Sunday, August 18, 2013

Malpractice and the Heart (7/13)

Dear all,
A summer schedule that's a little slower reminds me of the importance of having enough space in our lives--at least sometimes--that things we didn't even know were priorities can rise to the top. And I am thankful this week for a stretch of stunningly comfortable summer weather, for garden produce, for good friends, and for people who act on their caring for this world.

The effects of malpractice on the heart

There is something that moves me about jury duty, something that is very right.  All of these hundreds of people gather together, not eager but willing to make real, in the flesh, our right to a trial by our peers.

Our panel came in without a clue, but gradually it became clear that this was a medical malpractice case.  A man had had a horrible accident, been treated by trauma surgeons, then contracted a flesh-eating parasite in the hospital.  The surgeon and her team were being sued.  There we were together in the courtroom:  two lawyers for the plaintiff, four for the doctors, this man who had been through hell, one of the doctors being sued, and forty ordinary citizens called to see that justice was done.

Yet I didn’t see anything we could do to ensure a just outcome.  A terrible, an unspeakably tragic, thing had happened.  Clearly this man needed and deserved all the medical help available to treat his injuries and infection, to manage his pain and disability, to restore him to the greatest possible degree of health, and to offer him some assurance of being able to meet life’s on-going needs.  Yet we would be asked to award for much more than that.  Would his life go better if he had hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars for loss of life’s pleasures?  Would the payment of millions from the doctors’ malpractice insurance make the hospital a safer place?

We cannot fix the past.  Just as a life that has been taken cannot be brought back, a body that has been damaged cannot always be restored.  And we won’t be able to go on and live fully in the present and future until we have completed the process of grieving our loss.   Somehow the awarding of millions of dollars for distress, embarrassment and loss of pleasure confuses and blurs that reality.  It seduces us into believing that there is an external solution, an easy substitute for coming to terms with our loss and our grief.

While nothing that is done in the present can change what has already happened,  or take the place of grieving, the rawness of past hurt can be assuaged by an apology.  This provides an acknowledgment hat someone sees how they hurt me, and joins with me in wishing that it hadn’t happened.  When a young man who had been methodically stealing valuables from our house years ago was finally caught, I was relieved to be out of that nightmare, but his trial and conviction just seemed sad for everybody.  Real closure came several years later when he sent us a note with a heart-felt apology.

I don’t know the trauma doctors who pieced this man’s broken body back together only to see it ravaged by an infection from their own hospital.  Perhaps they were negligent; more likely it was just one of those horrible things that happen.  It is possible that they didn’t care; I can only imagine that they were devastated.  Yet the nature of adversarial law forbade an apology—and this poor old man who had been through so much had to choose between big bucks and forgiveness.

And the jury—those forty people who gave up a day’s work to be available for this case, and the fourteen who were finally chosen to give a week more of their lives to provide that precious trial by peers—were given none of the tools they needed.  It was as if everyone’s heart had been taken away—the old man and his wife, the doctors, all those lawyers, the judge, the jurors.  We were being asked to pick our way through medical facts, blame, law and dollars, with the only sure winners being lawyers and insurance companies.  There was no way to deal with the real issues—our basic human needs to grieve, to apologize, to forgive, and to try together to make things right.

Morning scent

Up early
to steal a few moments
in the garden
Pinch back tomato vines
pick up fallen apples
Breathe in the beauty
and the cool
before a busy day.

Much later
on the interstate
and far away
a momentary movement
hand to face
brings a scent
that’s unmistakable
And I am back again
amid the growing promise
of tomatoes.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Measuring well-being

    The standard measurement of our societal health is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the sum of the value of all economic activity.  In a way this makes sense:  the more value is being produced, the better off people should be.  But there are two significant flaws.  First, some economic activity, like building prisons, or cleaning oil spills, does not indicate that things are going better for people.  Second, things that are outside the realm of economic activity, but critical to our well-being--health, a sense of security, loving and being loved, making a meaningful contribution, having access to beauty and nature, being at peace--have no place in the measure.  (For a very short video, go to
    But change is in the air.  Several countries, from Bhutan to France, are experimenting with new measures.  A high-level UN meeting on “Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm,” brought together 600 participants this spring to follow up on a resolution passed at the UN General Assembly by unanimous vote, calling for implementation of a dramatically different, more “holistic” understanding of economic development. It specifically rejected the GDP-based approach and called for the creation and use of an alternative set of indicators that would more accurately measure human well-being.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

“The Seed Underground”, among the many quiet revolutionaries who are saving our food heritage.

Finland's educational system, which is consistently at the very top of global educational rankings,  with teachers who are highly trained and very well-paid, students who are given little homework and not tested until their teens, and no private schools.

The synthesis of three decades of research that develops a comprehensive evolutionary theory of human cooperation (and not competition!).

The Two Row Wampum canoe trip, now going on, to honor the 400th anniversary of the first treaty between Native Americans and Europeans, with Haudenosaunee and other Native People paddling  side-by-side with allies and supporters down the Hudson River in two equal, but separate rows.

New:  posts on other people's blogs: 

More resources:
NEW:  Check out my friend Daniel Hunter's new book, a narrative of direct action campaigning:  Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials, and Philadelphia Casinos:

Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to

My favorite magazine:  YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, they outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world:

No comments:

Post a Comment