Friday, August 13, 2010

The Man Behind The Smear

As the RWS™ carry out their usual hatchet job, retracing the bloody footprints they left after destroying Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod, and many others less well known, it might be revelatory to get to know the victim of their latest attack, Donald Berwick, nominated to head Medicaid and Medicare. To them, he's evil incarnate. To the reader of his recent graduation speech at the medical school in which his daughter was among those graduating, a different man emerges.

.....Let me read to you an email I received on Thursday, December 19, 2009. It came from Mrs. Jocelyn Anne Gruzenski – she goes by “Jackie.” I did not know Jackie Gruzenski at the time; she wrote to me out of the blue. But I have since connected with her. And, she gave me permission to read her email to me to you. Here's what she wrote:

“My husband was Dr. William Paul Gruzenski, a psychiatrist for 39 years. He was admitted to (a hospital she names in Pennsylvania) after developing a cerebral bleed with a hypertensive crisis. My issue is that I was denied access to my husband except for very strict visiting, four times a day for 30 minutes, and that my husband was hospitalized behind a locked door. My husband and I were rarely separated except for work,” she wrote. “He wanted me present in the ICU, and he challenged the ICU nurse and MD saying, "She is not a visitor, she is my wife.‟

.....What might a husband and wife of 19 years, aware of the short time left together, wish to talk about – wish to do – in the last days? I don‟t know for Dr. and Mrs. Gruzenski. But, I do know for me. I would talk about our children. I would talk about the best trip we ever took together, and even argue, smiling, about whose idea it was. .... We would have so much to talk about. So much. The nurses would pad in and out of the hospital room, checking i.v.s and measuring pulses and planning their dinners and their weekends. And none of what the nurses and doctors did would matter to us at all; we wouldn‟t even notice them. We would know exactly who the visitors were – they, the doctors and the nurses. They, they would be the visitors in this tiny corner of our whole lives together – they, not us.

..... [T]oday you take a big step into power. With your white coat and your Latin, with your anatomy lessons and your stethoscope, you enter today a life of new and vast privilege ..... [S]ociety will give you access and rights that it gives to no one else. Society will allow you to hear secrets from frightened human beings that they are too scared to tell anyone else. Society will permit you to use drugs and instruments that can do great harm as well as great good, and that in the hands of others would be weapons. Society will give you special titles and spaces of privilege, as if you were priests. Society will let you build walls and write rules.

......... But, now I will tell you a secret – a mystery. Those who suffer need you to be something more than a doctor; they need you to be a healer. And, to become a healer, you must do something even more difficult than putting your white coat on. You must take your white coat off. You must recover, embrace, and treasure the memory of your shared, frail humanity – of the dignity in each and every soul. When you take off that white coat in the sacred presence of those for whom you will care – in the sacred presence of people just like you – when you take off that white coat, and, tower not over them, but join those you serve, you become a healer in a world of fear and fragmentation, an “aching” world, as your Chaplain put it this morning, that has never needed healing more.


Read the whole speech, then tell me: is he the devil the screamers say he is?

If, as I said recently, the worst thing the right-wingers have done to our country and our world is the killing of climate legislation, then the runner-up is their characterization of health care reform as "death panels" and "genocide" (as a group of Larouche supporters, complete with Obama-as-nazi signs, claimed a couple of days ago, parading near my local post office). In the latest of uncountable examples, these people, the screamers, the radio guys, the talking headless of Fox "news", Congressional Rs, teabaggers who've dipped and drunk deep, who have no desire or ability to enter the marketplace of ideas, would rather don the vestments of hate and hyperbole, and blow themselves up like al Queda in a farmers' market, taking down as many innocents as possible. What, I wonder, do they expect to see when they find their imaginary paradise?

More importantly: why do so many people buy into the lies, rally around cynical people who treat them like idiot sheep? Using scare tactics and buzzwords like "rationing," taking reality-based remarks out of context while advocating tax cuts for the rich and unspecified spending cuts, how has it been so easy to convince so many, with so much evidence to the contrary, that they're on the right side of the argument?

Simple; and I've said it again and again: we've become a nation of selfish and stupid people, too lazy to think for themselves, unwilling to do the hard work of living in a democracy. Giving lip service to "patriotism" while in fact espousing the very ideas that have brought us down, as a way to justify their selfishness, which is exactly what it is: selfishness. Wrapped in the Shroud of Turin.

The right wing has recognized it, stoked it, counted on it, and is ready, once again, to take the money and run.


  1. “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care--the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open,” Berwick said in a June 2009 interview with Biotechnology Healthcare.

    It seems odd to mock the metaphor of "death panels" while supporting Dr. Ration here, appointed by Prof. Skip the Surgery knowing his own congress might not support him.

  2. Thanks, Blue: I totally knew you'd ooze by with a comment on that exact line.

    First of all -- and I understand you can't possibly follow this -- the "death panel" lie was the response to the (originally Republican) idea that medicare should cover discussions of living wills. Second of all, as I said in the post, his comments, taken out of context, were "reality based." Which, of course, is why you can't comprehend them, or address them sensibly.

    But let me ask you: how do you fix the problem of health care costs if you, like all good RWS™, refuse to pay for programs on the one hand, and demagogue the idea of prioritizing spending on the other?

    If every attempt at controlling cost, addressing efficacy, confronting the most difficult of issues, ie money spent on futile care, is characterized as death panels and rationing, how will we solve it? Who on your side will actually offer meaningful ideas? Who among people like you will be willing to think hard about the most difficult issues, instead of smearing those who step up?

    You are the PERFECT example of why we're so screwed in this country, and the UNDENIABLE evidence of whose fault it is.

    By the way, as to your second comment which I accidently deleted instead of hitting the "publish" button: re-read what I said about the Larouche supporters. All I said was what they did, not who they are or aren't. But, compared to the rest of you emptiness, it's barely worth a mention.

  3. ...ooze can't possibly follow can't comprehend them, or address them sensibly...You are the PERFECT example of why we're so screwed in this country, and the UNDENIABLE evidence of whose fault it is...the rest of you emptiness...

    Really, Sid. Is this how you speak to people in real life? Does this make you feel more manly on the Internet? Are you unable to be polite to people with whom you disagree?

    If Berwick is out of context, then does he not support rationing? Inform us.

    Do you not support rationing? Sounds like you do.

    Do you think proposing that people live out their lives on painkillers rather than getting surgery is a proper solution?

    It is a difficult issue. A purely market solution would be to say that if you don't have insurance or another way to pay, you don't get care. That would drive everyone who can afford it to get insurance. Right now, not everyone who can afford it has it.

    In my business, if you can't pay, I don't have to work for you. I do do a lot of pro-bono and charity work. Doctors should be free to do the same. Do you agree with that?

    But turning away injured and sick people is certainly not the our country works. We always help the unfortunate. But we need to address the people who make themselves unfortunate by not preparing. I'm not talking about people who have no money--I'm talking about people who spend the money on other things, knowing that everyone else will be forced to pick up the bill of their failure to plan.

    Do you imagine that Obamacare is making healthcare more affordable? I notice my insurance has just gone up $200 per month. Obviously, I'm paying for all the new people about to show up for their "free" healthcare.

    Maybe rationing should start with those who spent their money unwisely, rather than on granny who does have insurance.

  4. "Really, Sid. Is this how you speak to people in real life? Does this make you feel more manly on the Internet? Are you unable to be polite to people with whom you disagree?"


  5. Commentary: As I remember it I did a lot of pro bono work, for free in my office; and at the county hospital and it was only 30 years ago. I think we have to separate issues here, Berwick the great physician from Berwick the social reformer. The two are not mutually exclusive and in a more perfect world they are not. The problem as I see it is rigidity in the thought process, rigidity in the system, where few are free to make the right choices. Berwick himself speaks to that in his graduation address.

  6. Well said, HTE; and those that try to address it thoughtfully and rationally (pun acknowledged) are shouted down.


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