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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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Dr. Spencer Block, throwing out the first pitch at a Brewers game last summer.
Dr. Spencer Block, throwing out the first pitch at a Brewers game last summer.

Thoughts on the sudden death of a friend

Last night at about 3 a.m., I woke up to go to the bathroom. I used my phone to light my way, so as soon as my eyes adjusted, I noticed that my mom had sent me a death notice. My friend and neurosurgeon, Dr. Spencer Block – the guy who did my back surgery in 2011 – had died yesterday at age 51.

I spent the next several minutes confirming it was him. I think I forgot to go to the bathroom.

Just a few weeks ago, I sent Spencer a direct message on Twitter about grabbing lunch and catching up. Before that, he suggested we go to a future Brewers’ fantasy camp sometime. Twitter was how we’d communicate. I never knew his personal phone number, and he didn’t check his e-mail very often.

I’m not going to say that Spencer was my closest friend, but we were more than acquaintances. He read my stuff on OnMilwaukee.com, a fact I first learned when waking up from general anesthesia after my L5-S1 microdiscetomy in August 2011. After doing his rounds and checking how I was feeling, he smiled and said, "On, Milwaukee" as he walked away.

I don’t yet know how Spencer died, but he was tweeting just this week. I’d usually run into him at Brewers games – he performed surgery on both players and front office people during his career. He gave me a piece of cake when I came in for a follow-up appointment on his 50th birthday last year. He invited my family to a tailgate party he threw last season, and I accompanied him on the field at Miller Park to snap photos while he threw out the first pitch.

I do know that Spencer was an excellent surgeon. He was sometimes prickly. He was occasionally, deservedly and lightheartedly cocky. But he was a very funny and caring guy. I’m thankful that he didn’t paralyze me while cutting around my spinal cord. And he did many more important surgeries than mine during his career. While I didn’t know him well, I knew that he loved the Brewers, the Bears and his alma mater, the University of Michigan. He also loved Miami and traveling with his family. He always asked about mine.

And now, I won’t have the opportunity to get to know Spencer any better.

Recent events have really left me wondering why good people die so suddenly sometimes, and as much as I never know the answer to this question, these kind of incidents don’t make my understanding any more clear.

Right now, I can only think of two plausible answers:

  1. There is no reason
  2. The reason is to teach the people Spencer left behind a lesson

Until I know how he died, I’m not sure I’ll know that lesson, and even then, I’m not sure it will be clear. I do know that I could’ve done more to make that lunch happen, and I will for the next friend who I need to catch up with.

I know if he was reading this, Spencer would be amused and probably a little annoyed for this public shout-out. He loved his secret Twitter profile, and it took almost two years for him to reveal his secret identity to me. I’ll miss his wit, his calls, his tweets and his bedside manner. My deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Talkbacks

rdavis46 | May 13, 2013 at 3:07 p.m. (report)

Dr Spencer Block performed my husband surgery Oct 2011 he did the L4-L5 my husband had 2 prior surgeries not done by him but he had to take out his old screws and put in differents ones as they were causing him pain. I remember him bringing me his hardware in a container wow I get a souvenir. I still have them sitting in that container he gave me. He called me his assistant. He told my husband that this woman is a keeper don't ever let her go! My husband had complications a month out from his surgery he went into septic shock, had pneumonia and staph infection. My husband is very stubborn and was refusing to go to the er kept saying if I am not better by tomorrow I will go. Well tomorrow could of been to late. By 5 am he was burning up I took his temp it was 104 I called the office number they told me take him there now. Luckily I did even though he didn't' want to go I made him go as well his nephew help me get him to the car. My husband blood pressure was so low and wasn't very coherent or making any sense when he talked. I never seen er get him back there so fast before all the others in the er. Usually they have family go wait in the waiting room until they could come back but they let me since I had to be his voice for him. Well he wouldn't be able to tell him anything because he would tell them ask my wife anyways he don't know the list of meds he is on. They had a extremely hard time getting his blood pressure up. They had tried 2 iv's to get the blood pressure up and couldn't get it up they eventually had to put one in his neck vein. The ER doctors and DR Block said I saved his life by getting him to the ER in time. If I would've waited couple hours or day he wouldn't' be here today. He ended up in ICU for almost a week. I have never been so scared in my life. Dr Block and all the other doctors were the ones I saved his life but they help saved his life all I did was get him there. They are the hero's who saved my husband life. I never seen so many doctors and staff around my husband and how fast they worked to get him stabilized.Luckily we been together seems like forever met in 1984 and married in Dec 1986 and we have 2 special needs teens ages 15 and 18. Every time we saw DR Block he would shake my hand telling me to keep up the good work you are my assistant. He had to go in again and clean out the area he did surgery in after they could stabilize him when he went home I was caring for him like I always do and then again a month later starts all over again but this time I did not wait so long I called immediately but luckily no septic shock or pneumonia still dealing with the staph infection so once again he went back in so had to heal all over again this time he went home on IV antibiotics and I was train on how to do it. He had a picture line which the nurse came in and then not long after that I was on my own we did this for a month then went on oral antibiotics for 6 months which the infectious dr was taking care of and him and Dr Block did work well together to help him get better.
We just saw Dr Block in Spring believe it was end of March or early April he had sent him to do therapy for his neck but was making things worst than we did MRI and CT scan been 12 yrs since his neck surgery but we were talking about if the facet injections didn't work that he would have to do emg to see if there was pinch nerve if so its more surgery. But now today we found out the news that he had past away. My husband and I both were saying no way! This isn't true! Dr Block and my husband are about the same age mine turns 51 in August. Dr Block would always tell my husband he is so young to have so much pain, back and neck problems. He did have a sense of humor he would apologize about the wait which that is the complaint we had the waiting but one thing he was on time for surgery :) And my husband is a very impatient man and trying to keep him calm waiting was like walking on eggshells. He wouldn't take it out on others most time me! What wives have to deal with on a daily basis between the kids and husbands. I think my husband has a phobia when it comes to doctors or going to appts. And when he finally likes one like Dr Block who took his case after my husband and his old surgeon got off on the wrong foot well after waiting over 2 hours in the waiting room in pain I would snap too! But anyways rather not get into that one. But I am so glad we went to see Dr Block and my husband family doctor was part of the team when he did have his surgery took care of his meds, pain control, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. We had request that he be part of the team when he goes inpatient after his surgery and he is aurora doctor been his doctor over 8 yrs and my husband has a problem with feeling comfortable with doctors but with his family doctor and DR Block he felt comfortable and he trusted them both. We both felt he was in good hands. He did end up on insulin after all the scares he had due to his infection. He been on oral for years but now it is control thru insulin and oral meds. He saw the infectious dr for 6 months and he is healthy again but now he has issues with his neck still has alot of back pain but he no longer has pain going down his legs or buttocks anymore. We went to see the pain management doctor at st lukes today my husband told him no more injections I been in misery for 3 weeks since the last one and he agreed. He suggested a trial of neurostimulation therapy for his neck and if it works they can put one in permanently and possibly for his back as well. But has to do one or the other for the trial. But before that has to see a psychologist in the pain management dr before being considered. He said with this one you can just try it if don't' work then you don't put the permanent one in but with surgery you can't go back. Which is true and with all the risk my husband gone thru and scares we have had maybe this will be something to look into before even consider surgery once again. And now who can we trust to do another surgery on my husband. Heck who would even do one with what happen with complications he had but not the surgeon fault at all. It is something that does happen its a risk of surgery and also when you are diabetic you are more at risk of infection.
We both were completely shocked of the news today and my heart goes out to the family. I see his wife name was Robin too wow we have the same first name. Hi Robin I am so glad your husband was my husband surgeon he is the best and we trusted him so much we knew he was in good hands. He will be deeply missed it will be hard to find someone so great like he was. We will never forgot how he was there for my husband and how he help him thru these rough times. He wasted no time when it came down to his infection and kept telling me I was doing a great job keeping the incision so clean and dry. We are so thankful and grateful to have him as my husband surgeon. Just so sad that he is gone at such a young age he will be deeply missed by all his patients or others who knew him. My heart and prayers go out to the family friends of Dr Spencer Block!

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TannerAli | May 6, 2013 at 4:31 p.m. (report)

This artical was, how should I say, a light hearted rememberance. Which is good. No need to be sad and dreary. I also had an operation preformed by Dr. Block as well and considered him a friend. To early, way to early. For some reason he loved the SOUTH, we would talk about Charleston, South Carolina and Miami. He was an excellent surgeon a devoted father and outstanding friend, he willllll be missed. Thanks Andy for writing this artical, you're right, don't put off lunch. I had just talked to him on Wednesday. You will be missed Dr. Spencer Block

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Chikis | May 6, 2013 at 9:52 a.m. (report)

36463 Andy thank you so much for writing this. Dr. Block was my surgeon and I stated before in my post on FB; he practically saved my life. I was still under his care and I was very shocked and sad when his assistant called me to give me the news. I sometimes want to believe that people like Dr. Block are for so many of us angels in disguise that we come to encounter when we fill that there is not hope for us in life, then once their mission is accomplished they have to go. I am still so sad as many of other people that had the fortune to meet this amazing compassionate and caring doctor and man. I am sure he went directly to heaven and I am sad because the world lost a special healer.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, medical staff, friends, and to all the people that like me, had the fortune to be healed or cared by this amazing conservative and very compassionate surgeon and man.

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abanda | May 5, 2013 at 6:34 p.m. (report)

Dr. Block saved my dad's life 6 years ago. I was an OR nurse and checked around before anyone touched my dad. Everyone told me that there wasn't anyone better to perform the incredibly massive reconstruction he needed, due to stage 4 myeloma having left a 7 inch tumor where bone used to be along his spine. He took such great care of my dad, and to look at him, you'd never know what he'd been through. This news rocked our family quite a bit. Dr. Block will always be a hero to our family.

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InTheView | May 3, 2013 at 11:28 p.m. (report)

"So it goes." -Kurt Vonnegut

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