In All That Moves Us (Random House, June), pediatric neurosurgeon Wellons recalls the patients and students who have taught him some powerful lessons.
As a pediatric neurosurgeon, how does a case typically go for you?
It’s an interesting kind of metronome-like existence. You have to have this conversation with the parent that no parent wants. And then, all of a sudden, the patient starts recovering, waking up after surgery, and their angiogram and their scan is clean. You see this remarkable recovery that these kids go through, and you see this transformative experience that their parents go through. Over time, this phenomenal amount of grief, and just flat out being scared and being frightened, it transforms into resilience and recovery.
You write about teaching a lot. What’s something one of your students has done that you’re proud of?
Oh, gosh, there are a lot of them. There is a resident that I write about in the chapter “Birth.” Her name is Rebecca Reynolds. She goes by Becca. She’s our chief resident right now and I remember when she was a student, she was terrific. And during her elective time in the middle of her residency, she got a grant to go work in Zambia. She was doing surgery there, but she was also trying to effect government policy on fortifying food with folic acid to try to reduce the incidence of spina bifida in that country, and that, over time, has become a big part of what her career is. I think it’s going to have a tremendous impact on the field. That’s somebody that I am intensely proud of. So, Becca is one example, but really, I look at the picture of all our residents over the past few years, and there’s a lot of stories of grit and determination and success. I write about the residents, some in the last part of the book, about how much I can’t imagine my career without them. It’s an important part of my identity.
Much of your book is about the lessons that your patients—young children—have taught you. What do you most hope sticks with readers?
Honestly, I think that it has to do with that resilience that the kids have. The ability to look at these children’s stories and see that they’ve really made it through to the other side for the most part. I’m hopeful that the stories in the book trigger these thoughts for people because whether we’re good or bad people or whatever, it doesn’t inure us from suffering or grief. I think it’s important to know that these things can happen, but you can make it through it.