However, “the real game”, the game of life, was just beginning. I was also looking at what to do next. Do I go home to private practice? Do I continue on?
Having been accepted to the University of Michigan training program meant
that you would somehow go into academic medicine. No one said it, no one
brought it up. It was just something that was expected.
I looked through the possibilities and found that Dr. Tim Miller at UCLA School of Medicine was establishing a fellowship in aesthetic surgery.
I knew immediately that this was the program for me, and I discussed it
with Riley Reese who helped me to secure an application.
UCLA was slow in giving us a decision, and both Riley and I struggled with the wait. Oddly enough, it was Riley who could take it no more and he put in a call to UCLA to press the
issue. Riley is a southerner with a strong accent and a master of southernisms.
Waiting outside his office I could hear him screaming into the phone, “We need
a decision and we needed it now”. I was awarded the fellowship. I was to be the
first fellowship trained aesthetic surgeon to spend a year at a
university-sponsored program. “Wow!”
As I drove west along Interstate 10 toward Los Angeles, I was filled with excitement. There was tremendous anticipation in what I was about to do. I had just completed my residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Michigan, and I had completed
it with a bang. Dr. Smith, during our graduation ceremonies, had offered that
during the first year when he watched me do my work, he thought I “was the best
black resident he’d ever had”. However, at the graduation dinner, he offered
that Jan was in fact “not the best black resident he had ever had; he was in
fact the best resident he’d ever had”. That was a lot coming from him because
Smith wasn’t one to hand out compliments. He simply expected you to do better
than he expected.
Dr. Warren Garner, who was the youngest member of the staff, pulled me aside to reassure me that that was in no way a racial slur. Personally, I hadn’t taken it as that. I had taken it as nothing but positive. But that was Dr. Warren Garner. When you first met
Warren, you thought he was prissy and particular. It turned out after you’d
spent enough time with him that he was in fact quite prissy and particular, but
what lie below was a meticulous plastic surgeon who had the kindest heart of
any of us, myself included.
Warren always made sure, with an off-the-cuff statement here or there, that you knew you could be doing better; that there were certain things that were unacceptable and you needed to pay attention to detail. And no matter where he was when he ran into you, and no matter what was going on, he made sure that he gave you that dig, just to
remind you. But nonetheless, he was someone who you could always trust, you
knew where he was coming from, and ultimately he had your best interest at
And so my drive west was indeed exciting. It felt good to knowdeep inside that I was prepared, that I was good at what I had decided to do with my life. I also looked forward to seeing Steve Crisman, a friend from New York and visiting with his wife, Marielle Hemingway, and their daughters. Their house was a large “log cabin inspired” structure tucked neatly into a garden on a quiet street not far from the beach in Santa Monica. They had set aside a private guess wing and I had every thing I could possibly need. This
was better than I had lived over the past twelve years by a long shot. I’m not
sure I wanted to leave.
A close friend of Marielle’s was a very pretty, petite brunette girl named Courteney Cox, who was dating Michael Keaton at the time. I was really envious of him because this woman was, in addition to being beautiful, very smart and funny. It was wonderful to watch them, Marielle and Courteney, make fun of themselves, and other actors. They
didn’t take themselves too seriously which made them even more attractive.
I finally got the nerve to ask Courteney to lunch, and to my surprise she agreed. It was nothing romantic, I couldn’t be that lucky, but it was a time to sit in the sun and make friends in a place where I didn’t know too many people. Over lunch Courteney told me about a show she was working on, a show with an ensemble cast at Universal studios,
or somewhere. It sounded interesting but I really didn’t know enough about the
business to make sense of it. It was miles away from anything I had ever even
considered. I wished her luck with it, but I doubted she needed that from me. I
guess it eventually became successful. I was a little preoccupied with my own
life. After all, I needed something as basic as a place to live.
I settled on a condominium that sat on a hill on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. The complex, a gated community with a stoner for a guard, looked down on the famed “Colony” where all the movie stars lived, and then out onto the ocean. This apartment was perfectly located and a “stoner” for a guard provided the perfect
California welcome. For him life was easy, and that’s essentially how he
greeted everybody; no problem.
Just below was the shopping center at the “Colony” with a grocery store, custom shops, postal service, and a service station. The government buildings for Malibu City services were also just below, about half a mile south. Yes the complex was perfect and it offered everything I needed, at least so I thought.
The drive to UCLA took approximately 25 minutes each morning, and it was this drive that taught me something very interesting. Living at the extreme western part of the city is
probably not a good idea. During the first two months or so, I seemed to always
keep a headache. I couldn’t figure out why. Then one day it dawned on me. When
I went to work in the morning, the sun was in my face, and as I returned home
that evening, the sun was once again directly in my face. I resolved then to
live on the east side of the city and head west or when I’d finished the program,
return to the East Coast.
Regardless, there would be plenty of time to think about those things. I
was now the Aesthetic Fellow in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the UCLA
Medical Center, and I needed to get about the business at hand.
Orientation was confusing. It had never been done. I was the pioneer and the one setting the tone for the Fellowship. There were a lot of the details that were open and had to be defined by me. Dr. Miller’s office was in the newer outpatient surgery center at 200 UCLA
Medical Plaza. Across the street was the massive UCLA Medical Center, including
the Neuropsychological Hospital, the UCLA Hospital, the Children’s Hospital,
and various clinics. That was a maze that I wanted to avoid. And so, I tried as
much as possible to confine the workings of the Fellowship to 200 UCLA Medical
I began by first proceeding to the chairman’s office to get the prospectus for the year. That included the Division of Plastic Surgery anatomy sessions, the Saturday morning workshops, and the UCLA Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery grand rounds
schedule. Once these were recorded, it was then time to arrange my schedule. I
wanted to allow myself as much time as possible to spend with the physicians
who would take part in the program, and the residents who I would help with
surgeries and clinics.
Tim and I sat down first and to the surprise, I think, of many in the department, we immediately hit it off. Tim was considered withdrawn and intellectual. I found him to be that, but I also found him to be warm and caring. I knew he had wanted this Fellowship to
succeed, and it was to that end that I dedicated myself.
The staff at UCLA was actually quite impressive. Dr. William Shaw, who was the chairman, had come from NYU and was quite famous for microsurgical techniques. Even more impressive was the casual clinical staff. They were the plastic and reconstructive surgeons in private practice in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. This included Steve Hoefflin
who had been Michael Jackson’s surgeon, Jack Sheen who had written the book on
nose surgery, Henry Kawamoto who pretty much had defined craniofacial surgery
in America, and John Williams who in the early ‘60s had defined cosmetic
I loved John Williams. Despite of all his expertise, and literally all of his fame as a cosmetic surgeon, at seventy years of age he was more than willing to learn and try anything new. And that’s exactly the reason I went into plastic and reconstructive surgery. As a medical student, hearing plastic surgeons explain that this procedure was one they had never been done before was fascinating. They were, in fact, going to evaluate the
anatomy and devise an operation that specifically solved the needs of that
patient. I loved it. It wasn’t about learning operations and trying to mold the
patient to fit. It was about understanding the patient’s problems and devising
an operation that worked for them. It was perfect for me; it was perfect for
how I thought.