A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy
Sometime in the fall of my senior year in high school, I channeled Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy. In 1972, Star Trek had been off the air for three years. But, thanks to syndication, it was showing in the afternoons on my local television station. And, there was a brand new Star Trek cartoon on Saturday mornings.
When I first started watching Star Trek in September, 1966 I was 11 years old. I know. I’m getting up there. But, when I reach the age of 80, I’ll officially call myself a “senior adult”. And, then, maybe not. William Shatner is still going strong and he’ll be 84 this month. And, his best friend, Leonard Nimoy — well more on that later.
At the age of 11, I could not understand the nuanced messages hidden in the Star Trek story lines. I totally did not get the significance of the first televised interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. But, by the time I was 17 and a senior in high school, I got it! Watching the original series as an older teenager was like watching an entirely new show!
The relationship between Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, and Doctor McCoy fascinated me. Yes, I found it “fascinating” as Spock was fond of saying although I could never lift my right eyebrow like Spock AND McCoy could. Somewhere in my biological studies I had learned of the Id and the Superego. What is the superego. Here is one definition: “The superego is the ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates. The superego’s criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form a person’s conscience, and its positive aspirations and ideals represent one’s idealized self-image. The id was “the psychic content related to the primitive instincts of the body, notably sex and aggression.” And, the ego was “the part that remembers, evaluates, plans, and in other ways is responsive to and acts in the surrounding physical and social world.”
To me, particularly after watching “Forbidden Planet” and seeing what the “id” was capable of if personified I was able to take those three components and in my mind fabricate a new triad. There was the logical or intellectual component of our mind. Then there was the highly emotional and caring part of our mind. And then, there was the part of our mind capable of action. And, somehow these three components worked best to produce a balanced human mind.
In 1972, I was convinced the three components were personified by Spock, the ego; Kirk, the id; and McCoy, the superego. Spock represented the logical part of this partnership. McCoy represented the “human”, caring part of this partnership. And, Kirk, well, Kirk was the action oriented spirit of the triad and had to balance his almost feral, animalistic instincts with the advice of his two best friends in order to produce the perfect “captain”.
It was no coincidence that when I was asked to interview for a possible slot in the “six year” program (a now defunct program taking a person through 2 years of college and then right into medical school) I tried to imagine if there was a physician I could relate to as my role model. The problem for me was I had NO interest in being a doctor. I had only agreed to go to the interview because my best friend Phillip Rozeman insisted.
When the late and most wonderful Dr. Charles Black asked my what kind of doctor I would like to be, I remembered the words of Dr. McCoy. “Just an old country doctor who cares about every patient and I won’t let technology get between me and my patient.” It sounded good and I guess it worked. I was accepted into the six year program along with 9 other choices. Phillip made it, too and a rare event it was for two people from the same high school to be chosen in the same year.
I bring all of this up because now, after being in medical practice for over thirty years, I realize the kind of doctor I have become is a powerful combination of Spock’s logic and McCoy’s compassion. I am a radiologist. I make my living by working with the latest technology. Bones McCoy would not be proud. Spock would. I use logic every minute of every day to analyze and deduce the most likely diagnosis from examining a diagnostic image be it a CAT scan, an MRI, an ultrasound, a mammogram, an Xray, or a nuclear medicine study.
Radiologists can be technological geeks. We can find ourselves giddy at the prospect of discovering a hidden disease. But, we do have patient contact. Most of the time it is from behind a screen during an upper GI study. But, more and more in the last ten years, radiologists have been passed along simple procedures once performed by surgeons. This has required us to actually speak to a patient and touch a patient. And, I have rediscovered the joy of human contact. Now, McCoy would be proud of me. Many times, a patient tells me I have spent more time explaining their problem to them than their own doctor! Such are the times of our current state of medicine.
I reflect on my journey through medicine on the day Leonard Nimoy will be buried. Like most of the world, I mourned his passing with great pain and fond remembrance of his life. Unlike most people, I knew that Leonard Nimoy was more than Spock. He was an excellent director. He played a long running character in Mission Impossible. And, if you have never seen Fringe and met his mad, maniacal William Bell character, you life is sadly poorer for it.
In 2008 I attended Book Expo America, the largest publishing trade show in the world. My wife and I journeyed to Los Angeles for an experience I was totally unprepared for. I had no idea there would be dozens of celebrities promoting their books. That three days was so special. I met one of my favorite authors, Robert Crais. I argued with Alec Baldwin and called him an “a** hole”! I had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet my all time favorite author, Ray Bradbury. I even had a brief brush with William Shatner.
However, I recall getting in a line of about 25 people to meet Leonard Nimoy. He was singing copies of a book of photography. Mr. Nimoy and his son had produced a very eclectic book — a collection of photographs of the “nude large woman”. Yes, the “nude large woman”. Not a typo!
But, after only 12 people passed through the signing, an aide to Nimoy told us only 12 books had been delivered for him to sign. But, we could have our picture taken. Leonard Nimoy was kind and generous with his time. When I met him, he was laughing and smiling, a very emotional state that Spock would have ridiculed. But, he was full of life and compassion on a group of fans who had waited in line for an hour to get a signed copy of a book that had never been delivered.
In reading all of the testimonies given about Leonard Nimoy, I have yet to find one that is anything but glowing. I wish I had known the man. He never knew how much influence he had on my life and on my medical career. Sometimes, I imagine I am the Captain of a great starship faced with a hundred life changing decisions an hour. Who would I want by my side? First Office Spock and Chief Medical Office Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Logic clearly dictates this is the only possible choice. After all, “the good of the many outweigh the good of the few. Or, the one.”
I truly hope that Leonard Nimoy is coursing through the fantastic space time continuum of the beyond; safe and content in the arms of God; living long and prospering. He deserves it!