Bob Pritzker with Mike and Illyse Kelly at Bob's 80th birthday party
One Friday in 1988, I didn't feel well. I had a small pain in my abdomen. But I'm fairly tolerant of pain, so I delayed calling the doctor. By 2 a.m. the pain increased significantly, but still I was reluctant to bother the doctor at that hour. Finally, at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, I called him and said that the pain was quite intense. The doctor was kind enough to come to my house. He took one look at me and drove me straight to the emergency room of Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center.
The doctors at the hospital weren't sure what was causing the pain, so they wanted me to stay overnight for observation. Whatever the problem was, they thought it could be easily managed. Ultimately, I was assigned to a fifth year surgical resident by the name of Mike Kelly. He was instructed to put me through a series of tests which went on past noon. From the tests, the chief surgeon and several of his colleagues concluded that they would have to do exploratory surgery in order to be sure of what was wrong. As surgical resident, Mike Kelly went along with the senior doctors, although I think he suspected that I had a problem with my small intestine. In any case, the doctors decided that I would stay another night and that they would perform the surgery in the morning.
At about 11:30 p.m. that same night, I passed out in my hospital room, and the nurses summoned Kelly. He looked at me and immediately called the chief surgeon at home. Mike was insistent that they do the surgery now instead of waiting. He said, "I don't think you'll have a living patient tomorrow morning." He was so insistent that the nurse said his ears turned red.
Mike urgency registered with the surgical staff and Mike helped assemble of team of surgeons to be on hand that night. At 2 a.m. I was wheeled into the operating room. The next thing I remember was waking up in the recovery room to the one of the surgeons shouting, "it's pink!" I had no idea what he meant. He explained that I had a clot in the vein that drains the blood from the small intestine. Since it wasn't getting fresh blood, the intestine had gangrene. Because of the dead and infected tissue, it was necessary to remove about half of my intestine. When he said that the intestine was pink, he meant that they had gotten the gangrene out, which could have been fatal.
As I regained consciousness, I began to realize that Mike Kelly was several months from passing the hospital boards and had taken a big risk in calling the chief surgeon in the middle of the night. Mike had spent four years in medical school and five years as a resident, but was really just at the beginning of his career with a lot to loose if he were wrong.
Courage isn't always a brave physical feat; it can be using your voice and speaking out, even though you have a lot to lose by doing so. In his position as a surgical resident Mike it would be perfectly normal and even expected for him defer to his mentors, the chief surgeon and his colleagues, but he did not; and his courage to trust his own knowledge and instincts allowed him to speak out. Had Mike remained silent, I would have lost my life that night.