Provost Garland Anderson shared a sad message with the UTMB community yesterday, when he told us of the passing of one of UTMB’s legends, the great Sally Abston. Dr. Abston was a surgeon, she was a pioneer, she was a teacher in the very best sense, and she was someone who gave willingly of her time and talent. Those who knew her loved her for all those things, but even as they choke back tears, when people start telling stories of Dr. Abston’s remarkable career at UTMB, it’s hard to not crack a smile.
I didn’t know Dr. Abston as well as many others, but I do have one of those stories. About a decade ago, my wife and I found ourselves in a pre-op suite in John Sealy Annex, routed there in a rush from the Primary Care Pavilion, where my wife had gone complaining of some abdominal discomfort. Appendicitis, they said. The only cure—surgery. And there we stood, me by the gurney as my wife was tended to, getting prepped for the OR. Maybe it was a simple surgery, but outside of childbirth, it was our first experience with big medicine, and I was freaked. And then…, the alarms went off! A lot of them, fire alarms, loud, bright, flashing, insistent. That’s when I met Dr. Abston. She barreled in through a set of swinging steel doors, agitated, like a gunslinger looking for a card cheat. The expletives—good ones, colorful, imaginative—gushed out as she moved quickly, wondering about the ancestry and questionable lineage of the individual who would wreak such a disruption on her operation. In the midst of the chaos, she walked over to my wife, laid a calming hand on her, winked and smiled, and went back to her rant.
The next day or two, as we were awaiting release from John Sealy, the chief resident stopped by to check on us. He gingerly peeled back the dressing and said, almost as much to himself as to us, “She’s incredible.” Today, when I see that faint scar—thin, short and straight—I think of a surgeon whose skill left her students in awe, who could make a sailor blush and nurses crack up, and who cared deeply about her patients, her community and UTMB. Dr. Sally, we’re gonna miss you.
Visitation and a time to share “Sally-stories” will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, August 29, 2008, at Malloy and Son Funeral Home, 3028 Broadway in Galveston. Services will be at First Presbyterian Church of Galveston Saturday, August 30th at 11 a.m., followed by interment at Calvary Cemetery in Galveston. A reception will be held in the church fellowship hall after the burial.