I am grateful every day for being guided to become an orthopedic oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), where I help take care of our patients who face the challenges of having bone cancer and other musculoskeletal tumors.
My father once told me at a young age, one of the most important things you can do is decide what to do with your life. He would say, “If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it well, and you certainly won’t do it for long.”
I found that love by a matter of happenstance. Every time I scrub my hands and arms in preparation for surgery, I can’t avoid noticing the faded scar that covers the front of my left elbow. It reminds me every day exactly when my journey to becoming an orthopedic oncologist began. It was an event that would forever change my life.
I was roughly six years old and being disciplined with the proverbial “time-out.” My mother wanted me to reflect on my poor decisions and miss a full day in the park fishing with my friends.
As I sat on the sofa, I watched my mother climb the stairs with a full basket of laundry in one arm and cleaning supplies in the other. I quickly came up with a plan to sneak out of the house and use the wooden cellar steps as my escape route. I would play in the park and be back before my mother finished her chores. As she disappeared upstairs, I decided there was no time to waste.
I ran down the steps and suddenly flew up into the air. I didn’t realize that my mother had washed and waxed them while I was sitting on the sofa. The wooden railing caught my left arm and pulled it backwards. I will never forget the snap-pop sound my left arm made as I fell to the concrete floor. I could not move. I screamed as loud as I could, hoping my mother would find me. She found me a few hours later after first searching the park, bone protruding and shirt bloody from a partially cut brachial artery. She wrapped my arm in some clean bed sheets, applied a belt as a tourniquet, picked me up and rushed me to the hospital where I woke up two days later.
The doctors initially wanted to amputate my left arm above the elbow. Fortunately, Dr. Gerald Calory, a young, well-trained orthopedic surgeon arrived on the scene. He rushed me to the operating room, fixed my artery and put the bone back in place where it belonged. I spent the next six weeks flat on my back staring at my arm that was suspended above me in traction. Eventually I was able to return home.
Four weeks later, however, I fell off a sliding board and broke my right arm in the same exact place. This time, the bone did not come out through the skin, and a long-arm cast took care of the problem. Dr. Calory told me I was “one of a kind” and he never had a patient break both arms in the same place in one summer. I took it somewhat as a compliment, but on further reflection, took it as a warning not to upset my mother anymore. He and I became the best of friends and stayed in touch until he recently passed.
After that summer, I was certain about two things: I would never sneak out of the house again, and I wanted to become just like my hero, Dr. Gerald Calory, my orthopedic surgeon.
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