Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Freaky Friday on Tuesday

Today started out as normally as the next.  Second day of the work week, I overslept just a wee bit, but pretty non-eventful ... until I got to work.  First thing one of my coworkers told me Dr. Adler had passed away overnight or yesterday ... within about the last 36 hours or so.

Federico Adler, M.D., was 83 years old, so his passing probably wouldn't be as surprising to most as it was to all of his colleagues, students, family and friends.  Stunned might be an appropriate description of most of our reactions.  Had I to describe Dr. Adler in a word or two, I might say simply "bon vivante."  He had the most awe-inspiring zest for life of anyone I've known.  He was vibrant - excited about life and learning.  He was a studentof life, and a teacher of life.  He was enthusiastic and brilliant.  He was old school and always on the edge of discovery.  Above all I think, he was one of a dying breed of men - a gentleman and a scholar; dynamic and gentle; serious and almost playful.  He was amazing.

He was born in 1929 in Austria and emigrated as a young child to Equador with this family to escape the Nazis.  He went to high school, university and medical school in Equador and by design or fate ended up in Kansas City where he served his internship, general surgery residency and orthopedic surgery residencies at the old Menorah Hospital and KU Med.  He had a very successful private orthopedic practice, but always, always shared his love of medicine as an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, clinical professor and professor emeritus. 

When he retired from his private practice, he joined the faculty at KU School of Medicine and threw himself into teaching and research.  Even at 83, he spent anywhere from three to five days each week at KUMC.  What struck me most about Dr. Adler was his good humor and intelligence.  His students past and present loved and respected him.  He was such an amazing role model - and they knew it.  I saw him once at a research dept. barbeque with a beer in his hand, surrounded by residents, medical students and colleagues who doted on his every word - about everything.

His mind was so ... young.  At 54 I find myself remembering how good I once was.  At 83, I believe Federico Adler believed he had yet to reach his best.  Everything fascinated him and whether it was the latest surgical technique, cutting-edge research on fat embolisms or a quick reparte about which baseball team was best - he was on it.

There was a profound sadness today in the orthopedics department - even those who scarcely knew him felt the emptiness his sudden and unexpected departure left.  I thought about why his passing caught us all so unaware - he was an octogenarian after all.  I believe it is because of the way Federico Adler lived his life with such joy and passion and how infectious that was for all of us.  We knew him physically as the slight, grey-haired, moustached and dapper man with a bow tie and a ready smile - but his spirit ... well, his spirit was that of a child, eager to learn, quick to be kind and infectious in his enthusiasm.

Dr. Adler lost his wife Betty some five years ago after her own long illness.  I thought to myself, then shared with a few of my coworkers that he truly lived until he died.  He was found by his daughter in his exercise room at home.  That seems a fitting ephitat for such a vibrant, bon vivant as Dr. Federico Adler.

Now, I'm given to some flights of what some may consider impossible, outlandish or just plain kooky.  But I think Dr. Adler's passing set of some series of strange events in orthopedic surgery today.  One of our scheduler's had an episode of syncope - probably a result of a low then high-spiking blood sugar.  She went home early.  Then one of the doctors called up to his medical assistant to see if she knew "what the hell is going on in clinic today?"  Turns out, one of Dr. Archie Heddings's patients - a man who would turn 99 tomorrow, coded and died on a treatment table in our cast room just as he was about to have some sutures removed.  He was there, coughed a few times, and then he was gone.  Poor Dr. Heddings, who is another great example of kindness and compassion was completely undone.  He called the department administrator to find out what to do with this poor man's body.  It's orthopedics - not brain surgery.  We've never lost a patient in the clinic.

As it turns out, Dr. Hedding's medical assistant, Kylie, rolled and badly sprained her ankle as she tried to locate and return with a crash cart in an attempt to revive the centurian patient.  She's apparently out of commission for a few days while her ankle heals.

It was a strange and rough day in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center.  I'm not the only one who came away with a disturbing sense of ... something.  It was an unsettling day for all and at the end of it, as I tried to convert a few Word documents into PDF files, the entire folder I was working in vanished.  I know how to look for "lost" work that inadvertantly gets moved into another nearby folder, or accidentally trashed.  But this entire folder of six documents was just ... gone.

At that point it became clear the prudent course of action was to go home - safely and slowly - and spend a quiet evening with my dogs, my crocheting and perhaps some television.  I've also got some prayer and meditation time planned as I bid good-night to this crazy, sad and yet somehow interesting day.

Dr. Adler - you were an amazing man who lived your beliefs and convictions.  Surely you rest tonight in the arms of the Creator along with beloved Betty.  Rest well good doctor, you've earned your peace and we're all much better off having known you.

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