I write a lot about superheroes and supernatural heroes, like vampires and werewolves. And though my publications at the moment focus on heroes of a fictional vein, it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the "real deal," and that includes people like Dr. Black.
I first met Dr. Black close to midnight in late September of 1991. I had been hospitalized for a terrible reaction to medication. I was sleeping, though lightly (have you ever tried to sleep through the night in a hospital--impossible!). I woke up gently to this pleasant looking man in blue scrubs with a surgical cap on his head. He was smiling. The first thing I noticed about him was a certain twinkle in his eyes--I had no idea who he was or why he was there, but just from looking at him, I knew I was safe.
And I was.
Dr. Black told me about my first brain tumor; it was causing lots of problems, as you might imagine. And in 1991, things like brain-mapping and surgical technology hadn't yet caught up to my diagnosis. I think the moment we became friends was a few minutes after Dr. Black explained the biopsy procedure to see if the tumor was cancerous. Not even a minute had passed when I said, "But if you're going to open my skull to do the biopsy, why not just take out the tumor at the same time?" Dr. Black smiled widely. That was the moment. I had just turned 20 years old.
A few weeks later, I was sitting in a chair while Dr. Black and a neurosurgical resident who had befriended me, were literally screwing a surgical halo to my skull. It was amazing. I wasn't freaked out. I wasn't crying. Dr. Black was there--with that smile and those twinkling eyes--I knew I was safe. And I was. We then walked (yes, I walked after that) to the OR. We even took the elevator...I laugh now when I think of how that must have looked to others. Me, naked beneath my Johnnie with a halo screwed into my skull, accompanied by two rather handsome doctors. And I was laughing and talking, as if I were with a few friends on our way to lunch in the hospital cafeteria.
Throughout the surgery, Dr. Black spoke to me, told me what was happening, asked me questions. I never once felt as though my life were in danger--and my head was open, people. My grey matter, exposed.
Throughout the years, Dr. Black has continued to be there for me; I always went to see him at least once a year. And though I've been in mighty health-pickles throughout the years, because Dr. Black was always there, I knew I'd be safe.
When he saved my life, three times now, he didn't just save the life of a single person--he gave something to everyone connected to me over the last 20 years: My husband, my children, my family, my friends, my students (all 3,000 of you!!!), even kind people like you who take the time to read my blogs, my books, and other writings. One person isn't just random; one person is more than just a single soul. I'm connected to 250,000 people, give or take a few thousand. And no matter what level our connection may be, it has changed your life...and mine. Even if it's in a seemingly small way, every grain of rice matters.
That's why Dr. Black is a true hero. He has helped hundreds of thousands of people and through those individuals, hundreds of thousands more. He saved people's lives, extended people's lives, and improved the quality of life for not only his patients, but EVERY single person connected to EACH of them. We're talking about millions of people here. Dr. Black is like Superman. Though he's not an alien from another planet, though he doesn't wear a cape, Dr. Black is superheroic...everyday. Because he understands that the principle of the "greater good" begins with the individual. The two are inseparable. Every human life has a unique value. Dr. Black not only lives that truth each day, he searches for new ways to improve human life, extend it, and keep it healthy...even in the face of one of the top three cancer-killers in the United States. Talk about your supervillains--brain cancer is right up there with Lex Luthor!
I recently learned Dr. Black took a leave in January to work with the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies. Dr. Black looks the same to me today as he did twenty years ago. But I know that he's nearing retirement. And it's well-deserved. For decades, he's taught medical students at Harvard Medical School. For decades, he served as the Chief of Neurosurgery at Children's Hospital in Boston. He also served as the Cheif of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital, also in Boston. Dr. Black revolutionized brain tumor patient care and research for well over thirty years. Now that's a true hero.
Everyday, I try to honor Dr. Black's sacrifices and contributions to the world by living the best life I can possibly live, by paying forward what he gave me to everyone I meet--my thousands of students, my thousands of readers, my friends and family. My mother may have given me this life, but Dr. Black gave it back to me again, and again, and again.
Wherever you are right now, Dr. Black, thank you--for not just my life, but for every life you've ever influenced. You deserve all the happiness this world can bring.
I miss you and hope to see you soon, Dr. Black! With love, from one of your "oldest" patients....