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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 3, 1995)
Nobody is in their right mind
Ever wonder what is wrong with
people? Do you read the paper or
watch the news and say, “What?”
Sometimes I consider the likely
possibility that I am the only person
on this crustal plate who isn’t loony,
or at the very least practicing the art
For example, why is it that
virtually every union in the United
States finds it necessary to go on
strike? (Actually, why are they even
necessary at all anymore? Their
purpose has been served.) This
transcends the silliness of the
current baseball strike, the former
hockey strike and any other profes
sional athletic organization’s refusal
to play a game. I repeat: A GAME!
Honestly, who cares? Baseball
players can stay on strike permanently
and I would still go see a game.
But the auto workers union is
always complaining about some
thing. About seven months ago it
was concerned with too many hours.
There are thousands of unem
ployed folks out there who would
love a shot at working 50 hours a
week. I did it for three years before
coming back to school full time; it
can be done quite easily.
Maybe they’re concerned with
auto workers freaking out like the
postal workers have been. Yet
another letter carrier has been found
hiding mail in his house, this time in
Velda City, Mo. He allegedly kept
more than 13,000 pieces dating back
two years in his basement.
Well, that can’t be true, because
an ex-Ford Motor Co. worker’s trial
began early last week on charges
that he killed two union co-workers
and attempted to kill two more.
Oliver French allegedly lost his cool
last Sept. 10, and now he faces
losing his life.
To be fair, these factions have
been taking a lot of heat lately, and
to make examples of them is not
accurate. After all, real people'
aren’t screwed up like that, are
Well, there’s Dr. Richard
Hammond, who used sodium
cyanide to commit suicide in a
Denver motel room, according to
police. He was probably a good
doctor, with the possible exception
of his hobby that involved videotap
ing houseguests in a bathroom at his
Charges were filed against him for
this, but it never made it to court. It
makes you curious about those
examination rooms, doesn’t it?
That’s not a good barometer of
the nation, though, because Denver
is a large city and things like that
don’t happen anywhere else, right?
Well, that’s not true.
In Dover, Del., (yes, Delaware is
still a state, not a county) Le-Vaughn
Walker, 16, was arrested in connec
- tion with the stabbing death of Nicole
Mosley, 17. He told police that
Mosley had threatened to sic her dog
on him and he accidentally stabbed
ho- while trying to stab the dog. He
said he felt he had to “finish her off’
because she would tell.
Why was he around this woman,
why did he have a weapon, and most
importantly, how dumb is this guy?
Anyway, he faces murder charges.
Surely, there must be some sane
individuals left. Of course! Your
friendly neighbor is always trustwor
thy. He lives next door and would
never lose HIS mind, would he?
Well, uh, that’s not really true
either. Eric Nenno, 34, of Hockley,
Texas, went off the deep gorge of
lunacy when he, according to an
admission to police, murdered a
neighbor’s child. Nicole Benton’s
body was found in Nenno’s attic,
ending a community-wide search.
She was seven,
OK, I’ve got it. No crime or
violence takes place where there is
law and police in abundance,
Three women and an unborn
baby were killed March 2 in a
shooting at King County Courthouse
in Washington. There was minimal
security, because who in their right
mind would bring a gun to a
But that’s the thing. Nobody is in
their right mind. Except me, of
course. But to those of you traveling
in another dimension, the one with
all the nuts, you’ll probably think
I’m the one a few cards short of a
deck when you see me walking
around with my head in my hands
and talking to myself.
Justice Is a Junior broadcasting and
news-editorial major and a Dally Nebras
Injury shows value of health
When I was about 12, my friend
Carol’s father died right after
jogging one evening. The first
question people asked said was
“How could that be? He was so fit.”
He wasn’t even 50 years old.
That’s when I learned that being
physically fit isn’t a guarantee. We
expected that being in shape would
somehow make a person immortal.
That was also during a time when
people were just beginning to talk
openly about cancer. It was called
the big C back then. No one wanted
to say the word. I suppose the
thought of something that powerful
causes a kind of denial. The things
that can take or interrupt a normal
life are scary, and no one wants to
talk about them.
Most people thought cancer was
mostly incurable, anyway, so what
was there to talk about? It wasn’t
until about 25 years later that I
learned differently. A member of
my own family had some malig
nant tumors removed and has
recovered fully. On the other hand,
my oldest brother Ronald had an
incurable stomach cancer last year
My friend Carol’s father didn’t
have cancer. Nobody knew what
he had, if anything. He just
plopped over and died. He ran all
the time. He was so alive. So lean.
Nowadays people talk about
cancer like the weather. We
know that cancer and many other
illnesses can be beaten. A
woman can be treated for breast
cancer and go on to live a long
and productive life. Many,
however, die from it. Ovarian
cancer is another killer of
women, but it too can be beaten.
Men can die from prostate
cancer, which can be treated and
beaten as well.
A perfectly healthy person can
become incapable of living normally
because of many things. Cancer is
only one of them. Anyone, at any
time, anywhere, can have something
E. Hughes Shanks
happen to them. There are no
guarantees. I recently had a prostate
scare. I call it a scare because the
prostate is known to be associated
with problems for many men who
never get well.
Like cancer. 25 years ago, it
isn’t something you talk about at
dinner. In fact, it isn’t spoken of
very openly now. But everyone
knows that prostate trouble could
spell major illness for males.
Luckily, that appears not to be the
case for me. However, it’s one hell
of a wake-up call. One day I’m
doing a three-hour run or a two
mile swim. The next day I’m face
down on an examination table
wondering if I’ll see 40.
At about the same time I was
having my scare, my niece, Mandy,
sprained her ankle and ended up
having to do everything on crutches.
In an odd way, I identified with her.
I imagined she was probably just
going about her normal routine one
day and CRUNCH! Crutches. No
real explanation. Just a freak
accident. A sudden change of life.
And that is exactly what hap
pened. No warning. Just crutches.
She was rushing around to get to her
confirmation, landed too hard on her
ankle and that was it. I asked her if
she made to her confirmation. She
said yes. During the ceremony
Mandy said, “I just hobbled up to
the bishop. He said I didn’t have to
go all the way down on my knees,
but I did anyway.”
One minute she’s Mandy the
supergirl grade-schooler and
overachiever. The next minute she
has only one good leg and is in
constant pain. Curbs became
retaining walls. Steps take forever.
“I can’t find a comfortable posi
tion,” she said.
Now she can’t carry her own
things and has to be helped with the
simplest of things. Her younger
brother Cody and sister Krista have
to help her out at home. Mandy told
me her younger brother had been
impatient with her and had com
plained, saying, “Why do I have to
do it? She says that she’s not
“Now when I get to a curb (that
doesn’t have curb cuts or wheelchair
ramps) I have to get right up close
to it, set my crutches up and swing
my legs over it. Before, I’d just
run.” Mandy said. “My friends
Kristal and Ashley take turns getting
me on the bus to school.”
Mandy not only needs help with
just about everything, but the
crutches, which are supposed to
help, can add to her misery. Her
underarms are sore from the tape
that wraps around the towels which
are supposed to make things softer.
“It rubs through my shirt and makes
my skin sore and really, really dry.
And it hurts;” she said.
Her good anKie is sore now too,
because it does all the work. Her
neck gets stiff from looking down
all the time and her lower, back
aches from always bending. “My
crutches are a little short. I have to
slouch. I have to crouch. It makes
my back really, really sore.”
Mandy said that the best time of
the day was “when I get to lie down
in bed and do nothing. It feels like
your leg is goingto be handicapped
forever.” When she’s off the
crutches for good, she said she’s
going to “jump for joy and run
around my room.”
I guess you don’t miss some
things until they’re taken away from
you. Even snail things like fitness
or a short walk across the carpet.
Skaals is a graduate stadeut and a Daily
Nebraskan colamalst —,
hurt public’s trust
How do you react to a medical
horror story? What is the proper
etiquette of emotions that rush up
from your gut to greet such a
Just two weeks ago, when a
Tampa surgeon cut off the wrong
foot of his patient, I read the news
with equal parts of bleak terror
and black humor. After all, what
do you say? That you want a
surgeon who knows his right from
his left. That you will wear one
sock into the operating room.
Days later, a small item in the
paper told about a Michigan
woman who had the wrong breast
removed. What do you say to
that? That if you ever go to the
hospital, you will cover your
body with instructions: X marks
the right spot.
These are stories that elicit
anger as deep as our own vulner
ability. Yet even anger wars with
the truths wrapped inside cliches:
accidents happen, no one is
perfect, the “human factor”
includes a capacity for the most
terrible of mistakes.
But this time, it’s happened to
one of us, to Betsy Lehman of all
people. A friend, a colleague at
The Boston Globe, a 39-year-old
mother of two small daughters
who had reached for the promise
of a breast cancer cure in bone
marrow transplant, writing, “I’m
resigned to the idea of going
through hell for the hope of a
chance.” A chance she didn’t get.
I can’t reduce Betsy to a
paragraph. She had warmth and
smarts, a fine-honed skepticism
and a delicious, playful sense of
humor. She had as generous a
spirit as I’ve known.
I ve been to dozens of funerals
and by now I know the ones you
don’t want to go to. The ones
where parents bury their children.
The ones where young children
sit, bewildered and restless,
without a mother to comfort them
for the loss of their mother.
If, as the Talmud says, each
person is an entire world, Betsy’s
death last December left a hole
the size of a crater. But we
chalked Up this loss to bad odds,
to high risks, to gawd-awful
Then we learned last week that
it wasn’t the roll of the dice.
Betsy Lehman was given a fatal
overdose of the anti-cancer
medication. She was given four
times the right dosage. She was
given it for four days in a row.
At best, a bone-marrow
transplant is a crude attempt to
bludgeon the cancer cells to death
and save the patient. But the
overdose killed Betsy and left
another woman with a devastated
heart, and went undetected by
whole layers of doctors, nurses,
pharmacists. They missed the
warning signs, the lab tests, the
What are we to say? Accidents
To those of us who count
ourselves her friends, this second
mourning is compounded by
anger. For those who didn’t know
Betsy, it should be compounded
There are times, when you are
sick and scared, that you try to
add up the things in your favor.
Betsy was our personal health
columnist. She had researched
and written about cancer treat
ments, including her own. She
had written about doctors, the *
good and the bad, the humane and
the arrogant. She knew how and
Moreover, Betsy was a patient
at the Dana-Farber Cancer
Institute, a cutting-edge cancer
hospital that gives Boston pride
in its best. Add to that Betsy’s
husband was a scientist who
worked at this hospital.
Yet it happened to her; she
was still killed by carelessness.
By the human errors that add up
to a system’s error. By a hospital
whose own self-confidence may
have been a fatal flaw. By an
institution that never installed the
computer program that might
have flagged this mistake.
Accidents happen? No one is
I haven’t a doubt that the
people who mishandled her case,
her life, are in their own pain. In
journalism, Betsy’s profession
and mine, the worst errors we
make can destroy a reputation. In
medicine they destroy people. It’s
the stakes that differ, not the
If this had happened to anyone
else, Betsy would have been mad
- as hell. Mad, without forgetting
that no system is really mistake
proof, no hospital human-error
proof. Mad anyway.
So what do you say? In
December, when Betsy died
without a trace of cancer left in
her body, the world lost her
generosity. In March we lost
something else in short supply. A
huge portion of trust.
€> 1995 The Boston Globe Newspaper
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