It is hard to write about someone so great and special. Especially when you dont know if you can do their life justice and especially when you dont want to be writing about them in this way. I would much rather be writing, emailing, using Twitter, Google Plus or Facebooking him. Not to mention all the other interactive internet sites he so favoured.
There are some truly awful destructive people in the world. As strong as I can be, those sorts do get me down at times or bring me to fury. But then there are the "others." Someone I know calls this the 16% of good people; the trying hard to get it right types. Well David was in the top 1%, at the top of that Bell curve. What makes me so sure is that my grief at losing him is so profound. I am his Medical School friend of 32 years. We live in different countries. People whom David met for only a short time, or who met him through his social media networks and advocacy are going through a similar recognition that their loss is profound. This includes people who have never met him outside the virtual world. There is the heartfelt shock of losing someone of greatness.
What was it that made David great? In the top 1% of that distribution curve?
I am going to try and explain it by way of clues. David had a blog and online news paper called "Of Human Kindness." (this is a clue). He was a dedicated Doctor who started out in surgical training and one day, technically competent, near the end of his training, he decided he could no longer "Cut the flesh of real living people". As another Doctor reflected to me when I relayed this story, "Ahh so he became awake." Well yes and so David entered General Practice, as a Family Physician. And he was "awake." (Another clue).
When I first met him we were both eighteen years of age and we had been allocated adjacent rooms in the Halls of Residence of Monash University, in Melbourne Australia. He was Jewish; a tribe I had little experience of coming as I did, from the newly emigrated ten pound Pom sections of outer Melbourne. I thought we were equal in the eyes of a mysterious sunday school God, but religion and University multiculturalism teaches you otherwise. David would laugh at that. (Clue) Jesus and the problem he created for both the Jewish and Christian Religions would have been a topic he would have loved. Because characteristically, David was endlessly curious, endlessly enthusiastic and insatiably intelligent. His only agenda was to connect and to do so through joy. Yes he laughed a lot. (More clues). At that early age he was interested in people even when they werent that interested in David, he would remain their friend. Naive? No. He just had that capacity even as a teenager, to keep going in the face of rejection or difficulty. He did it for philosophical reasons, not at all unconscious. Intention. (clue)
David beat Hodgkins Lymphoma at an advanced stage in his late 20's, and then after 4 CABG suffered a Respiratory arrest in 2008. Which he survived of course. After this episode David made a point of thanking both myself and my friend Maria for our many kindnesses towards him in those early years of University. It was something he would never forget he told us. It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me because whatever we did, and we are still not sure, someone remembered it nearly 30 years later. That was pretty significant, but also typical of David. He remembered to say the nice things.
After the first intense years of preclinical study in the Medical undergraduate course sharing nutritional staples as banana custard, and take away to avoid the unvarying University food, David took a year out of his medical studies to do a research year called a BMedSci. We ended up losing touch a little as we headed off into clinical studies in hospitals and he graduated a year below me in 1987.
Over the next few decades of madness of residency hours, getting married, having children, and establishing medical practices, we kept loosely in touch. By now he had moved to London, met and married his beautiful wife Danielle. There was no internet back then. We kept in touch via his younger sister Karen whom I saw at various meetings and who was also a Melbourne based GP, and via Dr. Maria who was able to afford international travel. I heard he had had Hodgkins Lymphoma well after the event. I was shocked and horrified having just had a Melanoma myself. Life was busy then and the remarkable thing is that you keep thinking your adulthood is jus beginning even all the while, it is moving like a freight train through your fingers. You only notice that time has passed as suddenly you are buying secondary school uniforms for your emerging teenage children. How did that happen we all have wondered yet infuriatingly reassured by all the mountains of time we still had.
Thankyou to MIT; Tim Berners Lee and all the collaborators on the development of the internet.
Thank you to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter which allowed the social connections to flourish in the internet age.
We now had the digital connected age and I loved it. Funnily enough David did too. We started to have more reliable contact now both by internet and by travel. David would visit his mother in Melbourne and catch up with Maria and I. Nothing had changed, it was as if no time had passed. Maria and I can talk a lot but trust me David could always talk more!! David was so enthusiastic about everything we did. (Clue again) There was always that extraordinary kindness. After his major illness and his near death experience about which he talked freely, David was even more generous about sharing his heart. About making sure people knew what they meant to him.
My three kids who by now were teenagers and young adults immediately warmed to Mums University friend who previously they had only heard about.They immediately mutually linked up on all sorts of digital media. It took the five of us, to try to keep up with David in this respect. It is of great testimony that my kids ( of great character but who are hard to impress), so took to David.
I have come to realise that I cannot really express the nature of this relationship although the clues to Davids unique personality are here. Maybe people wonder if there was ever anything between us.
Huh? We never related on any other level other than lifelong friends.
One month before he died so tragically and suddenly, we ventured to the World Congress of Family Physicians in Prague. What fun we had. What a fabulous conference and David was in his element, sharing technical expertise, producing high quality impromptu talks, mentoring the young Doctors of Europe and the Vasqua Da Garma movement. He enthusiastically attended a workshop I had a co authored in a toe dipping exercise of my own into General Practice Academia. Wow! Again that enthusiasm and that support. I couldnt keep up with him.
I did ask him how he did it and he said he could survive on five hours sleep for a few nights in a row and then one big sleep later he would recover. Only one I would ask?
He left an indelible impression on the young Doctors, on the Balint leaders from Tel Aviv and the United States. He would breakfast with the Chair of the Royal College of GP's Dr Clare Gerada, or with UK medical icons like Dr Iona Heath, Professor Amanda Howe, and our own Australian Wonca President Dr Michael Kidd. When Michael didnt remember him, David laughed that funny unique and infectious way that he did. Self deprecating most assuredly. Humble? All true. Accepting completely. (all further clues).
A week later we were both back in London and David drove my husband Steve and I to some Italian restaurant not far from Heathrow. There was good homecooked food and we had a ball. We were sold on Nona's home made Tiramisu. When it came I felt all that guilt over the cream,the calories and my hips, but for David, I commented about his heart health. " Really its a puzzle." I said. "There is your heart health David, your knowledge, Nona's Tiramisu, and then there is this I waved my spoon....Joy. Which is it to be?" Without hesitation, "Joy of course! "he said.
I am so damn glad he had that Tiramisu.
Medical training notwithstanding.
One month to the day he would be gone. That little bundle of energy as one mutual friend in Melbourne described him. I asked him in Prague if he thought his Near Death Experience influenced his pursuit of connection, friendly intimacy and joy. I asked him if he thought that he was trying to recreate that amazing experience in the here and now. He looked at me levelly, directly knowing what I had experienced. and said simply. "Yes." Silent and sober for a minute, then the lights went back on and his garrulous self got on with the joy of living.
Was he perfect? Well of course not. My brain would get tired sometimes listening to him. I am talkative and couldnt get a word in. He would ask me if I had read the ten books he had placed on Good Reads...Um no I would say. His kids, Tanya, Colette, and Richard were more quiet like their lovely mother Danielle, which was probably just as well ! He loved them boundlessly and that was a problem spreading himself so thin, with a busy practice, an enormous enthusiasm and many connections. Everyone for some reason wanted more of David, and there wasnt enough time. Who else would love to hear what you were doing, and love the fact that you were doing it? Who would laugh kindly at your foibles and encourage your strengths all the while talking at full speed. Encouraging young and old alike, no matter who you were or where you were from. Connecting up like minded people, and charitably helping those less fortunate in his practice whenever he could, advocating for the underdog and the voiceless.
By now I hope you have joined up all the clues to the first question of why was David in the top 1%?
It will be his unconditional kindness that will be his greatest legacy to me. He met everyone the same. He was dedicated to Compassion. He could spot an inadequate personality a mile away and later pass comment, but never judgement, he would just look a little sad. David was in that top 1% not due to his obvious intelligence which was there as well, but due to his ability to be real and to stay real and authentic under all manner of life's insults and difficulties. He didnt shy away from telling you of his inglorious moments, his goof ups, and his disappointments. Nor of the moments of sadness if a relationship somewhere was not going according to plan. He was as real a person as you will ever meet and kind to a fault. He was better than a brother to me, and I will miss him for the rest of my life.
At this early stage I keep looking for him on email and his favourite Social Media sites. Wondering if we could have made it to Barcelona Wonca as planned, and feeling the deep gut wrenching ache that this will now not ever happen and he is just not there anymore.
I have always joked in the past that when I meet this mysterious God I have two questions:
1. Gynaecology God. Really?
2. Men and women Two halves of the same whole..Can you explain that again God?
but nowthanks to David, I have another question..
3. Skype Calls God. Why not? David could help you with this.
Shalom David. Onward journey. I know we will meet again.