With the statute of limitations having long expired, I can now describe my first experiences in learning about the human brain. When I was a child, I didn’t have the opportunity to spend much time with my father as he maintained a very busy practice in neurosurgery in South Florida. Clearly, he too recognized this shortcoming in our relationship so one day he came up with a solution; he invited me to come to the operating room to watch him remove a tumor from the base of someone’s brain. What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially considering the fact that I was thirteen years old at the time. I soon made these visits to the operating room a regular part of my weekend and retrospectively I believe my dad made the effort to schedule surgery on Saturdays so I could join him. The only problem was that despite standing on a step stool, I found it difficult to really see what was going on. Resourceful as my dad was, he came up with what would be considered today as a fairly risky solution. He encouraged me to “scrub in.” That is, at the age of fourteen, I was actually assisting my father as he performed all kinds of brain procedures from removing tumors or blood clots to clipping aneurysms. Needless to say, I was careful not to share these experiences with my friends.
My job generally entailed holding a thin flat metal “brain retractor,” gently providing enough pressure on the brain to allow my dad to do his work. Often, these procedures would take many hours so to pass the time my father would explain the specific function of that part of the brain upon which we were operating. “This area,” he would say, “is called Broca’s area, named for Pierre-Paul Broca, a French fellow who back in 1861 determined that this area controlled speech.” He went on to describe the rest of the areas of the brain in the same detail, always weaving some bit of historical color into the description.