Alex Kirby a noted cataract implant surgeon is sent by the State Department to Lithuania ostensibly to save the sight of a Russian diplomat. The truth is much more complicated.
I was sitting in my private office one afternoon, after having had a busy clinic, when my secretary called me: “Doc, someone’s here to see you who says he’s from the federal government “
“Sure, sure, check again; maybe he’s from the royal family,” I said, kiddingly. “Come on, Mary Ellen, after a day like today I really can’t take any practical jokes. “
“I’m not kidding. He showed me his credentials… he’s legit”
“Really? Bring him in. “
Seconds later, this tall skinny, highly myopic, anal compulsive prototype in a black suit came into my office.
“Hello Dr. Kirby my name is Mark Crowley. Sorry to disturb you. I’m from the State Department and I have a letter for you from your senator, John Caldwell,”
He handed me an official looking envelope with the United States State Department letterhead on it.
“Dear Dr. Kirby,
Because of your international acclaim and valuable contributions to the restoration of people visually handicapped by cataracts, I am writing to invite you to give The Visiting Professor lecture and perform live surgery demonstrating your innovative technique for cataract extraction and implantation of your lens at the newly established Baltic American Clinic in Vilnius, Lithuania.
We have scheduled you to do this right after the Academy meeting you will be attending in Washington DC on November 17. However, before you go to Lithuania it’s necessary that while you’re in Washington DC, you are briefed on the proper protocol for visiting that part of the world. We will come to you when you’re in Washington and address all of that. Mark Crowley has arranged for your new hotel accommodations in Washington as we have changed your intended hotel for reasons we will explain when we meet. I realize this is very short notice and respect the fact that you have a very busy schedule; however, it is very important that you except this invitation on behalf of your government.
Thanking you in advance,
I remain sincerely yours,
John S Caldwell United States senator.
I reread the letter, put it down and said:
“Vilnius, Lithuania? Next month? Live surgery? Baltic American clinic? Washington protocol briefing? What’s this all about, Mark? And why the urgency?”
Flat affect Mark responded:
“Dr. Kirby, all I know is that I have to arrange for your flights and accommodation in Washington and those for your week in Lithuania, but I am sure senator Caldwell will answer whatever questions you may have once you are in DC.”
Incredulous, I aske d:
“A week is Lithuania? You must be kidding I can’t take a week for my practice on such short notice. Who can I talk to? “
With less facial expression than a Tussaud wax figure, Mark answered:
“I have no more information, Dr. Kirby. I will deliver the travel information. to your secretary on Monday. Thank you for your time. “
With that the enigma departed and with him any residual reality testing I had left,
“United States State Department Protocol briefing? Vilnius Lithuania? Are you sure this isn’t some sort of scam? “
That was my senior partner, Paul ‘s reaction when I told him
“That’s exactly what I thought and that’s why I called our buddy, Congressman Bill Johnson and asked him to find out what he could about all this.”
“Great idea! What did he find out?”
“He immediately called his contacts in the State Department and told them what the situation was. He got back to me in a very short while and told me all he could find out was that it was legit and that it was important that I go.”
“That’s it? nothing else?” Paul asked.
“Bill said that’s all he knew, but he would keep trying and let me know if he found out anything more when I came to Washington.”
“So, in the meantime what are you going to do? “
“I guess I’m going to cancel my clinic for that time, pack my bags and learn how to say in Lithuanian, what I say to all patients when I am just about to operate on them: ‘Keep your eyes open, don’t move, and keep staring at the light.” I said trying to inject some humor in this anxiety provoking situation.
“I would also learn how to say, ‘Make that a double vodka. ‘ in Lithuanian if I were you.”
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Robert E. Kellan, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist who graduated from Boston College, magna cum laude. He is also a graduate of Tufts Medical School and completed a New York Eye and Ear Infirmary residency program. Kellan holds several ophthalmology-patents and is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive surgeons. He is the author of several medical articles and was voted one of Boston's Top Docs and he is a member of the New York Intraocular Implant Society.