Whistling in the Dark: Truth, or What I did on my Summer Vacation

 joan

When I was 4 years old, by some quirk of a mail disorder, one of the greatest inspirations of my life turned up in the mailbox by my front door at 121 Greenwich Avenue in Roosevelt, New York.  I vaguely remember the brown paper wrapping and my mother opening the package.  It was a book filled with black and white pictures and some writing that in my 4 year old preliterate state was unintelligible to me.  I believe that the book was flipped through by the big people, my parents and two older sisters, and then was discarded in a pile of magazines where I discovered it and made it my own.  That was when I made my acquaintance with Joan of Arc.  Of course at the time I didn’t know her name was Joan of Arc since I couldn’t read, but most likely someone had mentioned that name and I must have mentally acquired it.  I know that I did acquire the book and I still have it; it is the screenplay for the 1948 movie Joan of Arc directed by Victor Fleming, starring Ingrid Bergman as Joan.  It became my personal visual story even though all of the left hand dialogue was just letters on a page, the pictures spoke to me.  First there was the cover, the only full color picture and the color is still glorious: blue background, a furling white flag with gold fleur de lis, her silver armor and her blue eyes and raspberry lips.  Yes, the lady, the beautiful lady in shining armor.  No woman I knew dressed like that, not my mother, or sisters or aunts or neighbors, certainly not Miss Frances on Ding Dong Schoolhouse. I loved this woman under the helmet holding a sword.  I had seen pictures of the Statue of Liberty and maybe they were related, the statue did have a crown and was holding a torch.  In Sunday School there were women like Jesus’s mother who dressed differently from a long time ago, but they didn’t look like the woman in armor.  She looked so proud, confident and powerful. Her blue eyes were like mine.

The pictures inside the book were more complicated, but even as a little girl I was aware enough of the symbolism of clothing to understand the progression of the story of Joan.  In the beginning she was dressed in simple dresses and looked sweet with her head covered what we would have called a babushka.  Then tunics and leggings.  (Of course I didn’t know these words.) She was shown talking to a lot of men.  And, praying a lot.  Then suddenly on the next page, there she was in armor on a horse surrounded by men.  Scary battle scenes. Bows and arrows.  I had been introduced to Robin Hood and his Merry Men so I knew about shooting arrows, but this looked more dangerous.  No one looked merry.  There was a picture of her on the ground with an arrow in here chest. Then Joan in her armor talking to a king; I knew he was a king by his crown and robes.  And then she was just dressed in black, simple black and really praying a lot and looking worried, crying.   I knew she was in trouble.  The last pages were the ones that I couldn’t stop looking at.  The armor was gone, the tunics and leggings were gone, even the simple black outfits.  She was all in white, wrapped in what seemed like a white sheet and they were chaining her to a post.  She was surrounded by logs and twigs.  Then the flames.  Her face on the final page, eyes closed, still beautiful, swathed in smoke.

Her clothing told a story.  So did her praying.  Toward the end she had reached out for a cross.  Some of this I understood as some kind of Sunday School story.  I wanted to ask my parents about this but something held me back.  Maybe I thought they would take the book away from me.  I didn’t know if they even knew I had it among my other story books, Babar and Alice in Wonderland and the Disney Classics.  There was something that resonated with Snow White eating the apple and falling, Alice running from the Queen, Babar’s mother shot by a hunter.  But somehow the last pages of all of those books ended with happiness, a reunion with loved ones, a return home.  Joan, my heroine, was alone in the smoke, with a sign on her head I could not at that time read or comprehend, like Jesus on the cross but with no Easter Sunday resurrection, bunny, colored eggs, new dresses and jelly beans.

At some point I showed the book to my sister Barbara, who was always the smart one in the family and 7 years older than me, and asked her why the story ended that way.  She told me that Joan had gotten into a lot of trouble with those men because she told the truth.

Getting in trouble for telling the truth has been very much in the headlines this summer.  There has been the trial and sentencing of Bradley Manning. There has been Anthony Weiner running for Mayor of New York City and his truth and lies and just down right too much visual information.  But my attention has been focused on Edward Snowden’s truth telling and the controversy of his legal right to tell these truths.  No one it seems, even the United States government in general or President Obama specifically has denied that what Snowden has declared is true, just that he shouldn’t be sharing these truths.  I have had many conversations with many people about this topic and the opinions have been as varied as the emails that have been read by the National Security Agency; meaning there are lots of different opinions even among people I know, ranging from Snowden being a spy who should be condemned to death, to him being a savior who is being martyred for his speaking the truth.  The political environment has become a shifting landscape of relationships between super powers and developing countries accepting or shunning him, inviting Snowden as a guest or demanding his personal criminal appearance.  Moscow might send him back home if we really really promise not to kill or torture him.  Sounds a little Joan of Arc-ish.  Saint or heretic?  Maybe like Joan only time will tell the good guys from the bad guys in this story of truth-telling.  And just as Joan wasn’t really the issue but was just the spokesperson for the big question, “who’s got the power, God or kings?” it’s really the same issue in the Snowden saga:  who’s got the power of information? Government or the people?

Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is not the story. The story is what he has revealed about the hidden wiring of our networked world. This insight seems to have escaped most of the world’s mainstream media, for reasons that escape me. The obvious explanations are: incorrigible ignorance; the imperative to personalise stories; or gullibility in swallowing US government spin, which brands Snowden as a spy rather than a whistleblower. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jul/28/edward-snowden-death-of-internet

Was Joan of Arc a heretic or a saint?

Is Edward Snowden a whistleblower or a spy?

What about Bradley Manning, Sibel Edmonds, Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Dr. Peter Rost?  Any number of whistleblowers at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_whistleblowers

All of this makes me wonder about all that medical information that is behind the firewalls of hospitals, medical centers, clinics and physician practices.  Of course patient privacy has to be protected, unless it is good public relations for the medical provider:  the successful heart transplant, the separation of conjoined twins, the new miracle drug.  Do an internet search and you can find dramatic accounts of life saving procedures.  Here’s one in the news today accompanied by photos of the patient, is wife and his child:

Life-saving: Matthew Green was the first person in the UK to receive a total

artificial heart implant and be able to go home thanks to a portable pump.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2380290/Successful-heart-transplant-man-spent-years-surviving-aid-artificial-device-carried-rucksack.html#ixzz2aSfOBTC1

But what happens when things go terribly wrong, which does of course happen.  Some stories do come out when family or patients speak up, if they can, if they have good lawyers.  But I wonder about what the internet hackers would find if instead of looking into national security they looked into national health care.  They probably would not find that our emails are being read or our phones are being tapped, but they would find that some patients got the wrong blood type in a transfusion, or the wrong dose of heparin was administered, or the wrong breast was removed, or someone was left in the hallway to the emergency department too long.  The New York Times article, More Treatment, More Mistakes, by Sanjay Gupta, MD in July 2012, states:

According to a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine, as many as 98,000 Americans were dying every year because of medical mistakes. Today, exact figures are hard to come by because states don’t abide by the same reporting guidelines, and few cases gain as much attention as that of Rory Staunton, the 12-year-old boy who died of septic shock this spring after being sent home from a New York hospital. But a reasonable estimate is that medical mistakes now kill around 200,000 Americans every year. That would make them one of the leading causes of death in the United States. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/01/opinion/more-treatment-more-mistakes.html?_r=0

Is there some national security that can prevent these deaths of 200,000 American citizens every year?  Can the NSA read all the medical records looking for medical errors that kill people rather than spending time reading everybody’s emails looking for terrorists?

What is important to know is that as cited in the article states don’t use the same reporting guidelines and that includes who knows about the mistakes including patients and their families, i.e., sometimes even if you get the wrong medication, or the wrong procedure, or some little inconsequential sponge is left inside your body you don’t have to be told about it.  Maybe it’s just better for you to not know. Just like if someone is reading your emails you don’t really have to know about it because maybe it’s just better if you don’t know about it.  Maybe this is keeping all of us safe.  Maybe not. 200,000 Americans die every year and we don’t know much about that, or who is protecting us, or how to protect ourselves.

But here’s something true about healthcare that is apparently not true in national security:  anyone in health care who knows that there is an error or risk to patient safety can talk about it without risking their own safety.  If you talk about what’s going on in health care as long as you don’t violate patient confidentiality, you don’t have to end up in the transit area of the Moscow airport or at the burning stake or in a military prison.  In New York State there is a specific law that protects health care employees from retaliation by their employers if they speak up about a medical error or any other untoward events.  It’s New York State Labor Law 741.  It explicitly states:

Retaliatory action prohibited. Notwithstanding any other provision

of law, no employer shall take retaliatory action against  any  employee

because the employee does any of the following:

(a) discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor, or to a public

body  an  activity, policy or practice of the employer or agent that the

employee,  in  good  faith,  reasonably  believes  constitutes  improper

quality of patient care; or

(b)  objects  to, or refuses to participate in any activity, policy or

practice of the employer or agent that  the  employee,  in  good  faith,

reasonably believes constitutes improper quality of patient care.

Whistleblowers in health care need not fear, they are protected by law.

So no hackers required. No one who works in health care can be penalized, forced to flee, ostracized, accused of being a witch, blasphemer or heretic, if they blow the whistle to inform a public body that there is a risk to safety, health and well-being.  They are protected.

Well, maybe.

Or, maybe not.

http://www.vevo.com/watch/sara-bareilles/brave/USSM21301304

Brave Lyrics

by Sara Bareilles

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marina Lent
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 23:44:53

    This is beautiful!!! Some deaths are more acceptable than others. And deaths caused by foreigners with a political agenda are so unacceptable that we will not question any measures put forward (or done in secret) to prevent them. Meanwhile, suicide has overtaken car crashes as a cause of death in otherwise healthy young people. Acceptable, both the suicides and the car crashes. Apparently.

    Reply

    • privatelifeinpublichealth
      Aug 18, 2013 @ 02:33:37

      Marina, thank you for this very thoughtful comment. And thank you for reading my blog. Please let me know about your interest in this topic. Best wishes, Karel

      Reply

      • Marina Lent
        Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:35:29

        I have been wanting to write about the whole range of insights, thoughts and feelings that I have had over the last few months (and years) watching the development of this country–I am a little younger than you, but not by much. I have worked in politics (national and international), in medicine as a paramedic on an ambulance for 10 years, and now in public health for a tiny town of less than 1,000 residents, where I seem to spend 90% of my time working to prevent 19th century catastrophes with 20th century tools and priorities. I was tickled to death by the thought of NSA officials peering through stacks of medical records, day after day! It might even give them some insight into the scourges of addiction and mental illness, which fill our hospitals and prisons with a relentless, endless stream of hopeless lives– if addiction alone were successfully treated, the average town could cut its police force and emergency medical staff by half! You even touched on the way the press has degenerated into trying to create sensationalist, personalized “human interst” stories out of absolutely everything– the news equivalent of junk food– but with great joy I have recently discovered that there are also some real journalists coming up, some of them entirely outside of established media–there is hope in the next generation, and they’re going to need it!

        Sent from my iPhone

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