It's probably pretty clear that I have feelings toward Friedman. Those feelings have existed at a number of different places on the map, but I've now settled into an emotional location that I suspect is common enough that it's described in derisive terms in medical textbooks: "It is, of course, important to avoid the fuzziness which often emerges in patients after successful surgical interventions." When Friedman walked into the examination room on Tuesday, I felt this wave of gratitude and happiness to see him. This is the man who operated on my brain and saved my life and my language abilities! They were extra-fuzzy feelings. I dare say that he was a tiny bit fuzzy himself.

The first time I met Friedman, Biffle characterized me as "more high-strung than he'd ever seen me." That's saying a lot, and was probably true. The second time I met him was just before the surgery, and that visit went much better. This one Tuesday was the best yet. As you know, I've characterized the man as a lovable curmudgeon during the course of my several phone conversations with him. At the follow-up appointment, both those terms (lovable and curmudgeon) were amplified.

I'd typed up a list of questions for him, in order of priority, and I handed the list to him so that he could skim over it and answer the ones he wanted to. I suspected that this would be a good tactic with him, and it was. He's always quick, has a lot going on, and as you remember, he's not always delighted to answer patient questions. Having them written down gave him control, and maybe a sense of direction.

One thing that was adorable was that the first question he answered was sixth on my list--in other words, a fairly low priority: the question about how pregnancy and my medical treatment would work together. He looked at the list and almost immediately declared, "Have another baby! Babies are great!" The man often speaks in pronouncements. So then we were talking about babies, and pregnancy. Somehow we got on the topic of Down syndrome, and I told him that Maybelle--who was in the room with us, having lunch fed to her by Biffle--has Down syndrome. "I know," he said dismissively, almost rolling his eyes. "I could tell the first time I saw her." And then he shared with us that both times his wife was pregnant, she had amnios, but that both times he was fine with the kids having Down syndrome. That I was not expecting. If the man weren't going at 3,000 miles an hour during every appointment, I would have asked more.

More lovable curmudgeonliness: One of my questions (#3, in fact), was "What will the next ten years look like for me?" "I have no idea," he said, baffled. "I'm not a crystal ball!" I clarified that I meant in terms of my medical regimen, and then his hackles went down a bit.

I prodded him to ask me questions that would enable me to show off my super-star language function, my ability to speak about academic feminism, or whatever.  He prodded back by saying it's a good thing he knows well enough not to ask me any math questions, because he'd think he'd done something wrong in the surgery.  He thought that one was pretty funny (and actually, it was pretty funny).

I had another question (lowest on the list) about whether my scalp numbness is permanent. When he got to that question, I said, "It really doesn't matter to me--I won't be upset, I just want to know," and he immediately and emphatically said, "I don't care if I upset you!" That actually made me laugh out loud, because I know it's true at some level--and yet, I swear that the man has a sweet side that he thinks doesn't show, but I can see it. Sometimes it seems as if he's just performing brusqueness, but it's not a fully compelling performance. I believe I squeezed his arm affectionately at this point.

At the end of the visit, rather than sweep out the door at a half-run, he walked over to the couch where the cutest person in the room was eating Veggie Booty. He talked to her and was appropriately impressed at the signs I got her to show off to him, plus she waved and smiled, which is always irresistible. The man's fuzziness was almost completely visible at this point. When he stood up this time to walk out of the room, he--without any irony--called me "sweetheart" and made it clear that, although he's not technically going to be my doctor anymore, he plans to come see me when I come back to Duke for visits.

Friedman's clearly got a curmudgeonly persona. He works at a breathtaking pace, often two brain surgeries a day, and he brings this pacing into exam rooms with him. He's gruff, and not necessarily the kind of man I'd be drawn to.  And yet, his gruffness at this point almost always strikes me as covering just the tiniest fuzziness.  I mean, he helped to start a program at Duke to mentor female athletes who are interested in a medical career. He's married to a woman who is an impressive neurosurgeon, has been a serious trailblazer for women in neurosurgery, and has things to say about balancing work and family--I don't know if she identifies as a feminist, but she certainly sounds like one.  Interesting.

The guy who's going to be my go-to doctor at the Brain Tumor Center seems like a genuinely nice guy, and I'm sure I'll enjoy working with him. But I suspect I may not have as much blogging material from him as I've gotten from Friedman.


Pam said...

I see scientists like this - so intense and focused - and sometimes I think the curmudgeonliness is all they can muster up - and that it most definitely is because this incredible niceness has driven them to do the work they do. Nice (on the outside) is good, but saving ones life and language abilities is worth much much more. I can't even imagine the responsibility he has - and must feel everyday.

Thanks for sharing all of this - it's fascinating.

Cate Bush said...

Loved this post ... especially the South Park version of Dr. Mo Mo. So glad things are going well. Love you!

Alison said...

Cate, so glad you liked the picture! I made that myself, and although Biffle doesn't agree with me, I think it looks JUST like Friedman! (Joel Barton, don't tell me I'm wrong. You know I'm right.)