Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Father, Sheldon Brotman

My father, Dr. Sheldon Brotman.

While I was having my best day of biking, my dad, Dr. Sheldon Brotman, passed away after a short illness. He had been having tests for a couple weeks while I was at Worlds. My dad, never the best communicator, was not very forthcoming with information. The best my siblings and I could put together was that they could not figure out what was wrong, but we didn't get the impression that anything was life threatening. We believed the worst case was that he needed a liver transplant.

That wasn't the case though, and, we think, even my father was taken by surprise. Two Mondays ago, after going to work to give a lecture, my dad checked himself into the hospital. (This is the epitome of my dad to ignore his own issues to do his work.) Tuesday, he was in the ICU and unconscious/sedated. He never woke up.

My dad's vehicle to his favorite past time, the Whisper.

My father loved the sea and was a great sailor. Annually, for over twenty years, my father has raced from New England to Bermuda and in those first years my siblings and I were his default crew. Later, probably with more experienced crew, he won the race. When not racing, we sailed all the nooks and crannies of the Gulf of Maine from Maine down to Massachusetts when his vacation time permitted it. I can only imagine that he would enjoy having his sailing site come up first above his medical stuff when you google his name.

The Whisper

As a doctor, I can only imagine the void that will be left. My dad helped more people in his life as a trauma doctor than I can conceive of. He was very good at what he did. He always felt he had work to do. There is a shortage of trauma doctors and he seemed compelled to work ridiculous hours to make up for it. My sister swears that when he was preparing for the Bermuda race, studying for a medical examination, and working, he was not sleeping more than four hours a night. I would not be surprised. In his last few jobs, he was called into to start or save failing trauma centers. He might not have done it the nicest way, but you know he got it right. The same was true when when you were learning to sail with him.

My father.

Growing up, my father was a great provider. However, my relationship with my father beyond that was tumultuous. We were never close. As adults, I had hoped to fix that. It is a task that will remain undone. While there was progress over the years, I am not sure we would have ever got to what I was looking for. One of the last good conversations I had with my dad was in Michigan on my road trip. We talked about traveling to the Middle East, as I am about to do. He said that one day he hoped to have those same adventures, which (to answer the default question) is one reason why I hope to continue on my adventure after a trip home for the memorial.

My father was certainly challenging at times, but he had a good heart. He will be missed. Sheldon Brotman. 02/19/41-07/18/2010.


  1. I'm very sorry for your loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  2. Brody - I'm am sorry for your loss.

    I was fortunate to both work and sail with your dad. As a young surgeon (I'm 42) I was more the age of his kids than his colleagues, and he is the same age as my dad, which I think added an interesting dimension to our friendship.

    While he could be gruff and demanding, I admired the way he would step back and let his crew run the boat or run a trauma, and manage things without micro-managing. Its a skill to watch and guide others to make decisions without just making them yourself, especially when they are high-stakes.

    Of course, when you made a mistake, you may hear about it the hard way. My first meeting with Sheldon was soon after I arrived at Berkshire Med Ctr. I had made a decision in the ICU that he disagreed with. As he walked towards me, with a bunch of papers in his hand, he smacked me on the head with them, and set me straight. Got my attention, for sure.

    I also admired the drive he had. While I'm sure this got in the way of the rest of his life at times, he had two passions, and explored them to the fullest. We should all have a job that we feel so passionate about.

    He left behind many friends, crew and colleagues. He was well respected, honest and straight forward, although not always understood. His sense of humor was dry, but would crack me up. He took teaching seriously, both on the boat and in the ICU, and his students and residents will suffer his loss. He will be missed by many people, me included.

  3. Wow Brody...wonderful post! Well said....nothing more

  4. Brody,
    Your father was all that you said he was and then some. As a fellow trauma srugeon, I had known him for many years, but it wasn't until I took the position of Chief at Baystate that I had the opportunity to work more closely with him. The last couple of years served only to support my opinions - yes he could be gruff, but only when the job needed to be done right and done yesterday...and he was already moving into tomorrow. Realistically, asa a surgeon, he was excellent and demanding. As an educator, he was patient and gentle when possible, demanding when needed. As a friend, he was steadfast and there whenever needed. In short, as I had said before, he was a gentleman who was gentle when possible, but always focused on the goal - excellence.
    YOur Dad will be missed by many but forgotten by none.
    Ron Gross

  5. thinking about you Brody, and always willing to listen with open ears, an open mind, and an open heart.

    love you.

  6. I'm so sorry to hear about your father. I know there's nothing that can be said to ease your pain right now, but if you ever need an ear, I'm here for you.


  7. Andrew and Ronald,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with my father. It definitely helps to flush out his memory because that isn't something that many of us have experienced.

    I hope more do the same.

    Thank you to everyone who has reached out.

    *The deleted comment was a duplicate of Andrew Lederman's comment.

  8. Brody,
    There are no words to express my sympathy. Your father was a mentor and teacher to me as a first year surgical resident. He kept me smiling and laughing all the while on my tip toes trying not to screw up!
    I have never know anyone as dedicated to art of teaching, never. Truly one of a kind. He will be forever missed.
    Mark Schneider

  9. Brody:
    We were both heartbroken to learn of the death of Shel. He was certainly a unique guy, a good man and one whose talents are needed in this world - and will be sorely missed. Truly a great great loss for the trauma world. We feel we never got a chance to say goodbye..when he left Pittsfield we tried, now we'll have to say goodbye and honor him in another way. Brody, sorry for your loss and sorry for our loss too. He is one guy that is irreplaceable.
    Richard M. Basile, MD & Kathleen Basile

  10. Memorial should be August 19th at 2pm at the Pittsfield Cross Country Club.

  11. To All:
    The memorial service for Dr. Brotman is at 5:00 PM on August 19that the Country Club of Pittsfield 639 South St. Pittsfield, MA 01201.

  12. I loved your Dad!!! He was an amazing doctor... and teacher... and mentor... and just a wonderful person!!!! He is going to be missed by many!!!!

  13. Kate,
    We have been told it starts at 2pm and ends at 5pm. We should confirm.

  14. OK, the country club was confused. We have confirmed with Marilyn that it starts at 5pm and runs until 7:30pm or so. I'll be flying in for it. Buying my ticket today.

  15. I work for St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac Michigan. Your dad was only at SJMO for three short months, but in that time he made such an impression on the entire staff, especially the Emergency Department. We all learned from him and send our sympathy and condolences from the SJMO family. He got our trauma program off to such a great start that we will be able to continue with our quest to certification.

  16. I wanted to share a story. Picture it...Danville...I had friends over for dinner and probably off to Magic River- even if mom grounded me- dad gave me a ride and some cash! Anyway, Dad starts off by saying "let me tell you the bear facts" and proceeds to tell a very bloody gory story about his patient attacked by a bear. He thought the "let me tell you the bear facts" was so funny, he kept laughing and saying it for months! My friends and I still say it to this day. I can just picture him saying at laughing to himself!

  17. just the right words.

    your father reminds me of my uncle, who many people admire and enjoy his company...but for his children, it was difficult to understand him and have a close relationship. your father was brilliant man indeed. i can see how his brilliance has rubbed off on you. you're more like your father than you think.

  18. Brody

    Your father was a complicated man. He was passionate about his sailing and I suspect only his passing is the only way it would have ended.

    Having bluffed my way onto Whisper for the 2005 Marion Bermuda race I experienced him as only one can in the confines of a cabin and cockpit. We did not mesh well but I learned to respect him for his skills and commttment to something greater than himself.

    Over the years I have followed his efforts periodically using the wonder of the web.

    I bumbped into him in 2008 at the safety at sea seminar prior to my first Newport Bermuda Race. We didn't say much because at least with me he was not comfortable that way.

    The last time I encountered him was at the navigators meeting in June 2010 after the Newport Race. We sat by chance side by side and I didnt realize it was him until he identified himself when asking a question. He looked fit but his voice was feeble. Perhaps he had some intimation of what would soon befall him?

    I'm sure his love of the sea extended to you and while it sad you never connected in the way you had hoped perhaps you will take some solace in the fact that everytime you look out upon the sea or swim in the ocean he will be there right beside side you.

  19. James W. Carty, Jr., MDWed Feb 16, 12:57:00 PM

    Your father and I were classmates ('66) at U. of Maryland School of Medicine. After graduation in 1966, I next saw Shelly at the USNaval Hosp at Great Lakes in 1970, where he was on the surgical staff. We sailed often that fall on Lake Michigan, in small boats that were available to us, and had a great time. He was intense then about both surgery and sailing - obviously, it persisted. I left Great Lakes for Viet Nam in November that year, and we never saw each other after that. I liked Shelly, and do admire his accomplishments, both as a surgeon and sailor. Please accept my sincerest condolences.

  20. I was a young girl when your family (before you!!) lived in Frankfort, MI. Jenny was just a young girl and I used to babysit for her and your brother. Having a mother that worked at the hospital with your father, I know that he was thought of as a wonderful surgeon. My best memory of your dad was him stopping by the hospital to pick up some supplies to take the porcupine quills out of the dogs! On the dining room table none the less! So sorry to hear of your father's passing.

  21. Your Dad was my Hero- He saved my life on 11/28/2009 after being impaled by a tree branch while driving home on rt 20 in Becket Mass-I was so sorry to hear of his passing-I was blessed that he was there for me and my family said he told it like it was.I thank him every day as I wake. Forever grateful.