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Terrorists or Neurosurgeons?

“You know what I think when I see a muslim man in the airport?” my husband Kurt asked me as we waited in the security line at the Phoenix airport. “What?” I looked around nervously, wondering where this might be going.

“Neurosurgeon,” Kurt said, and smiled.

Kurt and I have spent the last two weeks in airports and in doctors offices across the country. When I first received my diagnosis of a skull-base tumor, I called the only neurosurgeon I knew, Dr. Moustapha Abou-Samra, in California. He is an immigrant, the father of two of my former students, and a man I hadn’t spoken with in over 20 years. He was on vacation and yet he returned my call immediately. He took the time to walk us through the difficult journey ahead.

Three days ago we were in Boston because the leading world expert on skull-base tumors, Dr. Ossama Al-Mefty, an immigrant from Syria, had seen my MRI scans. He personally spent two hours with us during his dinner time, just to help us understand my diagnosis. Today we were in Phoenix, sitting for five hours in a packed waiting room at the Barrow Neurological Institute. The surgeon, Dr. Spetzler, an immigrant from Germany, had made an extra effort to see me; I would be one of 108 patients his team of surgeons would meet that day.

In the waiting room in Phoenix, there were large screen TVs on every wall, broadcasting the Republican National Convention and its theme, “Make America Safe Again.” The waiting room was quiet and tense. There was an older couple next to me. The man wore a US VET ball cap. He told me he was there for a check-up after a near-fatal aneurism. Dr. Spetzler had saved his life. It was hard to hear him when he spoke because the convention goers on the TVs were so ravenously enthusiastic about their candidate that the room seemed to erupt into Bieber-Fever shrieking every few minutes.

“We need a total and complete shutdown of muslims entering the United States,” Donald Trump has declared, and as I watched the convention, the speakers who seemed to get the loudest shrieks of approval were the ones who talked about the need to strengthen our borders. Our country’s problems are clearly the fault of those nasty, no-good immigrants.

Are these the same immigrants that are known for their expertise in solving complex neurosurgical problems? The ones who spend every waking minute dedicated to saving the lives of Americans?

We chose our surgeon, Dr. Ossama Al-Mefty, because of his unparalleled skill and experience, not to mention his complete devotion to caring for his patients, regardless of their background or religion. But hey, shut those borders down! We don’t need any more smart, dedicated people in this country.