Sunday Morning ~ One Rotten Groundnut
Nshawa yoola ilabvulitsa zolimba. ~ One rotten groundnut makes you spit out the good ones.
~ Chewa proverb
April 25, 2021
A member of your tribe behaves in a way you don’t condone. What do you do? How do you keep your personal reputation intact? Who’s approval do you seek, the public or the boss? What if, per usual, money is involved? How hard is it to call someone out with resulting consequences? In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult. We should butt in, pushing the offender out of the way, stand up for what is right. But in reality, that’s often not what happens when it is a member of our tribe.
Take medicine. I’ve seen doctors, skilled practitioners, behave atrociously. The murmurs of disgust are hushed and ineffective. The behavior does not stop because there is often financial gain. When I worked at a prestigious teaching institution, an obstetrician would leave bloody footprints down the hall, high heels clicking, after needlessly and roughly tearing out a placenta, causing massive pain and unnecessary blood loss. Many who knew her practice abhorred both the act and the result. Nurses complained. Those in charge said nothing, shook their heads as if, oh well, what can you do? Well, they could have done a lot. Revoked privileges for one thing. And this is just one example; there are many more. Were women harmed? In my opinion, yes. Did they recover? Probably. Did they know they could get better treatment elsewhere? Don’t know. No one went into the room and said, “Hey, between you and me, you can get better care from someone else.” No one did that. If a woman died there would have been a review, but would the doctor be banned from practice? Probably not. What was her motive for this behavior? It was not standard of care. No research supported her practice. Was this one bad apple? This excuse is not unique to the police force.
While this is not a fair comparison to the police brutality we’ve seen thanks to Steve Jobs, it is about peer review and what we tolerate from our professional colleagues. I quit my job, a job I loved, because of a dangerous practitioner working on the medical staff. The doctors knew he was unethical and immoral, the nurses knew it, the administrators knew it, some of the patients knew it, but many didn’t. He brought a lot of money in to the hospital so his transgressions were tolerated for years longer than they should have been. The one doctor who stood up and spoke out was herself targeted and bullied until she, too, quit. Ultimately, the community pays a price.
Look at the Catholic church. How many years was despicable, criminal behavior overlooked or tucked away? Every accusation and revelation made me crumble. Not again. Not another. The way the world regarded Catholics after that put me on the defensive. But there are so many good priests, I’d argued! And there are. But if they keep the bad ones propped up, for whatever reason: ignorance, shame, confusion, or arrogance, it hurts all of us. After thousands of lives shattered, and millions of dollars in reparations, they are cleaning up their act. Why isn’t this a lesson for other professions?
It seems to matter who the victims are. Those without a voice, or video camera, have little ground to stand on. Perpetrators, seeking power over a group, get consumed with power once they get away with it, repeatedly. If a woman with means feels she has been cared for improperly, or if there is a bad outcome, she can sue. This practice dramatically changed the face of medicine. Monetary settlements was the driving force in attempting to make the medical community accountable. But it did not remove bad apples. It just makes insurance costs higher and those costs are passed onto patients. So, “bad apples” have made medical care more expensive and invasive. Unethical practice (for which there is financial gain) props up profitable treatments. Then this hurts all of us when the public does not trust medical research.
Defensive medicine is not the answer, but being financially accountable changes the landscape. If that’s what makes the decision makers stand up and take notice, decide they won’t tolerate inappropriate or dangerous behavior, then bring it on. Start suing. The ones who have real reason to sue, often don’t. They don’t have the resources, the energy, or the inclination to force the system to treat them fairly; they get depressed and mistrustful. What if municipalities had to pay large sums repeatedly for civil servant’s abuse? Would the mayor finally say, “Enough!” and fire these suckers?
I was so incredibly relieved this week when the guilty verdict was announced. I tried to manage my fear when the jury went into deliberation. I prayed. I thought of Rodney King. I prayed we’d made progress. My anxiety of the past four years bubbled up as soon as I heard the verdict was imminent. I couldn’t breathe. I thought about that, I couldn’t breathe! I kept trying to inhale deeply to calm myself down. I prayed that we as a nation were turning a corner, finally taking responsibility for our past abuses. My relief was tremendous, and that’s just little me. It wasn’t my son murdered. We have to make the abusers start paying. We have to create a system where we aren’t excusing the whole because of a bad apple or groundnut. I was guilty of this. I got defensive about the fact that all priests were being branded as child molesters. I get it now. We’ll all rot.
What a waste to spit out the whole mouthful when we are usually so painfully clear about exactly which ones are rotten.
Love to all,