Russell Miller, MD: The Go-To Guy
One of my heroes died this week. When I got the e-mail with only his name as the subject, I paused for a second before I opened it. Nobody ever seems to e-mail you with good news about somebody. Goddammit.
If you saw him at the bait shop or the Wal-Mart with a dirty shirt and his belly sticking out, you would probably never guess that he was such an accomplished physician. Getting into his beat-up old Jeep, you might doubt he was employed at all (except for the EMS stickers on the back window). His Texas accent and his plain manner of speaking completed his facade. But he always looked you in the eyes, and if you were fortunate enough to spend some time with him, you could tell that he feared nothing.
I generally avoid funerals, but I forced myself to see this one, for the spectacle as much as anything. Of course, it was packed. Many dozens of paramedics and firefighters in uniform, saluting him. Women crying, men trying not to. Doctors and nurses, department chairmen, community leaders everywhere. The church overflowed; not only was there no place to sit, there was hardly any place to stand. The most ironic thing about his funeral was the fact that he was the one who was usually recruited to give the eulogy, to put things in perspective for us. To summarize the life of the deceased. And now, despite the huge crowd in that church, not a single person there could possibly explain why this great man decided to take his own life.
He was the go-to guy. If there was a major disaster, he was the one you would want to coordinate the response. He could move patients and direct resources like nobody I have ever seen. Chaos and tragedy never seemed to faze him. Russ was the stereotypical ER cowboy, because he pioneered the role. For me to say I admired him would be an understatement. I envied him. I wanted to be as capable and confident as he was under pressure. He was the reason I chose to do what I do. His leadership skills were extraordinary. If he was around, it didn't matter how crazy things got, he would be in control of the situation. And yet, despite his direction of various emergency medical institutions in Southeast Texas, it always seemed to me that he never sought recognition. People instead sought his leadership.
He was an even greater human being than he was a physician. His generosity was legendary. If a friend needed a place to stay, he opened up his home to them, for as long as they needed. Anything he had he would share with his friends...it went without saying. I've never met anyone as selfless before or since. He was a tinkerer, always working with his hands, always fixing stuff. And he was without a doubt the messiest human being I have ever known. Clutter was just another form of chaos, and that was his comfort zone. He was a pilot, an astronomer, a calligrapher, an outdoorsman, and an enigma.
For whatever reason, he left this life on his own terms. I'll miss him, and I'll never forget him.
Labels: general interest