Monday, January 30, 2012

A Jesuit remembers Joe Paterno.

I wasn't planning to post here about the death last week of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, just as I've avoided writing about the tragic circumstances which brought Paterno's six-decade coaching career to an abrupt end last November. As for those circumstances, I'll now say all that needs to be said, which is that I pray for all who have been abused and for their families, as well as for a just resolution of the Sandusky case and for healing in the Penn State community. I also pray for Coach Paterno and for all who mourn him; he was, by all accounts, a very good and decent man, and Pennsylvania seems diminished by his passing.

The reason I'm writing about Joe Paterno at all is this post by Jesuit Father Jack Siberski, a proud Penn State alumnus who writes very movingly about an unexpected personal encounter with the coach. As a young medical resident, Jack once found himself caring for one of Paterno's five children, who had been hospitalized following a serious - and widely publicized - accident:
One night while I was on call for the unit the child developed some difficulty that was going to require an urgent procedure. It was about 3 AM but it couldn’t wait until later in the morning. After I called the attending docs, but before they arrived, I called the Paternos at their room in the inn near the hospital. They arrived in about five minutes. (Yes, I had to dial the number more than once because I was shaking.) When they arrived Mrs. Paterno went into the room and I began to explain to Coach Paterno what needed to be done, why and that we would need signed permission. Though I offered to let him wait until the staff docs came in he said there was no need. In his Brooklyn accent he said something to the effect of Doctor, you’re doing a fine job. We trust you know what has to be done. And he signed the papers.

There was no, "Are you an intern?" or "I wanna talk to the doctor in charge." Just a thank you. And he addressed me as Doctor. That meant a lot, particularly as at the time I had dark hair that brushed the base of my neck and, if not pulled to the side would have obscured most of my vision, was wearing a rumpled scrub after 20 hours with no sleep, and smelt of stale cigarette smoke (I had not yet quit). The staff docs arrived, procedure was done and all turned out well in the end.

For several years before that people would carp that Joe Paterno’s public face was just an image. No. It wasn’t. At 3 AM with a sick child in ICU there was no need to maintain an image. He could have, and many would have, thrown a complete animal act that a young second-year internal medicine resident was seeking permission for a procedure before the “real docs” had arrived (I was not going to be doing the procedure as it was surgical). There was no image. Just a good man who trusted those who knew what had to be done. It was an unforgettable moment.
To read the rest, click here. For more on Joe Paterno's ties to the Society of Jesus, consult these items from the New York Post and the New York Times. AMDG.


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