What inspired you to do what you do?
Initially I had a fascination for the heart and thought about being a cardiac surgeon, a “heart doctor” in the eyes of a child. In college I worked part-time as an EKG technician monitoring in cardiac stepdown units. Working in a hospital emergency department opened my eyes to the realm of treating so much more. There appeared to be something special about emergency medicine that required a diverse knowledge and skillset, and the ability to act on moment’s notice.
While I regret not following that path, my second passion was problem solving, which I now apply to musculoskeletal pain. The idea of being able to help resolve a complex pain pathology in a patient who has failed other treatments yields a remarkable level of gratification. I’ve never sought simple referrals. Send me the patient who failed to respond after neck or back surgery, or one with overlapping comorbidities that complicates treatment.
Why did you focus on pain management?
The idealist’s answer is always to help mitigate human suffering. The idea of treating the patient experiencing pain became my natural course with the training I had. I do still wrestle with the concept of pain management, though. My first rule when it comes to pain and patient care is, attempt to resolve the pain pathology. If that is not possible then, and only then, at least help to make the pain less severe and more manageable. The actual focus should be to address the underlying pathology to the best of one’s ability, which in the perfect scenario could eliminate the need for the problem to be managed. All too often, such is not possible. That never means the primary goal should be less.
Who were your mentors?
I would have to credit Dr. John Grostic for influencing the path of treating musculoskeletal problems in general and Dr. Andrea Trescot for broadening my awareness in the field of pain specifically. Dr. Barry Cole helped to foster the idea that education was just as important a tool as any instrument in our armamentarium. I feel like the Borg in Star Trek, thanks to the physicians with whom I have worked closely and learned from, adding their unique knowledge to my own. I also credit the American Academy of Pain Management and PAINWeek for providing the venue to engage many of the individuals I have learned from.
If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?
My mind is always seeking to improve upon or fix something. I often use car or road analogies to describe the process of pain and the art of practicing the science of delivering healthcare. That might be related to my passion for spending time in the garage, repairing and restoring little British sports cars. So, technically that would make me a mechanic, with the car being my patient. No matter what my career choice, there would have to be a diagnostic or analytic component.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Being impatient. Strangely enough, it has served me well in healthcare. My goal has always been to seek an immediate response to the treatment I provide, something observable and measurable. Viewing each individual in a highly patient-centered manner and seeking the most effective clinical means to address their unique problem is my goal.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
When I look back over the things I have accomplished, and the people I have helped, I am sure that part of my story hasn’t been written yet. Then again even if I were only able to help provide relief to a single patient who was suffering, that in itself could be considered an achievement. I hope that someone whose life I have impacted would impact or save the life of another.
What is your favorite language?
Having spoken enough Spanish and French to be dangerous, Italian has always been the language I would like to learn. I guess the best way for that to happen would be for me to take on an Italian car for my next restoration project.
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?
As I would find a book, film, or piece of music to be boring in short order, I would prefer a set of tools to use to create or repair something. There is nothing that I find more gratifying and comforting than working with my hands and mind. Guess it is a good thing that patient care requires the same process. But if all else failed and I had to settle on a book, it would have to have been written by, or an anthology of, Rube Goldberg.
What would you like your legacy to be?
My legacy would be to know that, somehow, I made a difference in someone’s life. Coincidentally, I gave much thought to this question recently when attending the funeral for a friend of 30 years. Hundreds attended his memorial service and I was quite confident he positively impacted every single one of their lives. The lesson he left with me, which I wish I had realized before his passing, was that it’s one thing to lead, but it’s more important to inspire.
Plans for the future?
Having reached a point in my career where it is time for a change, and the ability to deliver healthcare in the manner that I find gratifying is near impossible, the future has become “now.” I truly enjoy the opportunities to teach and help share the wealth of information acquired during my career, which participating in PAINWeek and PAINWeekEnd meetings afford. There is something to be said for helping impart knowledge to others who then, in turn, make a difference helping even more individuals than I could ever impact on my own.
And, who knows? Maybe there will be a small Italian sports car in my future to help necessitate finally learning Italian.
What is your motto?
I’ve always been passionate about the Henry David Thoreau quote, “Be not simply good; be good for something.” Then again, there is always Rube Goldberg, who had the uncanny knack of finding the most complex invention to accomplish a simple task. Without a challenge, there would be no need for a result.