In Memory

Isaac Mitrani

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12/31/11 02:35 PM #1    

Harrell Graham

I first met Isaac because he sat next to me in Mrs Bean’s algebra class.   He had immigrated from Cuba and he had the trait of many Latin American men of being open and affectionate.  He would stand close to you as he earnestly conveyed his point, gesticulating warmly.  His father had been Fidel’s personal physician but when Fidel confiscated all their property, including house, furniture and a 600 record album collection,that was when Dr. Mitrani knew it was time to get his family out of Cuba.     

Isaac would come to our house and play the piano.  His playing was phenomenal, as he had been studying since he was an infant, including having studied under a student of Claudio Arrau.  Isaac loved the piano and he loved music and you could feel his love of music when he played.  But his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a physician, which is what Isaac did, attending Rice as an undergraduate and then Baylor College of Medicine.  I audited classes at Baylor with Isaac in his second year there and saw him become increasingly unhappy.  Not onlyonly was he taken away from his true love, music, but he was trapped in medical school where a subject as beautiful and powerful as medicine is turned into an ultra-competitive and stressful environment where learning is secondary to passing ‘tests’.  I believe it was at Baylor where Isaac started using IV cocaine.  He was caught and counseled but continued anyway. 

He came and visited me in Yellow Springs, Ohio when I was at Antioch College and I thought he had kicked his habit but there were telltale signs which I missed.  If I had been more perceptive maybe I could have helped him. I have a great picture of him where we are standing in Antioch’s nature preserve, Glen Helen, on a footbridge over a river, and you can see the beautiful, smiling, boyish energy underneath the man he had become.

I think he did his residency at Johns Hopkins and then returned to Houston where he died in 1978 of a cocaine overdose.   I believe either Texas Monthly or Texas Observer did an article on his death, but I haven’t been able to locate it. 

I didn’t know he had died until the day I called his apartment in 1978 and got a ‘number disconnected’ recording.  I then called his father and when I asked for Isaac his dad immediately started crying.  Through sobs Dr. Mitrani told me that he never really got to know Isaac and could I please write him and tell him about his son.  I told him I would.  I never did.  Dr. Mitrani, I hope you are still alive and that you read this.  Your son was a really wonderful guy.  Isaac touched all those around him with his warmth, humor and ever-questioning intelligence.  His friendship and guidance helped me to become the person I am.

For one thing, Isaac got me to audit classes at Baylor long ago and, because of that, I fell in love with medicine but let that love smolder for many years.  In the past ten years, though, I have rekindled that interest and immersed myself in many facets of it.  I realize that without Isaac I would have never done this.  He gave me a great gift by planting seeds to help people with that knowledge especially now that the people of this country are unbelievably sick, with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc)—all of these at epidemic proportions.  Medicine should be addressing these things more effectively but it is that narrow-focus of conventional medical schools (which are often funded by pharmaceutical companies) that prevents students from seeing the forest for the trees:  environmental and corporate forces at work which are helping to sicken people.  Because medicine is such big business now maybe there isn’t a sincere desire to address fundamental health issues. 

I wish Isaac were here now so we could argue about this.  I’m sure Isaac would tell me that conventional medicine does more good than harm.  We used to argue a lot, especially when I would tell him, in my myopic 60’s fervor, that Fidel was a good thing for Cuba.  Isaac would have none of it and tried to tell me of the perversions of the Cuban ‘revolution’.  Of course I can see this now: anyone who steals your records can’t be all that good.

Below are a handful of lines from “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg which has been made into a fine 2010 movie by the same name. I am reminded of both Isaac and Howell Brannon when I read these lines

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

              madness, starving hysterical naked,

       dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

              looking for an angry fix,

       angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

              connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-

              ery of night,

       who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

              up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

              cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

              contemplating jazz,

       who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and

              saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-

              ment roofs illuminated,

       who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes

              hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy

              among the scholars of war,

       who were expelled from the academies for crazy &

              publishing obscene odes on the windows of the


       who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-

              ing their money in wastebaskets and listening

              to the Terror through the wall,”

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