Dr. Who? …and Nkosi Johnson

I’ll be posting Clue #2 soon, but I have a piece of business to finish. In my last post I credited the Davinci Robot with successfully and painlessly removing my prostate.  But really my gratitude goes to my surgeon Dr. Jim Hu.  When I first heard that I would be seeing Dr. Hu, I smiled, because the first thing that came to mind was the BBC television series Dr. Who about that wacky solver of riddles and savior of civilizations, who traveled through time and space in a London police box.  There is one scene from the show that has always stuck in my memory.  The Doctor and his fellow time travelers are on a strange planet running through underground tunnels to escape their pursuers who are tracking their prey electronically, but the Doctor has a gadget which picks up signals from the tracking device and tells how close it is.   They come to a place where the tunnel divides, one tunnel going deeper and the other presumably returning to the surface.  All except the Doctor think they should take the one going up, but the Doctor says simply “I think we should go this way” and heads down the descending tunnel.  Running after him his companions ask “But why?”.  All the Doctor gives for an answer is “Because I think so!”.  Gradually the tracking detector blinks more and more weakly and finally stops altogether – they are safe.  It turns out that they have descended below a strata of pure gold which blocks the signal from the tracking device.  I love that a problem was solved not by logic and reasoning but by intuition.  It doesn’t always work out that way, but sometimes you just have to trust your gut.

OK, enough for science fiction, let’s get back to the real Doctor Hu.  I understand that he has done about 900 of these robotic assisted laparoscopic surgeries over the past five years.  Apparently in an average week he does nine of these life saving operations.  If you must face something like this, you really want someone with a lot of experience.  But there is something as much or more important.  Though I didn’t spend many hours with him – fully conscious that is – Dr. Hu was incredibly helpful, fun to be with and very encouraging.   In my first visit with him, my wife and I said that we hoped we could sandwich the surgery in between a visit from daughters and granddaughters in July, and a wedding in New York State in August.  He said he thought that could be arranged and promised to copy us on correspondence to schedule a date for surgery.   By the time we got home to Rockport there was a copy of an email to his staff in our Inbox.

A week after the surgery I went back to Brigham and Women’s Hospital to have the catheter removed and get the pathology report which was nothing but good news.  That afternoon I was overwhelmed with gratitude and suddenly remembered that I had Dr. Hu’s email address.  At 1:21 I shot him an email thanking him for saving my life and would he please convey my gratitude to his PA, Blakely, who could not have been more helpful and encouraging.  At 1:57 this appeared in my Inbox:

Hi Bob,

thanks for the note.

I’m glad that you are doing well.

Look forward to hearing about your continued progress.


My God!  He does nine of these a week!  I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had said “Hmm…which one was Cornell?” and I really don’t care.  That someone would take the time to extend such a kindness is better than any medicine I can think of.

And one more piece of business to take care of: I should explain who Nkosi Johnson is.  I first heard the quote that adorns the top of this page during a workshop on meditation and neurology.  Nkosi was born HIV-positive and lived in Melville, Johannesburg, South Africa.  He knew he wouldn’t have a long life but he resolved to do what he could to raise awareness of AIDS, and at the age of 11 was the keynote speaker at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban.  Jim Wooten of ABC interviewed the 12 year old boy in 2001 and came away with this from Nkosi:  “Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are.”   I can’t think of a more profound piece of advice.  If we are to save this planet, I am sure it will be done not by the powerful, influential and famous, but by a multitude of people most of us have never heard of, who did what they could, with no more than what they had, in just the space of a lifetime, wherever they happened to be.  Thanks Dr. Hu, and Nkosi, and the millions of others who make this a better world.

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