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The Q Team Comes to Dinner

"Dr Q” and his team came for dinner at our home this past Friday night. “Q” is short for Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa which is a mouthful. Dr Q, the neurosurgeon who directs the Brain Tumor Surgery program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Center and the Pituitary Surgery Program at the hospital, is a charismatic personality. Even our neurotic border collie, Jake, was charmed by him. It was easy to see why he attracts people of all kinds. He touches people constantly, grips your arm, pats your back, and dispenses hugs without hesitation. Our 14 year old schipperke instantly threw herself at his feet knowing she would get the attention she craves. He embodies the American dream, having risen from illegal immigrant to star medical practitioner in the most exacting of all medical sciences. Alfredo neither forgets his humble origins nor the fact that many people contributed to his success. He has a grueling work ethic but hasn’t lost his sense of humor. He laughs readily and often—mostly at his own expense. We laughed about the Mexican hairless dog his family adopted through a dog rescue service because his kids didn’t want him to forget his “peeps.” Unfortunately the dog couldn’t forget the climate for which he was bred and refused to go outside during our Baltimore winters. Rescue went out the window and the dog, so ugly he was almost cute, went back to Arizona.

Over the days leading up to the dinner, the invitation list kept growing. I was struck by his team’s global character. Dr. Q apologized as he added two more guests the day before. I apologized in return. We could only seat sixteen at the same table, but I wondered if he could dig up another nation or two for our mini UN forum? We had Argentina, Mexico, China, Belgium and a roster of names so challenging I would never make it through the evening without a cheat sheet. Emily, the event coordinator, sent the attendee CV’s and Rich, my partner, and I marveled at the array of talent. We decided that it would be prudent to speak little and listen a lot. Despite demanding operating schedules and lab experiments, everyone arrived on time and we enjoyed four hours together over a Shabbat meal. We don’t go “out” on Friday nights, so we couldn’t accept the invitation to join their Friday night end of the week ritual when they gather for a meal at the lab. They share important findings and often invite a guest patient to their dinner to keep their work, as Dr. Q. and I discussed, “down to earth and honest.”

When your goal is curing brain cancer, it’s easy to get lost in the clouds. A patient living with ‘the monster’ can quickly bring you back to the ground. On the other hand, so can the memory of a loved one who died of the disease. We were deeply moved to hear how often personal experiences with brain trauma and disease had touched the lives of team members. I won’t pretend to remember or even fully understand all the work that these brilliant young researchers were doing. You can go on Dr Q’s website to read all about it. My big takeaway was this: in an era when so many of us have become addicted to the gratification of instant answers and quick results, these young people—equally divided between men and women— have deliberately committed themselves to a goal that is painstakingly slow and undeniably distant. Their work proceeds in miniscule increments that require remarkable discipline, commitment, and skill. “Don’t you ever get bored?” I asked. All heads swiveled to my end of the table. They looked at me as if I had asked, “Is it possible that the earth is flat?” It wasn’t a stupid question—just an inconceivable one. “No!” Pragathi replied,”one small thing leads to another. It opens up.”

“Like Windows?”

“Yes, like that.”

Beaming as he surveyed the table, like Vince Lombardi talking about a championship team bearing down on a trophy, Dr Q declared, “What one of them discovers today may lead to a cure 50 years from now.” I would never want to take on the adversary they are all determined to vanquish, but I am so grateful “the Q team” is committed to waging the battle. They lose patients they come to love and admire almost every day, yet they suit up in rigor and vision to celebrate US, so that one day we won’t have to dread the fight.

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