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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who Knew -- God Had a Last Name!

It was Ojemann.

Doctor Ojemann was my first neurosurgeon.  I’ve got that lovely Neurofibromatosis Type 2 thing going on as I may have mentioned earlier. Ojemann was my mother’s surgeon and my cousin Carmel’s -- Reagan’s too but we didn’t hold that against him -- and I was spectacularly lucky enough to inherit him. Ojemann not Reagan that is.

Daddy always referred to Ojemann as God. God had a comb over. Betcha didn’t know that, huh?

I first met Dr. O (as I referred to him) when I was 22 and fresh off the fun, fun Nf2 diagnosis. There I was, wearing my best shredded black jeans, an elderly Aerosmith T and my stunning black Cons -- looking every inch the fabulous heavy metal-hippy-pre-Goth Goth. There he was in his crisp white doctor jacket with his world class, amazing, brain surgeon guy rep radiating off him like heat waves off a Formula One winner.

At first glance this did not seem like a match made in Valhalla.

He patiently discussed my options and chances. It sounded to me as though immediate surgery was my best chance for saving the hearing on my right side. He allowed that this was his opinion and the road was mine to choose.  My reply? “Well, ya can’t win if you don’t play so let's go.” (me being fairly fresh off the midway and all) I got the sense that my willingness to dive in surprised him a bit or maybe it was just my seemingly relaxed attitude and fast decision.

At that time, 1982, patients for such large surgical undertakings stayed over at Mass General the night before. At 5 AM the nurse came to wheel me down to the OR. My confidence, resolve and any maturity I might have had, fled -- it ran like it had sprouted jet engines and had more fuel than sense. I  stood on my hospital bed and, seriously, attempted to get out the 7th floor window all while calling back “sorry, I’ve changed my mind.” The nurse, who'd clearly seen it all and a half dozen more, talked me down off the windowsill, fed me some valium and confidence and off we rolled into the future.

I was given 30/70 odds (Vegas odds, I think they were) for retaining any hearing and less gracious odds for getting through without facial paralysis. Death was on the table but not considered a truly significant contender. Go team Donna!

I came through that first surgery with a paltry 30% drop in hearing on my right side, NO facial paralysis and mega love for Dr. O. He visited me a few days post-op, not for the first time but the first time I was awake -- I threw my arms around him and gave him a mighty “Thanks, man!” He smiled and then he laughed. God laughed!

Over the following years Dr. O became more than my surgeon and chief brain minder -- he was a father figure and a teacher. Twice and then, as time galloped on, three times a year we’d meet, review my MRIs together. He taught me how to read my own -- we’d always sit together to review, discuss options and family and work and vacations. Life outside the OR.

Dr. O died 2 years ago March. Yeah,  God is dead. His talent, brilliance and humor lives on however,  in his neurosurgical scion, Fred Barker. Sounds like a great name for a Haberdasher doesn’t it?

Fred (AKA Son of God) totally rocks.

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