Monday, July 25, 2016

In Partial Defense of My Brother (sort of a back-handed compliment)

This is obviously not an actual photo of my brother because, for one thing, my brother would kill me if I posted an actual picture of him on my blog, but it's a reasonable facsimile except that my brother has blue eyes.

The central topic of this post is my brother Matthew. Matt merits frequent incidental press time in my blog, but seldom if ever has he been the prime subject of a blog post, or at least I don't recall devoting a blog post exclusively to him. The reason I'm writing about him now is in part because of a recent telephone conversation I had with a friend,  and also because of comments other friends have made to me about my brother recently.  

I may have created a few misconceptions concerning Matt. A friend once commented that from the way I speak of Matthew, it seems rather dubious that he is able to dress and feed himself independently. I've shared an abundance of stories about stupid things Matthew has said and done. Matthew believed until he was over six years old that a person could be sucked into a sewer or septic system by standing too near a toilet as it was flushed. I once convinced Matthew that by planting Cheerios into the ground, a person could ultimately produce a plant that bore doughnuts. As recently as three years ago, Matthew did not believe that there were such actual beings as pygmies; he thought they were Hollywood creations synonymous with "Oompa Loompas."  I've shared a few stories about stupid things I personally have said and done as well, but in general I'm much more open to the idea of talking about Matthew's acts of brain-deadness than about my own. It helps that Matthew gives me so much material with which to work in this regard, but still, I am guilty of sometimes fanning the flames of what sometimes seems to be the vacuousness of the inside of Matthew's head. I haven't been entirely fair in doing so.

By way of evidence that Matthew's EEG may not be entirely flat, I'll briefly discuss SAT scores -- Matt's, not mine, because my scores are not relevant here. He took the test twice. His first attempt was a bit mediocre, but he then went through the Kaplan course. His second attempt yielded him a combined score of 1890, which wouldn't necessarily have landed him into the thick of Ivy League contention, but still the score was nothing about which to be embarrassed. He was young when he took the test, I might add. Matthew and I each completed high school at the age sixteen years, six months and eight days, which would have necessitated early SAT dates. 

Matthew completed his Bachelor of Science degree in three years, just before hitting the nineteen-and-one-half-year mark. We both had the advantage of multiple AP courses in high school, and he took summer school courses in university as well. He didn't complete multiple majors as I did, but finished his degree early while spending two of his three intercollegiate years as a Division I baseball player. (His freshman year he red-shirted.) He would never have made it into the major leagues as a baseball player, but had a ninety-four MPH fastball with decent control, which for his relative lack of bulk was impressive. I don't think it was ever Matthew's goal to play pro ball, or at least it wouldn't have been his goal much after the age of thirteen or so, but he was a legitimate contributor to his university team's pitching staff. Matt's weakness as a pitcher was that he didn't have a great deal of versatility in terms of pitches other than his fastball. In order to be highly effective, a pitcher needs to have a variety of pitches in his arsenal, causing batters to wonder what sort of pitch might be coming up next; if batters know for certain that the next pitch they'll be facing is a fastball, too often that fastball will travel equally fast in the opposite direction, sometimes even over an outfield fence. Matthew had his impressive fastball, but the forkball that someone with vision corrected to a maximum of 20/400 could have detected before it left his hand wasn't sufficient backup for his fastball, however impressive and reliable  it might have been.

Matt's pitching performance is in some ways a relatively representative metaphor for his life. He has limitations, but what he does, he does extremely well. He works hard both at the things he does well and at those things that do not come so easily to him but that he knows are important. He may not learn as quickly as some do, but he's willing to put in whatever time is necessary to master a concept. 

And he cares -- not just about himself and his own performance in various areas and how his performance makes him look, but about others. When Matthew is a doctor, he will care about his patients.  If he becomes a surgeon as planned, he will probably visit patients more often than most surgeons visit their patients in hospitals. This may lead him to become aware of post-surgical problems or complications that other surgeons might have missed simply because he will be attentive and observant, and he will be there. Then again, perhaps the extra time spent at the hospital may just cause Matt's wife to divorce him due to the resulting neglect and/or cause his children to forget what he looks like. Only time will tell.

Matthew is typically calm in crises. This will work to his favor as a doctor of any kind, but particularly if he works in trauma or surgery.  Matthew learns well what he is taught and remembers it even in heated situations.

Matthew's Achilles' heel as a surgeon may be that once or twice in a physician's and particularly a surgeon's career, he or she will probably come across something he or she has never before seen or been taught about.  Not everything about the human body can be anticipated, and not every eventuality can be covered in medical training. If anomalies present in the course of a physical exam, a physician can consult resources. When it hppens in surgery, if someone in the O.R. doesn't know what to do, the results can be devatating. An organ may fail or an artery may blow out in the course of  a surgical procedure during which  the apparent impetus has never caused a similar failing in recorded medical history. In the occurrence of such an instance, a patient's chances of survival may be linked closely to a surgeon's ability to synthesize quickly and to instantaneously create out-of-the-box solutions to such crises. Matt may be handcuffed in his ability deal with such phenomena. In many of such instances, the patients won't survive no matter what heroic measures the attending surgeon comes up with, regardless.  In Matt's case, however, were the very same thing to happen to a patient under his care a second time, he would have as good a chance as any surgeon of beating the odds and saving the patient the next time he encountered the phenomenon.

I've never been known for possessing excessive humility, and I have a great deal of confidence in myself in terms of my eventual ability to practice  medicine and to perform surgery if that's the specialty I happen to choose. If I did not have such confidence in myself,  I would seek another line of work. Assuming Matthew and I both followed career paths leading us into surgery, my honest opinion at this point is that if a person were forced with the choice of going under a scalpel wielded by me or one wielded by my brother, I would be the safer choice. I'm speaking as who I am, a person who is perhaps a bit conceited but also honest with herself. On the other hand, I've seen many both  future surgeons and surgeons currently in the practice whom I'd trust far less with a surgical procedure in which my own life were on the line than I would trust Matthew. He will earn his right to practice medicine. He will do so not without good looks, charm, and a small degree of sweet talk to those in important positions, but in even greater greater measures he will do so with perseverance, diligence and devotion to the field, and with adherence to the Golden Rule.

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