Happy Juneteenth! Ready to be ENRAGED?
One of the docs I work for (I’m in a pediatric ophthalmology clinic) loaned me this book after I saw it on her desk and expressed interest, thinking it might be an Oliver Sacks-type book about adapting to sightlessness, but the doctor and the resident let me know it was about a doctor who allowed multiple patients to go blind through negligence and poor care in the mid 1980s. And that the doctor in question has an honorary position at a hospital. Terrible, but interesting, let’s read!
So. It’s not just that Dr. Cavanaugh had a history of overbooking himself, meaning he was constantly in a rush from running behind. It’s not just that he had a history of being short with staff so that they didn’t feel comfortable challenging or questioning the doctor. It wasn’t just that he coded for procedures he didn’t perform or diagnose diseases that weren’t present, and using a poorer grade organ for transplant than standard. It’s not just that he was in a position of power at the hospital and the fear of retribution was omnipresent when peers discovered his malpractice. He also had a tendency to push poor and black patients to the end of his surgical schedule, which meant that they got the poorest quality corneas when transplanting them.
Yup, surprise racism!
This MFer operated on a black man who had one good eye and OPERATED ON THE WRONG EYE, and missed the subsequent glaucoma that robbed him of his sight completely due to a lack of follow up. He also diagnosed a black woman with Fuch’s dystrophy and gave her a corneal transplant that she didn’t need because Fuch’s is binocular and she for sure didn’t have it in the other eye.
And just in case you’re not mad enough, the hospital didn’t just cover for Cavanaugh, they actively reprimanded the doctors who uncovered the wrongdoing.
The story is compelling, but, like so many non-fiction books, in the quest to remain impartial, it reads a bit like a recitation of facts rather than an unfolding narrative. (Thinking of Bad Blood in particular). And it was definitely hard to keep track of the different doctors even to someone who knows how different pediatric ophthalmology is from a retinal specialty. The book suffers from being a bit too brisk of a read, but the patient experiences make it a worthwhile one.