. To me, he idealized the virtues I have sought to cultivate as a surgeon. He was not perfect, and with the perspective of years and age I am able to see many of his flaws in a more mature light. Nevertheless, his mentorship and insistence on my best effort under his instruction made me the surgeon I am today.
It began with a chance remark from a scrub tech with whom I often work. He asked if Michele, my wife and for the past twenty years, my first assistant in the OR, would be scrubbing the case we had later that day.
I told him she would and he said, “Good. Cases go a lot smoother when she scrubs.”
I already knew that and agreed with him.
He went on, “I don’t know how she does it. She helps you here, she works as a Nurse Practitioner in her own office and she does your books, too, doesn’t she? She sure is a busy woman.”
Those remarks made me think about all of the roles she plays in my life. She is a passionate and multitalented woman and over the years we have forged a strong, intimate partnership in both our personal and professional lives.
That realization brought back the memory of the wedding day conversation with J.R. that I had all but forgotten. It was at our second wedding, the big traditional affair at the Navy Chapel – mess dress uniforms, white dress, swords, the whole nine yards. We were at the reception afterward. The traditional dances and toasts were done and Michele and I were mingling with our guests, moving from table to table spending time with our friends and family.
We had become separated for a few minutes as Michele stopped to talk with some friends from college. I found J.R sitting by himself. He shook my hand and congratulated me as I sat down next to him, welcoming the chance to get off of sore feet.
“Dr. Glass and I had a running bet about how long it would take you to wise up and ask that girl to marry you,” he said. “Glass won.”
“Did he take the short or the long bet,” I asked.
“Long. The whole department knew you two were an item at least a month before the August Hail and Farwell,” he said, referring to the first departmental function Michele and I had attended as a couple.
He watched Michele laughing with her girlfriends for a moment, and then said, “I hope you understand what an asset she is for you.”
That surprised me. I hadn’t heard things put quite that way. “I do, sir,” I said.
He gave me that scornful look that I knew so well from M&M conference. “No you don’t. No one who’s developed your skills by your age could.” He looked across the room to where his own wife was talking with some of the junior residents. “I know I didn’t. Treat her well, encourage her, and someday you will.”
Thirty years later I am beginning to understand, and it keeps me looking forward to the next thirty years