This morning my mother sent me a simple email. The subject line read: So Sad, and the body was a link to Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum’s obituary.
In the picture he’s smiling. Dr. Rosenbaum was not much of a smiler. He’s the man who takes your child’s eyeballs out retracts the skin around your child’s eyes, moves the muscles, and then puts them back in their sockets everything back into place. Eye surgeons are not a jovial bunch. Alexander’s exams would typically elicit a smile at some point after he had cooperated, and only then the three of us would relax.
Dr. Rosenbaum was a huge part of my son’s life. When Alexander was six months old we started seeing him once every two weeks. Alexander had strabismus and amblyopia. He was born with eyes that were crossed, and one eye that didn’t move as much of the other, a lazy eye if you will. Eye exams for infants are neither simple nor short. You cannot examine a baby who is crying, rubbing their eyes or napping. Poor Alexander, who has worn patches on his eyes and glasses since five months of age, would cry and then rub his eyes, conking himself out so that then he’d fall asleep, and our exam would be delayed. Dr. Rosenbaum would leave me with my sleeping baby, and return to the room afterward to continue the exam.
By the time Alexander was a year old we’d had two exams that had turned into six hour days. Dr. Rosenbaum never appeared frustrated, and his confidence that this was just a phase kept my worries at bay. Alexander and I both grew up in Dr. Rosenbaum’s office.
June 11, 2002 was the date of Alexander’s first surgery. Dr. Rosenbaum removed Alexander’s eye muscles nearest his nose, and reattached them so that his eyes would align. The goal was to uncross his eyes. The day of my son’s first surgery I aged ten years. Another surgery followed seven short months later, and the glasses and patching continue until this day.
We stopped seeing Dr. Rosenbaum every week, and it stretched to every two. Soon Alexander only needed to see him once a month, and before I could blink Alexander was big enough to sit alone in the exam chair. For the past few years we saw the doctor only once every two to three months. Dr. Rosenbaum was quick and efficient, and though kind, he never spoke to my son like he was a baby. Alexander was always part of the plan.
Last December the office went haywire, and we were told that Dr. Rosenbaum would be out of the office until February. I agonized about what to do, and after sleepless nights we decided to switch Alexander, temporarily, to another office. I felt terrible about it at the time, and up until yesterday I was certain that we’d see Dr. Rosenbaum any day. You see, when you went to Dr. Rosenbaum’s office at UCLA it was like being at the United Nations. People flocked to him from all over the globe. I always knew how lucky we were to live so nearby a world class surgeon like he.
It’s not just losing a doctor. My son would be blind in one eye, but for Dr. Rosenbaum. Alexander would not be able to make eye contact with people, and even if he’d been able to adjust physically, my son wouldn’t have been given the gift of a typical childhood. Dr. Rosenbaum had magic in his hands.
I think of all the mothers, and all their children who passed through Dr. Rosenbaum’s practice during the last 36 years, and I’m so grateful that my son was one of them. I think of the surgeries he preformed and the combination of art and science required to get those results. I look back at the toddler exams that exasperated both Dr. Rosenbaum and me, and I think how lucky we were, how incredibly blessed to have been his patients. It is simply tragic to lose a great man at a relatively young age.
Later today I will have to tell Alexander about Dr. Rosenbaum. I am absolutely unprepared for the pain this will bring my child.