In my late-30’s I was referred to a urologist. This was a new frontier for me, and not something I was at all comfortable with, because, well…. because I have lady parts. I mean, don’t only old guys see urologists? Naturally, I was apprehensive.
On the day of my first visit, the waiting room was in fact, full of senior gentlemen. To say I was feeling embarrassed and awkward would be an understatement. I felt as if I had accidentally walked into the men’s restroom, and instead of saying “oops!” and making a hasty exit, I had pulled up a chair and taken a seat near the urinals.
The nervousness continued once I was in the exam room. I know my way around a gynecological exam room, but a urologist has a whole different bag of tricks. Ladies, even the stirrups are different. That embarrassment and awkwardness disappeared when Dr. Ronald Gilbert walked into the exam room and introduced himself.
He was close to my age and just had an easy way about him. He made me feel comfortable with him, and the situation. His upbeat, high energy, talkative nature, simply didn’t allow for any awkwardness. We talked about his kids, his wife’s interior design talents, travel, local events and music. He was a great balance of professionalism, kindness and good-humor.
He was also an excellent Doctor. After being misdiagnosed for a few years, he very quickly diagnosed me correctly, and successfully treated me for a rather pesky autoimmune condition. That was 12 years ago, and under his care, I have remained basically symptom free. Had he been a great restaurant or movie, I would have insisted everyone should go immediately. But urology doesn’t come up in conversation often, so it is not something I ever really talked about. My family and close friends, who knew I saw Dr. Gilbert, were aware of how much I sincerely liked and respected him.
My reason for sharing this so publicly now, is that my wonderful Dr. Gilbert died on Monday, January 28th just 2 days shy of his 53rd birthday. He didn’t die of natural causes or a prolonged illness. He was gunned down in his Newport Beach office in the middle of the afternoon. An office that I know well, located in a beautiful building, in a complex filled with of some of Hoag Hospital’s finest physicians. As the cliché goes – things like this just don’t happen here.
When I heard the news, I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to imagine the shooting, or how terrified the front office staff, and the sweet senior gentlemen in the waiting room must have been. It has left me shaken. The combination of gun violence and (presumed) mental illness has now claimed the life of someone I know, in an unlikely location: a location that I frequent. This was a horrific and senseless event that resulted in the tragic loss of an exceptional man.
Since December 14th, the topic of gun control has been hotly debated. Full disclosure: I have family members who are responsible hunters. I respect that tradition and all that it entails. I personally own two guns: a .32 and .38, both Police Specials with 2-digit serial numbers that I inherited from my Dad’s handgun collection. However, I am reconsidering my gun ownership. They make me uncomfortable. It almost makes me nauseous to think about them. As I have previously written, I don’t have any answers to the debate on gun control.
However, I do have many questions: starting with questions about how mental illness is viewed in this country. Why is it regarded and treated any differently than a physical illness? When asked if a condition was “mental” or “physical” a neurologist replied with an annoyed, but firm, “There is only one brain. Of course it’s physical! It is all physical!” He is correct.
Why then, do we differentiate between the two? Why is insurance coverage for mental illness so limited, compared to coverage for physical illness? Why do we label people with mental illness as if they are their disease? Why do these mental disorders make us uncomfortable, and cause us to distance ourselves from those afflicted, when we are so supportive of people with other illnesses. Why is there still such a stigma associated with these disorders and illnesses? Why is it still acceptable to use the word ‘crazy’? Why are some families left powerless and helpless when it comes to dealing with a family member with a mental illness?
We might as well change the saying “I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.” and replace it with “I could be shot tomorrow...” Sure, we have secured our airports, courthouses and banks, but that’s it. Contrary to what we would like to believe, our schools are not secure.
The combination of gun violence and mental illness has resulted in mass shootings, and deaths at schools and on school buses; as well as hospitals and medical offices; at shopping malls and in movie theaters; in hair salons; at political gatherings; on U.S. military bases; and countless places of business. Can we keep ourselves safe as we move throughout our communities, while we go about our daily business? How? Where do we begin?
People are calling for more controls and legislation. How do we find our way through the already-tangled web of rights and legislation that has complicated our current situation? In my opinion, the NRA, ACLU, and HIPAA legislation, all play a role here.
According to the lead story on the Huffington Post this morning, gun deaths since the Sandy Hook shootings now top 1,280. Dr. Gilbert was one of those 1,280, but I am not concerned with his rank in those statistics, and my intention is not to politicize his death. He was so much more than his death: he was a family man; a husband and father; a man true to his Jewish faith; a solid member of our community. Many of his patients considered him a friend. He was important to so many people, and he is exactly the kind of person the world needs more of.
The fact that we have lost yet another exceptional human being due to the combination of gun violence and (presumed) mental illness makes me sad and angry.
How ironic that in this great country, our combination of so many freedoms and rights, has in some ways, contributed to so very many wrongs.