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EVERYTHING KING: 'Dr. Death' is a reminder of the perils of trust

'I admit I have trusted every doctor (medical, dentist, optometrist, chiropractor) I’ve ever had because he/she had a diploma in the office,' says columnist
2021-09-20 TV remote crop
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Friendly warning! If you are scheduled for back, hip or knee surgery, do not watch the new TV series, Dr. Death.

It has been so long since I have seen a television program that grabbed me from the opening scene, I feel compelled to share in case you might enjoy it, too. I promise not to reveal anything not already made public by the reviews, the trailers or the podcast it was derived from.

Two episodes have aired of what is a limited series. It airs on Showcase and stars Alec Baldwin (whose acting is so good it made me forget his Donald Trump impression), Christian Slater and, in the lead role, Joshua Jackson.

I am always drawn in by the phrase “based on a true story." 

I can’t believe that this case, which was not so long ago (2013), and so infamous that I had not heard of it, but I hadn’t.

Christopher Duntsch was an American neurosurgeon who worked at various hospitals around the United States and ran his own private clinics.

It becomes obvious from the beginning of the show he is, at the very least, a doctor with a God-complex, or at the worst a butcher with criminal intent.

As the show plays out over six more episodes, we will get to know more about his background and why he's botching so many surgeries. Is he inept or doing harm on purpose?

Aside from the fact it's well-written and beautifully acted, the show raises so many questions.

For instance: How many professionals do we entrust our lives to without really knowing anything about them?

I admit I have trusted every doctor (medical, dentist, optometrist, chiropractor) I’ve ever had because he/she had a diploma in the office. Literally. That was about as much research as I did.

I don’t think it was so much out of laziness, but rather a complete trust in the medical profession.

In recent years, I might have checked him or her out on a “rate a doctor” website, or searched a name here or there, but that would be the extent of it.

Especially now, when it is so hard to find a family doctor, many of us feel we can’t be too choosy.

Plus, how many doctors do we see in a lifetime? There are a lot of referrals to specialists in various fields. Who has time to check them all out with due diligence?

The TV program got me thinking about that and the fact we basically trust a lot of strangers.

As a friend of mine once said: “Not everybody can finish at the top of the class yet they all get a diploma.”

While the story of Dr. Death is extreme, I’m sure we all have heard of malpractice, mistakes in the operating room, addiction and inappropriate behaviour. It does happen.

The other ethical question is how would you respond to a doctor you felt was dangerous? It might just be a gut feeling you have, but you can’t prove it. As a patient, it might be hard to explain.

In the series, you can see those working with the evil physician (other doctors, nurses and assistants) try to make suggestions or assist, but are shot down. The doctor is the boss.

How long would it take for a tribunal or board of directors to act upon a complaint?

How many complaints before a doctor might be relieved of their hospital privileges? 

What would be enough to have a medical licence revoked?

How many patient deaths until suspicions arise?

I’m not trying to malign the medical profession. Far from it. In Canada, I still feel we are well served. I still have faith.

But, it's not a bad idea to question credentials and be our own health advocates. 

At the moment, I feel sorry for any neurosurgeons specializing in spinal care. I fear they will be getting a few suspicious sideways glances in the next few weeks.

The show is a ratings winner, so lots of folks are watching.

Patient: “So, doc, how many surgeries have you done? Any mistakes? Can I see your diploma? You ever hear of a Dr. Duntsch?”

Not to worry, the bad doctor is caught and punished (not a spoiler). Let’s just hope there’s no more.

About the Author: Wendy King

Wendy King writes about all kinds of things from nutrition to the job search from cats to clowns — anything and everything — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Watch for Wendy's column weekly.
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