Medical Logic

by Hazel Houlihingle (Gloria Kaufman), from pp. 122-124 of In Stitches

There's a new trend in the United States. Generals are going to medical conventions. It's because of their interest in Pentagonorrhea -- a disease first described by Flo Kennedy. There was a rumor that physicians were classifying Pentagonorrhea with herpes, syphilis, AIDS, and other VD, so the generals wanted to explain that Pentagonorrhea is a necessary social disease.

After a few conventions, however, the generals found other reasons to attend. At medical workshops on Profit-Effectiveness, they discovered that medical prices rise even faster than military costs, and they're hanging around to study medical monetary techniques.

The military are not the only outsiders moving in. The Felon's Association has a regular caucus at the AMA. I'm not talking about medical felons. I'm talking about run-of-the-mill, ordinary, all-American crooks. They go to the meetings to study medical logic.

Medical logic? Felony? Let me explain.

The Felon's Association actually got the idea from me.

In 1984 I was mugged on 8th Avenue in New York City, an in 1985 I had an unnecessary hysterectomy -- which, by the way, is a lot more common than mugging. Anyhow, on the Phil Donahue show, I said that I enjoyed my mugging much more than my unnecessary surgery.

"Really?" said Phil.

"Yeah," I said. "What does a mugger get? Only what's in your purse. What does a surgeon get? He cleans out your bank account, you sell your house, you borrow ... Did you every [sic] hear of a mugger making you borrow to insure the best possible mugging?"

"But Hazel, you've gotta be frightened by a mugger. He might knock you down, and ..."

"He did!" I said. "The mugger knocked me down, and the surgeon knocked me out. From the mugger I got a bruised elbow. From Dr. Gooser I got drugged, cut open, ovaries taken out, sick for months, still sick ...''

"You've gotta be kidding."

When three gynecologists told me the surgery was uncalled for, I asked for my money back. Ha! Never mind it was fraud. Dr. Gooser performed an operation, so by medical logic, he get's [sic] paid.

Medical logic. That's the key phrase. Someone from the Felon's Association who saw the show picked it up. He figured, if healthy people (using medical logic) pay surgeons for unnecessary surgeries, why can't banks (using medical logic) pay robbers for unnecessary robberies? Think about that. The answer, he said, was because banks are not surgeons. So the Felon's Caucus came up with a position paper to expedite bank robberies. First, they argue, since bankers are as respectable as physicians, banks should also be allowed to use medical logic. The paper gets really sophistical (academia has no monopoly on sophistry), so I won't go through it blow by blow.

Here's the conclusion:

When a surgeon performs unnecessary surgery, botches it, and the patient dies, the family not only pays the surgeon, they thank him. Using medical logic, banks should thank robbers instead of chasing them. And further, they should pay felons for attempted robberies (which are like failed surgeries) -- with added bonuses when nobody dies.

The Felon's Caucus is also interested in medical language. They like the way MDs call their customers "patients," and they're adopting the term "patient" for victims of crime. Most crime victims, they say, like most medical victims, don't complain or file charges, so their customers are certainly as "patient" as medical customers.

Another expression the Felon's Caucus likes is "Side Effect." What is a side effect? When an MD prescribes a drug, everything bad that happens is a side effect. You know the routine. You go to the doctor for a headache, and he prescribes some pills -- which you take. Next week your hair's falling out, you're vomiting, and you're so sick you've forgotten the headache. You call the doctor and tell him your new symptoms. He looks at his chart.

"Lovely," he says, "the medicine worked."

"But my hair ..."

"Forget it, that's just a side effect."

"And the vomiting ...''

"Another side effect. Don't worry."

What's good about a side effect is, it's not important, it doesn't count. The doctor doesn't care about it, so neither should you. In reality, though, you hate the side effects so much that you develop a fondess for your headache, and you stop taking the pills so you can get your headache back. By then you feel so good without the side effects, your headache's gone too. (You don't dream of accusing the physician of poisoning you -- because poisoning is a direct effect and you only had side effects.)

The direct effect of taking enough poison is, we die. The only time that's not true is when it's prescribed by an MD for a broken toe or something, and then the death is a side effect. You get the picture, anything that happens that the MD doesn't like, he gets to call a side effect. Other people can't do that. For example, housepainters. When they finish painting your living room, they can't call any paint they've dripped on the floor a side effect. (Does that mean our floors are more important than our bodies?)

The Reagan administration, by the way, also likes medical language. They would love to call Ronnie's slips and faux pas an mere side effective consequence of the President's press conferences. And the illegal money to the Contras is just a side effect of Congress's failure to vote them additional funds. But the AMA won't let the White House use their language: they want to retain its credibility.

The generals are also thinking side effectively, and they're really excited. They've been depressed ever since Carl Sagan spilled the beans about nuclear winter. Madison Avenue did not come up with a good gimmick for their Learning-to-Love-Nuclear-Winter Campaign.

"We should have come here first," General Oiler told me. "Doctor's [sic] can sell anything. Think of it," he said, his eyes twinkling with boyish excitement. "The survivors of nuclear war come out into the dark, cold, barren landscape, their Geiger counters clicking -- and they're happy, they're cheerful, because they know the Winier doesn't count: it's all just a side effect."

I didn't want to deflate Oiler, but no way would physicians let generals use medical logic. "Generals have their own gobble-de-gook," Dr. Puregood told me, "and we're going to stay side-effectively safe."