It’s hard to believe that Norman Simon passed away some 25 years ago. He is with me every day. How could he not be?
As with so many sons, my father died before I could really speak to him – I mean speak with him in the honest, open way we all wish we could speak with our parents, but so rarely can.
The circumstances of his death were rather dramatic. He was a radiologist, a medical pioneer of sorts and inventor of several operations, which I suspect are no longer performed. Or are performed in a new way.
One of those operations – the after-loading of radioactive cesium for cancer of the cervix – was the proximate cause of his death. A patient upon whom he had performed the procedure was leaking radioactive material. My father, not a relaxed man in general, was naturally hugely concerned. Although it was close to midnight and he was seventy years old, he elected to drive the hour and a half or so from his home in Westchester to his patient somewhere in New Jersey.
He never made it out of the garage. My mother, used to hearing him drive off, went out to his car that night to find him slumped over the steering wheel, the victim of an aneurysm.
Well, not quite the victim at that point He was in a coma and was brought to White Plains Hospital, the nearest facility.
I was in San Diego, about four days from starting to direct a movie (my first time), when I heard the news. I left the set and flew to New York. I arrived at the hospital to find my father flatlining. It was clear his situation was grave, but no one wanted to pull the plug. It was too early. He had a lot of medical attention from his colleagues and there was much debate whether to move him to New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital where he was a professor of medicine.
I went back to San Diego to make the movie, but every night after shooting, and sometimes during the shoot, I would speak with doctors in New York about my father’s condition. There was no change and I soon got the sense they were waiting for me, the oldest son, to be done with the movie and come home to make the decision.
About eight weeks later, I returned to the White Plains Hospital. There was still no change. I stood by my father’s bed, shouting at him, trying to get him to wake up. He never so much as batted an eye. Finally, I did what I had to do.
But we never got to talk.
Now, this Father’s Day, I think of my father, that master doctor, and wonder what he would say about the affairs of these times. A lover of technology – he had the first cobalt machine in private medical office – I know he would have adored the Internet. It is just his kind of thing, although he never got to see it.
On the question of the new healthcare legislation, I am less secure, though I suspect he would have had mixed feelings. He was a private medical practitioner devoted to medical innovation and what it promised for the future, an area in which the current legislation has been heavily criticized.
In any case, Happy Father’s Day, dad.