What inspired you to become a healthcare provider?
I became both amazed and intrigued by the human body at a very, very young age, when I received a National Science Foundation Grant to work in molecular genetics at Florida State University for a summer while I was in high school. This led me to want to continue being a researcher. I thought I’d do a 6-year MD/PhD program at Northwestern University Medical School, then I realized that I could do research without the PhD. So I became a physician and haven’t looked back. I’ve had the privilege of treating over 35,000 patients in the 25 years I ran a tertiary care interdisciplinary pain management/functional restoration program. It was extremely rewarding. And I was a principal investigator and did a number of studies while I was a clinician, so I was able to do both research and treat patients at the same time!
Why did you focus on pain management?
That’s an interesting story. When I was an intern, one of my students introduced me to her father, a very well-known headache specialist. He was very kind and got me involved with the American Association for the Study of Headache (AASH), which is now the AHS. It fascinated me. Then, I was fortunate to be able to work with my department chairman, who I think thought I was crazy to spend extra residency time in other, non-neurology specialties, as I wanted to learn what could help me become a pain specialist. This was in the 1970s, before there were any fellowships, or any thought of there being a subspecialty of pain medicine. The neurology professors also thought I was crazy. The funniest thing was that the professor who gave me the most grief--who kept telling me that neurologists should only treat Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, brain tumors, etc., and that I should stop wasting the residency’s time by wanting to be a pain specialist--became, the year after I finished my program, the head of a newly formed pain center. During my neurology residency, I was told repeatedly that neurologists were thought of as gravediggers because they really couldn’t “fix” anyone, and were just trying to control things until the patients died.
With pain and headache I could and did help, so I never did a general neurology practice. Unlike some neurologists I knew, I didn’t wear a bow tie and have a tiny moustache and, indeed, look and dress like a guy who ran a mortuary.
Who were your mentors?
My mentors were a varied lot. One scientist at Florida State was instrumental in my becoming fascinated with research. Tom Hopkins, the Chairman of the Department of Religion at Franklin and Marshall College, encouraged me to do what no one else did.
When I reached medical school, Dr. Ben Boshes, the Chairman of the Department of Neurology when I was a student, taught me a great deal about what a physician should know and do--none of which had to do with medicine, exactly. On my first rounds with him, he showed us how to do a mental status exam while talking to a patient who was a real-life book binder. That’s what he did, and knew EVERYTHING about: how to do it, what type of problems were common, etc. I watched him demonstrate his encyclopedic knowledge about most every kind of job. He knew how to do them, even though he never did. But he got the best out of the patients by being like them, and being very conversant with what they did, very much to their surprise. He was someone I wanted to emulate.
Other medical mentors included Janet Travel, MD, and Marcia Wilkinson, MD, both of whom inspired and awed me.
If you weren't a healthcare provider, what would you be?
I’d be sitting at home writing trashy horror fiction.
What is your most marked characteristic?
The characteristic that has most marked me to others is my intensity and drive to do old and new things correctly, even if there was no roadmap showing that someone had done it before.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The short answer: my daughter Samantha. I was blessed to have a most remarkable daughter and she has developed a lot of my better characteristics. I am humbled by this young woman.
The longer version: I was one of the group of 30 people who founded the American Academy of Algology, now Pain Medicine, in 1983; one of 8 who helped found the American Academy of Pain Management in 1988; and, according to a number of others, I did have something to do with developing this subspecialty of pain medicine/management. Even more importantly, I saw over 35,000 patients and helped the vast majority of them--without ever having a legal issue.
What is your favorite language?
That would be English, in which I am fairly fluent, and in second place is Yiddish. I know only a bissle, but it helps remind me of my roots.
If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?
The book would be The Lord of the Rings (I’m cheating here: it’s a trilogy. But I re-read it through every year). It is truly a masterwork that teaches me more about writing every time I read it. The music: The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and not just for the obvious reason. The film? While I love the big-budget, high CG-oriented adventures and incredible visions, like Armageddon and the like, especially superhero movies like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, I would take Fiddler on the Roof with Topol as Tevya. It speaks of a different time and place that in reality I descended from, as my grandparents did indeed live out that story and come to the United States via Ellis Island from a shtetl in Russia during the pogrom--they just didn’t have the wonderful music.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I saw a lack and was one of the original guys that helped fill it. I made a difference by helping in the development of the subspecialty of pain medicine. I helped start two national societies and eventually became the President of the first regional pain society, started at the prodding of John Bonica, MD--the true godfather of pain medicine--in 1974. I am following in that society in the footsteps of some of the most important folk who helped fill in the “holes” with information that we in pain medicine now take for granted. An honor I am humbled to have. I also leave a legacy of published work, including 5 textbooks. It floored me to learn (and see) that several medical schools have all of them on their shelves!
What is your motto?
If you’re going through hell, keep going!” attributed to Winston Churchill. And my other motto, from H.P. Lovecraft, is too long--and strange!