The best films classified as “psychological thrillers” usually feature a main character who walks among the civilian population in an unassuming fashion. Hannibal Lechter, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, wasn’t insane to the blind eye, but rather revealed his insanity slowly to an unsuspecting population susceptible to good manners.
We spend a lot of our time – thanks to force of habit, the nightly news and actuarial tables – attempting to protect ourselves from unseen threats. From reckless drivers, to the food and drink we consume, to pucks and balls that often leave the field of play, we like to think of ourselves as prepared for the threats that surround us. Yet the truth is, as was so eloquently stated in the famous episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which a beloved clown, dressed as a peanut, is killed by a rogue parade elephant, “Somewhere, there is an elephant with your name on it”.
There are two bits of news out today that remind me in stark terms that threats to our health and safety walk among us, invisible, until we realize it is too late. We all woke to the news out of Aurora, Colorado this morning regarding the mass shooting at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises!, leaving at least a dozen dead. This story is developing, so I’d like to set this aside for a story closer to my realm of health care.
Yesterday in Massachusetts, a former cardiac catheterization tech at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire was arrested on federal drug charges. This stems from his habit of stealing syringes full of the anesthetic fentanyl, injecting himself with same and refilling the syringes with saline. These syringes were later used on patients during procedures. The 33-year-old technician was charged while in a Massachusetts hospital being treated for hepatitis C. Since the person in question was a “floater”, doing similar work for hospitals in six additional states, authorities are just beginning to determine the extent of the damage to the health of the affected patients and those around them. It more than likely offers no solace to those who have and those who have yet to be diagnosed that the technician in question passed drug tests before working at Exeter Hospital.
When assessing threats to our well-being, we don’t tend to think of movie theatres and hospitals as hot spots that become tests to our survival, which makes these news stories all the more shocking. There is no preventive cure for a lone gunman in a movie theatre, and as we learned a few weeks ago, this country’s hospitals have a long way to go with basic infection control, far beyond the sudden threat of a drug-abusing cath tech.
Yet we know that basic peaceful interaction is integral to our ongoing planetary presence. Humankind was not designed to live in the outside world contained within a Kevlar bubble. The insane and the irresponsible rarely wear flashing name tags to warn us that our safety is threatened. The news from the last 24 hours is indeed bleak. It is sometimes painful to realize that The Phantom Menace is more than just a poorly written summer blockbuster, but if you’re reading this, you still have now. It might not hurt, as we approach the weekend, to take a moment, stand back, take a larger deep breath than normal and make sure that the minuscule moments without life-changing events are the ones worth remembering.