There are many physicians in high-power positions that have worked with me. They know me at 2:00 am when three patients are coding in the ICU, and they know me when I show up with wet hair on morning rounds, so that I would not be late. Many have seen my collection of certificates, from the 'Fine Guidance and Leadership' Plaque given by my peers when I was a Pre-Med Club President.....my USC Medical School graduation, my Stanford Anesthesiology Certificate, the Stanford Critical Care Certificate, and the letter from the US Army ~ a commendation for serving as a civilian doing solo ER for the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, CA.
Why am I discussing this? Because it disturbs me when people 'get the story wrong' or believe a wrong story, and/or fail to ask for another side of the same story. I was always told, 'If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all'. I have had my times of sounding off at injustices, ethical matters, and inappropriate behavior. So I wanted to tell you a story that I hope leaves you with a resounding lesson: the destruction of gossip is real.
So I was a full-fledged Attending Physician at a major university outside of California. I was On Call as an Anesthesiologist, waiting for some one to page me for my next case. In fact, I was sitting in the room across from the main OR scheduling room, next to the On Call telephone for anesthesiologists. No one called me. The telephone did not ring, or else I would have picked up the line.
Suddenly, I received a slew of continuous pages. As if there was some urgency, of course. I noted the number to call back, and I realized that it was right across the hall from me, in the OR scheduling office. I was On Call, they sent me to a patient, and I went to see the patient. Right away.
It was a stressful case for the patient, who was upset and sobbing because she was losing her baby. She was losing her baby because it was a tubal pregnancy, not an intra-uterine pregnancy. Death of the fetus was inevitable, but death of the patient could be prevented by removal of the tubal pregnancy.
When I arrived to see the patient, her gurney bed was surrounded by protective curtains around her bed. From a distance, I could hear alternating cries: first sobbing, then muffled sobs, then back to huge sobbing again.
I introduced myself as her anesthesiologist, and she practically kicked me out of the room. She was right. The surgical team had not explained the surgery to her satisfaction, and she was outraged at being some where that she did not want to be. So, once I immediately assessed the situation, I quietly and apologetically exited her quarters. Bowing as I closed the drapes of blue plaid pattern, I closed them tightly behind me and headed to find the surgeons.
A hubub continued, wherein I spoke to the surgeons and they spoke to her again...then I spoke to her again...and she had severe concerns that she would be aborting a soul, an unborn child. That she would be killing her baby. All her concerns were serious and appropriate. I knew I could not force her to have the surgery, and I also knew that the surgeons were waiting at the OR doors, transfixed at what was going to happen when I came out of the curtains around her bed. What could I tell her?
I told her that I believed the fetus was a soul that God made, but it was growing in a place that would cause her to bleed to death, if it was not removed. I stated that I do not and have not ever provided anesthesia for an elective abortion, and that I was a Christian with strong beliefs. Her eyes and her ears hung on every word I said, and I chose my words carefully. It was her decision, not mine. I could only offer my beliefs, my experience, and put my words in a careful picture that would determine her next step. As of now, she refused to have surgery because she felt she would be aborting a baby, a soul. This I understood. But she was alive and I knew we could save her life, so I had to get to her heart, her soul, and her mind. I prayed for guidance.
She needed time to think. So i walked away and paced the hallway of the ORs, looking down at my blue scrub shoe covers and wondering if they would have blood on them within the next 30 minutes.
Then an astounding encounter occurred.
The Attending Anesthesiologist who was in charge that night...she saw me walking in the hallway. I noted that her pace picked up as she drew nearer to me, and there was no one else in the hallway except for us two.
Before I had a chance to assess what was happening, I was subjected to a tirate, a litany of superlatives....a situation I had never before encountered. This person called me 'lazy', accused me of 'hiding' so I would not have to work....and told me that I was holding up the OR case. Well, had we both been men, I thought it would have been appropriate to slap his face. Instead, I maintained my cool, a characteristic for which I am known to have.
What can one say? Bunches of jumbled thoughts went through my mind as I slipped into 'professional' mode. I may have said something like, "You don't even know me", or "you must have matters mixed up and I have no idea why you are talking to me in this manner'. Or, I may have spurted out, "You have no right to talk to me this way" or "Are you mistaking me for some one else?" After quite a short time, I walked away. I walked away and perhaps I said, "You have no idea who you are talking to."
I marched into the Chair's office, only to find that he was out of town. I asked who was 'covering' for him, and of all people....you wouldn't believe...it was the same person who had just chewed me out. Hmmmm. By this time, my patient should have had enough time to think and her time was running out.
She calmly needed assurance that she was not killing her baby, and that God would not call it 'murder'. That she would not go to hell. I could only tell her my ethics, my experience, my schooling at Oral Roberts University School of Medicine in Tulsa, OK. And that if she wanted an abortion, I would not accept her case...some one else would do it.
With these final words, she agreed to the surgery. I prayed with her before wheeling her down the cold OR hallway, into OR #4. The bed bounced over the door rim to the room, and she cried out in pain. That's when I started talking in a soothing voice...and giving first this drug and then another...checking with the OR Circulating Nurse that we did have a Type & Cross in case the patient needed a blood transfusion....checking my machine out of the corner of my eyes, and making sure that her iv did not get accidentally pulled out as she crossed from her bed to the OR table.
This was the most miraculous case I had ever seen, because the surgeons pulled the fetus out of the Fallopian tube and the room went quiet. From my side of the drapes, I watched the surgeon put the fetus in a metal bowl, sterile and cold. The fetus was still moving as its little arms wriggled and the fingers clenched in a fist.
A huge compulsion overcame me, and as I listened to the heart rate and pulse oximetry simultaneously, I slipped away to peer in to the bowl. I saw a sight that I will never forget. The fetus was fully developed, wriggling in the bowl...turning the head, moving the lips...and it was the largest fetus I had ever seen, that was pulled from the tube of a patient. Struck and overcome with awe, I said a prayer for the baby as its motions slowed to a still. The OR was quiet. The job was done. But it wasn't just a job...it was a baby. A baby that was destined to die either alone or together with the mother. I made the sign of the cross as I turned to walk back to 'my side' of the drapes, the anesthesiologists side. I put my hand on the patient's head, leaned over, and whispered in her ear, "It is over." I brushed her hair and soothed her temples as I finished the case. Everyone in the room was reminded of the honor we had to be there.
In the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), I waited until the patient was awake. I told her everything that happened in the OR, as I had promised to do. It was my job. When I walked away, I knew that I had done my best and that this was a blessed experience that left one in awe of human existence, human survival, and death of a soul that never had a chance to live.
Days later, I filed an official complaint regarding my peer anesthesiologist who had accused me of being lazy and trying to avoid working. I typed each scene as if it was a bad scene in a movie, and simply asked for an apology. Then I submitted the complaint to a high-ranking official, who was delegated as the person to investigate the matter.
Knock! Knock! Here they were at my door for a meeting in my office now. Geez, I had spent the night in my office, on my nice black leather couch. I was awakened from my nap, eyes still blurry, and I answered the door.
There was this high-ranking official who had a Presidential presence, and there was the Attending who had yelled at me during that day of the fetus. They were seated inside my office, and the wall beside me was filled with honors, certificates, awards, and research abstracts for presentation.
I was the accusor; the other Attending was the accused. After 30 minutes of discussion, the high-ranking official got the accused to admit that she was just 'going by what she had heard' about me. The official angrily stood up and shook her finger at him, liberally berating the accused of listening to gossip. After the accused realized the Destruction of Gossip, she apologized to me. Specifically, she apologized for listening to gossip. And promised never to bend an ear towards gossip again, but to get to know the person by asking them questions, instead.
As I shut my office door behind them, I was satisfied that an official letter of complaint would sit in the accused's professional file. Mostly, I was just satisfied to get a verbal apology and a promise from this person, to never listen to gossip again.
About two years later, at a reunion of the department, this person was standing in front of me. She reached her hand across the still air to me, and as I took it, she pulled me in to kiss me on the cheek. What had been broken, was now fixed. A miracle of sorts. To have one person's mind changed forever so that she would learn a hard lesson from all of this, and carry it forward and onward.
So, my advice is to not participate in gossip. Refuse to listen to it. Change the subject or just say that you do not like to talk about others when they are not present. And if you have a doubt, or an inkling of a doubt of the person's character, reputation, work ethic, or moral ethics....simply confront that person yourself. Confrontation does not have to put the other person on the defensive. But confrontation may avoid the pitfalls of destruction that could cause great harm to more than one person.
It's a good thing that my patient was unaware of the encounter, and had not overheard this other person accusing me of an ill reputation. Had she listened, perhaps she would have absorbed this gossip and refused to have me as her anesthesiologist. No one wants a lazy anesthesiologist, that is for sure. So God was with me as the conversation went unheard, the patient had her procedure, the baby received a blessing while in the bowl, the patient lived, and one professional learned the destruction of gossip. Pure, unadulterated gossip. With no truth whatsoever in it. And a vow to never let it happen again.
Blessed are those who do not listen to gossip. Blessed are those who confront the person being accused in the gossip. For gossip is destruction. If you have a problem with some one, just go to them directly. Please do not believe all the gossip that you hear. Many a 'juicy' story has led to destruction. We are not here on earth long enough to allow a mistruth cause unnecessary destruction. We are here to help others in the sorrows of their lives, and to help them however possible. I am honored to have been the anesthesiologist in this case. It was my honor.