In Memoriam–Dr. Michael Davidson

In 1994, I was working at my first radiation oncology job in San Diego at Grossmont Hospital when I came into work to hear disturbing news.  One of my colleagues in medical oncology, a compassionate man known for his gentle nature, had stayed late at the Cancer Center the evening before to finish up paperwork.  With his back to his ever open door, he sat at his desk never once considering that he was in danger.  A disgruntled relative of a former patient surprised him from behind, and beat him viciously over the head and body causing broken bones and contusions, and leaving him for dead.  He managed to call for help, and he survived after spending two weeks in the hospital.  He returned to his practice of treating cancer patients after a long convalescence—after all, it was his calling in life.  He died many years later, suddenly at age 69.  I do not know if that beating years earlier contributed to his early death but the knowledge of it certainly changed my life.  I worked late, and was alone in many offices at night after that, but I remained cautious and vigilant about security, never again taking safety for granted.

Yesterday I got a hasty text message from my daughter, who is a second year internal medicine resident at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  She told me that a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a fellow Harvard teaching hospital, had been shot at work and that the hospital was on lock down.  She didn’t know how much was in the news yet, but wanted to let me know since I had trained and worked at these hospitals.  I was as shocked as she was, but I should not have been.  The doctor, Michael Davidson, was a highly respected young cardiovascular surgeon—a rising star in his career, and a husband with three children at home.  The gunman, having sought out Dr. Davidson, fired two shots at close range before retreating to an exam room and taking his own life.  Dr. Davidson was given immediate medical attention by his colleagues at his own hospital, one of the top trauma centers in Boston.  He died of his injuries late last night.  As it turns out, the shooter, Stephen Pasceri, had no history of violence and his gun was licensed.  But he did have a history of dissatisfaction with the “medical system” and sadly his mother had been a patient of Dr. Davidson’s, and had passed away two months ago.  Not much has been said in the news about her, but such is the nature of cardiovascular surgery—these doctors do not operate on healthy patients and not every outcome is successful.

When I visited the Hope Institute in Jamaica in 2013, I saw many patients dying of cancer, without the benefits of affordable chemotherapy, state of the art radiation therapy and even without a readily available supply of morphine.  But I did not see anger, in the patients or their relatives, who were cared for under the loving guidance of Dr. Dingle Spence.   Here in America, quite the opposite is true: we have come to believe that every disease is curable, that every outcome should be positive, and that death, in the words of Dylan Thomas, shall have no dominion.  Most of us, however do not take to the wards fully armed, looking for our doctors. Today I am in despair for his wife, for his children, for the surgical residents he would have taught, and for the thousands of patients that Dr. Davidson could have helped if his life had not been taken.

When we graduate from medical school, we take the Hippocratic Oath, which in the modern version not only exhorts us to heal the sick but to exhibit warmth, sympathy and understanding.  Let our patients and their families extend those same traits to us as we complete our daily rounds.  Let our clinics and hospitals be places of healing, and not of killing.  Please, please let us do our jobs.

Addendum January 22, 2015.  This was submitted by a colleague in the Comments section but I want to bring it forward to the actual page.  Please take the time to read and consider signing.

Dear colleagues,

The violent death in Boston of Dr. Michael J. Davidson, an inspiring cardiac surgeon who devoted his career to saving lives and improving the quality of life of every patient he cared for, is a senseless and horrible tragedy.

There was an incident in the past where a patient at a VA hospital made a threat to shoot a physician.

VA physicians are federal employees. Federal employees have enhanced legal protection against violence. The threat of violence toward a federal employee by itself is illegal. Police officers were able to conduct an investigation and speak with the patient. Once the patient understood that the threats could lead to prison, the volatile situation was defused.

Laws protecting federal employees against violence provide an additional tool to help direct an individual away from violence. Unfortunately, this protection does not extend universally to all healthcare providers.

The White House has a “crowd-sourcing” system where the executive office reviews proposals with at least 100,000 signatures obtained within a 30 day period.

http://wh.gov/i220E asks that the legal protections against violence currently provided to federal employees be extended to all healthcare providers.

While no law reduces risks to zero, our effort would be well worth the energy if it could prevent even one senseless death.

Please take a moment to sign this petition, and consider spreading the word. Everyone can sign this petition including your friends and family.

Thanks.

Back to the Future

I am in Houston, Texas today—the place where I grew up.  From the moment I got off the plane on Wednesday, I had a strong sense of déjà vu—the small town feel of Hobby Airport, the banners welcoming me to the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, the drive to the Texas Medical Center where I visited my Dad at his office as a child.  But there is no possible sense of déjà vu more powerful than I felt today, in the sunny courtyard of my former medical school, waiting for the results of “The Match” to be unveiled.  For those of my readers who are not doctors, and who do not come from medical families, the Ides of March is the day that every fourth year medical student in the country finds out where they are going to do their residency.  Earlier in the year, aspiring internists, pediatricians, surgeons and obstetricians applied for internships and residencies, interviewed and finally made a list, in order of preference, of programs they wished fervently to attend.  Residency programs did the same, for students they fervently wished to attract.  And then a computer program called the National Residency Matching Program did its thing.  Today at precisely 12 pm EST, the results were announced in a white envelope.  The tension, as they say, was palpable.

 

Exactly 34 years ago today, I stood in the same place as my daughter stood today and felt my life change.  I would be leaving my hometown, my boyfriend, and last but not least my dog, to move to a city where I knew absolutely no one, because I had been given the gift of an opportunity to do my internal medicine residency at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, now known as Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center, one of the three Harvard training programs in internal medicine.  While I was there, I learned to practice medicine from some of the finest teachers and clinicians I have ever met, people who remain friends and mentors to this day.  I met my best friends, I married my husband, I got my first Scottish deerhound and I had my three children there in that order.  I hated the cold weather, but I loved the values which were instilled in me there, and which I hold to this day—in medicine, the patient always comes first;  family and tradition are paramount, and the Red Sox must ALWAYS beat the Yankees.

 

At 11:02 today Central Standard Time, the waiting and the culmination of four hard years ended.  My daughter opened her envelope and learned that she too would be headed for Boston, to the same place her father and I met so many years ago.  I think she was very pleased.  As for me—well, I did what any proud parent would do.  I beamed, took a picture, and burst into tears.   Well done, Alex, and I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much!