Tom Finneran: Of God, And Gods, In The OR

Friday, June 14, 2013


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A debt of gratitude is owed to those in the operation room that perform miracles every day.

Medicine, modern medicine, is on my mind this week. Life and death passed each other in the corridor once again. My friend and former colleague Paul Cellucci died, and my wife and I just celebrated the birth of our seventh grandchild.

As Bostonians and as Bay Staters, my wife and I feel blessed a thousand-fold by the miracles of modern medicine. We live in an awesome age, perhaps so awesome, so completely unthinkable to previous generations, that we make the mistake of taking the miracles of healthcare, and even of life itself, for granted. And to hold an infant in his first hours of life outside the womb is to be reminded of how fragile and precious life really is. I pray for the day when the miracle of human life is what informs our public debates about abortion. That, however, is a topic for another day.

The hand that was dealt to Paul Cellucci required him to draw to an inside straight, repetitively, constantly. He knew, as we all know, that ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a deadly stalker. It is a hideous disease. It has never failed to kill its targets. Far better to leave a doctor’s office with a deadly cancer diagnosis, one which gives only a five percent chance of survival, rather than to hear the diagnosis of ALS. At least with such a cancer, one might draw to the proverbial inside straight.

Research, Massachusetts-based research, continues apace in a hunt for some remedy to ALS. May the work of the researchers be blessed and may their praises be sung. Sing hymns to Paul Cellucci as well for his final efforts, in total consistency with the body of his life’s work, were made on behalf of others. He raised many thousands of dollars over the course of many months to fund specialized studies of possible cures for ALS. UMass Medical School in Worcester, is doing much of the research work. And given what we now know, about the tools at hand and the science of our day, I think we can permit ourselves a wistful smile, even as we ponder Governor Cellucci’s passing. That wistful smile speaks to an American confidence that a cure will be found and that Paul’s death will not have been in vain.

New life arrived this week as well, bringing with it emotions of joy and love and appreciation. For a baby’s parents there are of course anxieties of every kind. Welcome to the world, kids. It’s a messy place but one inevitably improved by young couples starting and building families. For the grandparents, it’s another step toward heaven on earth–the baby joins brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and others in a great bouillabaisse of family life. As an aside, can anyone ever explain a father who brings life into the world, his very own flesh and blood, only to abandon his child? There is no scorn or shame sufficient to describe such degenerate moral failure. Again, a topic for another day.

I’ve come to know a number of doctors over the years and I come close to worship when I speak of them. Now I am a man of faith and thus the above reference to God. The doctors, of course, would laugh heartily at any comparison of them to the Almighty, but...they perform miracles on a daily basis. And those miracles involve the gift of life. That’s pretty darn spiritual to me. God gave them gifts of self-discipline, skill and knowledge and they apply those gifts on behalf of fellow human beings. I’ll call them God’s apostles. And, in the O.R., they are indeed the supreme being!

Allow me to name names, all from Mass General Hospital, and all in the Finneran family Hall of Fame...

Four of my grandchildren were high-risk pregnancies and I’m not sure that any of them would be with us but for the efforts of Dr. Michael Green, a god with a scalpel and a prince of a man. He is cherished in our household. He has given us life.

So too Dr. Dennis Burke, a son of Southie, the most gifted of surgeons, and with an Irish charm and modesty that makes you love him. He is simply one of the nicest people I know and he performs absolute miracles every single day. The nurses and residents adore him, describing him as MGH’s best of the best. No surprise by the way that Dr. Burke is a Boston Latin School kid. Sumus primi.

Dr. Tom Gill takes care of Patriots, Red Sox, and the less athletic in our midst. He has Boston and Pittsburgh blood in his veins and I’m not sure how he navigates Red Sox/Pirates, Steelers/Patriots, or Bruins/Penguins games. All I know is that along with Dennis Burke, he makes the lame less lame and the halt less halt, giving both young and old a restoration of strength, stride, and purpose. When your body is broken, call Tom Gill. Truly talented, and also blessed with some Latin School lineage. Sumus primi indeed.

Dr. Frank McGovern is yet another Irish charmer and for every guy over the age of fifty, you might want to get to know him. You know that exam they give you when the doctor puts on the latex glove? OUCH! Followed by the joy of a colonoscopy? Well when the reports get iffy, find your way to Frank McGovern’s office. We all know that a man treasures his Dr. McGovern with those family jewels. He’s awesome with a knife. And he’ll save your life.

And “Dr. Larry”, Larry Ronan, “adopted” son, student, and disciple of the Dorchester legend Dr. Tom Durant, whose humanitarian work all over the world rivaled Mother Theresa’s. No finer doctor exists than Dr. Larry. To know him is to love him and to be aware of his work in Africa, in Haiti, and elsewhere is to tremble at one’s own shortcomings. God gave Larry urgent missions. And Larry makes God smile. Every day.

All these doctors were on my mind and in my prayers this week when life and death passed each other in the corridor. Blessed be the healers.


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