MY FATHER WAS not a sinner, far from it. He was a good man, even a great man in many ways. He filled his lungs with life like he was taking a long drag on a cigarette, and then exhaled howls of joy. He was a paradox: a black hole that gathered everyone around him into his inescapable gravitational field while emitting blindingly bright light. Yet, like all people, my father was imperfect. He could pull my mother, brother, and me into his grasp, enjoying the light and warmth, yet he sometimes unintentionally crushed those closest to him with his passion and high expectations.
My father was born on Madeira Island, Portugal and spent most of his childhood there with the exception of a few years in his father's native Switzerland. His first language was Portuguese, but he also learned Italian, English, and German while attending school. He smoked from the age of 15, eventually accumulating more than 100 pack-years, but nonetheless became a champion sprinter and swimmerduring his youth. He attended medical school in Oporto, Portugal and was fascinated by so many medical disciplines that he had difficulty choosing a career path. He was initially drawn to psychiatry and the theory of mind, fascinated by the teachings of Freud and Jung. However, he became frustrated and disillusioned by the relative lack of sophistication in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment and ultimately chose anesthesia and the physiologic and technical approach to trauma and critical care. He was a clinician who viewed medicine through a scientist's lens, fascinated by the elegant design and resilience of the human body. He strove tirelessly to understand the how and why of everything and often proclaimed, “Medicine is beautiful.”
In April 1974, the “Revolution of the Carnations” took place in Portugal, ending a decades’ long dictatorship. My father and many others were glad to be rid of authoritarian rule, but he quickly became disenchanted with the socialist government that replaced it. He spoke out against the new government with disgust, which led others to warn him that, “There is a lamp post waiting for you.” Seeing this threat as an opportunity to fulfill a dream so common to many around the world, he moved our family to the United States. He rightfully viewed the US as fertile ground for physician-scientists like himself to solve the great mysteries of the human body and its ailments, even half-jokingly suggesting he would win the Nobel Prize. My father always had an insatiable curiosity, seeking to understand the human body with the tools of science.
After our family moved to the United States in 1975, as commonly occurs with international medical graduates, my father was required to repeat residency training in anesthesia. He embraced the opportunity to take call every other day in the SICU for months on end while devoting the ...