EXCERPTS FROM THE 'PREFACE' OF "AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY"
In the summer of 1954 after my freshman year at college, I became deathly ill with polio while hitchhiking in Europe. When my breathing gave out, my 18-year-old paralyzed body was placed in a wooden mechanical respirator in a hospital in Madrid, Spain. Even though I wasn’t Catholic, because of the touch-and-go nature of my illness, I was offered last rites by the hospital priest which prompted me to gasp, “Go to hell!” Refusing that priest’s offer was a turning point. I remember thinking, No, God damn it! I’m not ready to die. The respirator pumped fresh air into my lungs and fresh thoughts into my brain, I’m young. My life is just beginning. There’s so many things I want to do. I wasn’t thinking of becoming a physician—or anything else—in that moment, but I was excited about what adventures might lie ahead. Now, decades later, I have decided to look back at some of those adventures in an effort to understand the choices I made and the person I became. Through the slow, demanding process of writing, I hoped to gain greater insight into how I went from one stepping stone to another—rising from a near-death experience like the mythical phoenix and gradually, through a series of hits and misses, carving out a life that had meaning and joy. Many events and people have contributed to this unexpected journey, a journey that has seldom followed a straight and narrow path as I struggled with issues of love and career, friendships and illness... In contrast to many other polio survivors, my disability was extremely mild unless there was an activity that required two arms or two hands. Then I was very impaired which led me to choose activities I could do with one hand. As mild as my polio disability was, however, it has been a constant companion that has colored every aspect of my life: relationships, work, career, even making love. In darkness and light, polio has been an ever present shadow...READ MORE