I was messaging with a friend on Twitter and the conversation turned to events in our lives that dramatically changed our paths. We started referring to these as “detours,” but we agreed, the detours can be the most fascinating parts of our lives. The most unexpected, most challenging, and the most fun. And they often lead us to much better places, the places where we were meant to be, even if we didn’t see it at the time.
In the early 90s, I bought my first computer. I don’t know why, but I got it in my head that I was going write. Of course, back then computers were nothing like they are now. I remember the hard drive was only 250 MB, and that was considered big! That’s laughable now.
One common bit of wisdom in the writing world you will hear is to “write what you know.” So, I did. I was a critical care nurse and I started writing about controversies in health care and within the profession. I referred to my writing as “documented commentary,” and my editorials started appearing in the local press frequently. I would go to the medical library during the week, gather up the statistics from the peer-reviewed journals, and each Saturday morning I would get in the “zone.” I could tell if my piece was “good” when I’d look up from the keyboards and four or five hours had just vanished and it seemed that every word fit. Fellow writers know what I’m talking about. Your writing has a tone or feel to it when you know it’s right.
I thought this was all just going to be an interesting exchange of ideas. Maybe there would be some discussion that followed. Maybe there would be some published counterpoints and maybe more data might even prove me or other researchers wrong. I welcomed that discussion. It seemed that we, as professionals, should be having this discussion. We fought for our patients at the bedside, why not in the public forum?
I didn’t really think the topics were all that controversial. After all, the statistics I was using came straight from the most prominent medical journals. I kind of looked at this as though shining a light on problems would help provoke positive change. But, the backlash that emerged was directed at silencing me, on keeping this information away from the public, safely buried in the vaults of obtuse medical journals.
My employers, even though they were never mentioned in my articles, directly or implicitly, became quite hostile. They harassed me, tried to isolate me from my colleagues at work, and tried to terminate my position. But unlike the private sector, I was working for the government. These employers were government actors and they had to tread lightly on my First Amendment rights. They couldn’t get rid me outright for exercising free speech, but they sure put a stop to any upward mobility within the organization. Time for a detour. I went to law school.
Prior to this eye-poking and head-slapping, if you would have asked me if I would have diverted from a twenty-four-year career in health care at age 40 to go to law school over writing a few editorials for the local newspaper, I would have told you, “No way, that’s crazy talk.” But now, when asked why I went to law school, I just fondly reply, “I got mad.” That path led to another detour, and to another, and to another and, somehow, I find myself freelancing again. The circle complete.
In honor of this one of many detours, I am posting one of those past “controversial” articles in the “Health” section of my blog. This one is from 1995 and it explores some of the transgressions of Big Pharma, and I’m sure this is still relevant today. Of course, now this topic would not be considered so controversial. The tragedy of unnecessary health care inflicted deaths and profiteering in the medical industry is widely known and discussed. I’ve always said that if this was the airline industry, and they were crashing and burning three jumbo-jets full of people every day, they would shut the airlines down until the problem was fixed. Not so with health care.
Oh, and to add a little documentation for those who like numbers, check out this peer-reviewed publication titled: “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care,” published in the Journal of Patient Safety. And I quote: “. . . the true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year.”
Let’s see, heart disease causes 633,842 deaths in the U.S. per year (CDC 2016), and cancer causes 595,930 deaths. Next in line is chronic lower respiratory disease at 155,041 deaths, and other causes trail off after that. So, while not on the Centers for Disease Control’s leading causes of death, it turns out that health care is the big number 3 cause in the U.S. Now there’s a definition of irony for you, and a detour you may have not seen coming at the beginning of this post 🙂
I’m sure I’ll be visiting some of those other detours that life has taken in upcoming posts . . .