On Thanksgiving Day, I always try to reflect on the things I have been grateful for in my life. It dawned on me as I awoke yesterday morning that one of the people I have been most thankful for, and never told, is an old friend, and fellow Healthline blogger, Dr. Paul Auerbach. Bet you didn’t realize that, Paul!
Paul and I met about 37 years ago on an airplane headed for Durham, NC. We were just about the only two people on the plane and had been seated next to each other. I have never been much one to start up a conversation, and I was also terrified because it was my first time on an airplane, but Paul wasn’t shy about introducing himself. Turns out we were both finalists for A.B. Duke Scholarships at Duke University and they had paid for our transportation for the interviews. It also turned out that one of his best friends in high school in North Plainfield, NJ, had also been my best friend while I was in elementary School in Bridgewater Township. Small world!
Thanks to their generosity, Duke was the only school I would actually visit. My family was poor, my father had been very sick for several years, and there was no way my mother was going to be able to take time off to drive me around for college interviews with 5 younger brothers and sisters at home. Interestingly, other than Duke, I had actually applied only to a bunch of engineering schools and had applied to Duke only at the last minute because a friend of mine with whom I played football had told me that his brother went there and thought I would fit in well. As will be apparent by the end of this post, these ‘impulsive decisions’ have led me to where I am today. Anyway, to make a long story short, the minute I got off the plane in Durham, I fell in love with the place, the campus, and the people. I got home, told the engineering schools, I wasn’t coming (which is just as well because I would have made a lousy engineer), and in the fall of 1969, Paul and I started as freshman at Duke.
It wasn’t long after arriving there that Paul tracked me down one day and said, “Today, the Dean is meeting with all the premed students, and we have to go.” My comment was something along the lines of “I didn’t know that I was going to medical school.” Regardless, Paul insisted, and off we went to Page Auditorium to listen to what the Dean of premed students had to tell us. As I recall, about two-thirds of the freshman class at Duke was there. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the premed Dean seemed to think that very few of us would ever be able to make the grade, especially if it required jumping through the hoops he detailed to us. Quite frankly, I agreed, and as I left the auditorium, my career in something science other than medicine seemed much more realistic. In fact, that was the last premed meeting I ever attended.
Over the next few years, I immersed myself in basic sciences, first thought about going into oceanography, but learned that I got seasick too easily, and then started doing research in the molecular biology of viruses. I hadn’t thought twice about medical school and since I had already been promised a slot in the graduate school by the Department of Biochemistry (if I could ever get around to filling out the application), I figured that’s where my future lay. But, my guardian angel, Paul, was not to be denied. Just before our senior year, he reminded me that I was already behind in filling out my applications for medical school. I told him about my graduate school plans (and my ambivalence about medical school) and his response was simply that I still needed “to fill out a few applications.” Since I really did not need to worry about graduate school and “there really wasn’t much to lose,” according to Paul, a few (I still didn’t have any extra money) applications to medical school were sent off. I didn’t know what I would do if I had to travel anywhere for an interview, or if I would go if I actually got into one of the schools to which I had applied. Besides, I was very happy, comfortable, and good at molecular biology.
As it turned out, I obviously did get in and go to medical school. And, except for my first day in Gross Anatomy lab, when I managed to stick a scalpel through the back of a finger in a basement laboratory with no air-conditioning, 100 degree heat, high humidity, and the air saturated with formaldehyde, I have not regretted the decision for a minute. It has been the ride of a lifetime and I cannot imagine having done anything else. So, on this Thanksgiving Day, thanks to Paul S. Auerbach, MD for being a friend, and knowing me better than I knew myself. Incidentally, my presence on this blog was also the result of Paul’s persuasiveness. I tried to talk myself, and him, out of my participation, but I am very glad now that that didn’t happen….