Damn The Naysayers

A Doctor’s Memoir

No, you can’t. Those three words have shaped much of Dr. Doug Zipes’s journey through life and have always challenged him to come to terms with who he is, where he wants to go, and what he wants to be.

Damn The Naysayers by Doug Zipes

Dr. Zipes is living proof that sometimes you have to say damn the naysayers and do it anyway.

In a fascinating retelling of his life, Dr. Zipes details his diverse experiences that led him from small-town life where he aspired to become a doctor, from medical school lectures, to lecturing refuseniks in the old USSR and entanglements with the KGB, from lawsuits against major corporations to a house call in Saudi Arabia, and finally from a flirt with death to the complicated process of writing.

As he leads others through his whirlwind life, his experiences offer gentle encouragement to anyone struggling to defy the odds and find his/her own successful path by refusing to take no for an answer. Damn the Naysayers shares the intimate true story of how one man made a difference—not just in medicine but in the lives of many people around the world.

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“Are you Douglas Zipes?” the caller asked again, jolting me from 1977 to the Rossiya in 1982.

“Who wants to know?” I responded.

“My name is not important,” he replied. “Just that I am a refusenik. That’s all that matters. You know what that is?”

“Yes, a Jew who has tried to get an exit visa to leave the USSR and has been refused.”

“More than that—much more,” he said.

He explained how they’d lost their jobs and incomes, could not attend meetings, do their research, or publish their papers.

“We are in a jail without bars,” he said. “If we don’t get some sort of job, the government labels us parasites or hooligans, and then they can do almost anything they want to us, like make us leave Moscow or put us in prison. So, we work in any position, cleaning toilets, sweeping streets, whatever.”

“I’m sorry for that. But why are you calling me?”

“How brave are you? We need someone with courage.I will explain,” he said. “Two years ago, we started the Sunday Seminars.”

He looked at me to see if that registered. He continued when he saw my blank look.

“About thirty of us, all scientists with various specialties, all refuseniks denied access to our jobs and laboratories. Some of us were even members of the Russian Academy of Science and had won the Stalin Prize. RAS only accepted the leading intellects. We could read no journals or newspapers. Admission to the public library was denied. We could not attend scientific meetings of any kind.”

“Like this World Congress?”

“Exactly. So, when a major scientific meeting was going to be held in Moscow, one of us would invite a visiting scientist to give us a private lecture. We usually did this on Sundays. The subject matter was unimportant—we’re all so starved for science, anything new would do. We did this in the apartment of my friend—”

“And?” I prompted.

“The apartment was pretty far out of town, in the—how do you say—outskirts?”

I nodded.

“In the outskirts of Moscow, and we thought we were safe. One evening during the lecture, a fierce pounding rattled the door, and the KGB burst in. They arrested us and took us to jail. They kept us in a jail cell overnight and then let us go. But the owner of the apartment—a well-known physicist—was sent to Siberia. He has not been seen since. That ended the Sunday Seminars.”

“What has that got to do with me?” I asked.

“Are you brave enough to restart the Sunday Seminars?” he said.

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