|Dr. John Lubicky|
"What a job!" someone says.
But the Chicago surgeon is already gone. In a moment, he has washed up, changed into coat and tie and is striding down the dim halls of Children's Hospital here in that rapid gait particular to Olympic speed-walkers and great surgeons. Doctors scramble after Lubicky. Those who hesitate are left behind as he sweeps into an examination area.
Children already are waiting for him—they have been for hours, in wheelchairs, in braces, wearing their church clothes, their parents hovering grimly behind them. Ten minutes after surgery, Lubicky is shuttling between two small examining rooms. He sees a frightened, cross-eyed girl in pigtails and a boy in a wheelchair, his eyes rimmed in red. As soon as he finishes in one room, he heads to the other.
He flexes a leg, tilts an ankle, then gives the news, which is often grim. He urges an interpreting doctor not to sugar-coat his translation to a worried mother of a 14-year-old who broke his neck. "She has to know it's unlikely anything will improve," he says. The mother of a 9-year-old with acute meningitis wants to know if he might ever walk. Lubicky shakes his head. "No."
The exchanges seem brusque. But Lubicky has found truth is often in short supply in the Lithuanian medical system. "Their doctors don't always tell them," he says. "They need to know the situation so they can come to terms with it." He finishes with the last child of the day. "Is that it?" Lubicky asks, and he's off again. Lubicky is handed some pictures done in amber, gifts from a grateful patient, one of many. "Do you know how many books on Lithuania I have?" he asks, in an aside, stashing them.
|Frank Zappa bust, Vilnius|
"He feels it's a privilege to care for people, not a privilege for them to come to you," says Liana Chotikul, a surgical nurse from Baltimore who is working with him. But why so dedicated? Even his closest associates can only guess. "I think he's very religious," says Norene Jamieson.
While he speaks of wanting to scale back, to think more of himself and his own family, Lubicky can't ignore the needs here in Lithuania. The trips will continue, he says, as long as there's a need, the sort of need he saw on his first visit, in 1993. "A continuous line of children," he remembers. "They didn't even have a place for people to sit. They just stood there all day, lining up on the sidewalk, waiting to get in."
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, March 20, 2001