Dolores Campbell: Enlightening Summer Reading

I recall once meeting a retired teacher and asking her how she had spent her summer. Her answer: “Eating, drinking cheap wine and reading trashy novels.” Now that’s a summer!

Unfortunately for me, I know someone with a subscription to The New Yorker who drops a dozen copies in front of me each Canada Day.

Reading The New Yorker is hard work—interesting, often very long and revealing stories on happenings in America can keep you occupied for hours and fill your head with information enough to cause brain strain. But it can also inform your understanding of happenings in the world around you.



Take the Caleb’s Courage campaign here in Cape Breton. Organized by the parents of a child who died of cancer last year, the campaign aims to win funding from the Aviva Community Fund in the amount of $75,000 to renovate the palliative care patient room in the pediatrics unit at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

Caleb's Courage logo

Caleb’s Courage logo

It reminded me of a New Yorker story by Jerome Groopman about the Pediatrics Advanced Care Team (PACT) at the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Established in 1997 to “bridge the gap in complex, chronic cases between traditional family pediatricians, who come to know their patients over time and in depth, and high-tech specialists who address specific ailments,” this pediatrics palliative care program has three goals: “to coordinate care, to help families make difficult decisions about treatment options, and ease the child’s pain and suffering.”

PACT teams include doctors, nurses, social workers, case workers, bereavement specialists and others. Groopman sat in on a team meeting during which they reviewed the cases of 20 patients ranging in age from one month to 33 years. (Groopman noted that adult patients are quite common “as more patients with complex conditions diagnosed in childhood now live into their thirties or beyond.”)

Groopman focused on the case of a seven-year-old boy suffering from an inherited metabolic disorder that deforms the bones, causes muscle spasms and lung problems, and makes speech difficult. Given that so many of his problems could not be “fixed,” the boy’s mother was determined that her son’s pain should be relieved, a goal accomplished in part because the team, with his mother’s involvement, had decided against a tracheostomy that would have precluded “the activities that made him happiest.”

“It’s not that there is a right or wrong,” nurse practitioner Janet Duncan told Groopman, “it’s really what is the best decision for your family, for your child.”


Damage-Control Surgery

At the other end of the medical spectrum—but on an issue that also resonates locally, as we welcome Syrian refugees into our communities—Ben Taub reported in a June 2016 story that since 2011, “the Syrian government has assassinated, bombed and tortured to death almost seven hundred medical personnel.”

Dr. David Nott

Dr. David Nott (Photo by UK Department for International Development CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The figures come from Physicians for Human Rights, an organization that documents attacks on medical care in war zones, which reports that non-state actors, including ISIS, have killed 27. And while the UN Security Council “strongly condemns” such violations, “four of its five permanent members support coalitions that attack hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Sudan.”

Taub’s story focused on David Nott, a London surgeon with Médecins Sans Frontières, who has spent time in the opposition-held half of Aleppo, training “medical students, residents, and general surgeons to carry out trauma surgeries far beyond their qualifications.”

Nott was in Sarajevo in 1993 where, of necessity, he learned a wide range of surgical techniques normally carried out by specialists. Along with other American and British surgeons, he began performing “damage-control surgery,” doing the absolute minimum to stop bleeding and prevent sepsis; returning the patient to the operating room only once the body had been stabilized.

At the start of the insurrection in Syria in 2011, protestors were being shot and would be targeted if they dared to seek treatment. “Pro-regime medical staff routinely performed amputations for minor injuries as a form of punishment,” according to one Médecins Sans Frontières doctor. Other protestors were taken from the hospitals only to be interrogated, tortured and killed.

In response, some doctors established secret medical units to treat people injured in the crackdowns, stockpiling medical supplies in safehouses where emergency operations were performed. In these “hospitals”—named M1 to M8— doctors would give medical students lessons via Skype, emphasizing emergency first aid to halt bleeding from gunshot wounds. Nott lived at M1 for five weeks, teaching a course on surgery in “austere environments;” a Syrian doctor, Ammar Darwish, translating Nott’s lectures into Arabic.

Taub reported that Nott continues to advise the medical staff at M1 from afar, and he and his wife have established a foundation to run surgical training courses for doctors in war zones. Meanwhile, one of his best students, Abu Waseem, has “sacrificed his future” to continue treating patients in Syria. While some of his doctor friends are able to take breaks and visit their families who have escaped, Waseem has no passport, and so remains at M1.

It is to Waseem that Taub attributed one of the most heartbreaking quotes in the story. Asked if a young girl, horrifically wounded as a result of a Russian bombing, would survive, Waseem answered, “Unfortunately, yes.”


Trump’s Ghostwriter

I’m probably not alone in following the US presidential campaign and here, too, my New Yorker reading has been helpful.

Donald Trump, Las Vegas, Feb 2016

Donald Trump, Las Vegas, Feb. 2016 (Photo by Gage Skidmore  [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most revealing election articles, written by Jane Mayer in July 2016, was an interview with Tony Schwartz, who had ghostwritten Donald Trump’s highly successful memoir, The Art of the Deal.

Starting in 1985, Schwartz spent 18 months traveling with Trump, attending meetings, joining him on his helicopter, getting to know “The Donald,” he believed, better than anyone outside the Trump family. The ghostwriter had no intention of getting involved in the 2016 election campaign until he heard Trump declaring his candidacy for president with the statement, “We need a leader who wrote The Art of the Deal.”

Schwartz realized that Trump had convinced himself he had, indeed, written The Art of The Deal and thought that if Trump could lie about that on the first day of his campaign, he could lie about anything.

Schwartz worried that many Americans had come to see Trump as a “charmingly brash entrepreneur with an unfailing knack for business,” a “mythical image” that Schwartz had helped create. In later months, Schwartz became even more concerned about the prospect of a President Trump, not because of his ideology—since Schwartz doubted he had one—but because of his personality which he considered “pathologically impulsive and self-centred.”

Schwartz acknowledged to Mayer that he had “put lipstick on a pig” and now felt “a deep sense of remorse” that he had contributed to “presenting Trump in a way that brought him more attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He also said that if he were writing The Art of The Deal now, he would call it The Sociopath.

Said Schwartz of Trump:

He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.

If Trump is elected President, the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows—that he couldn’t care less about them.

Trump seems to be losing ground as this is written, but I have a feeling Tony Schwartz will be watching with tremendous apprehension as the election looms closer and closer.

As will I.



Dolores Campbell


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.



Featured photo: Toni Eckener on the beach near Rinkenis, painting by Alexander Rinkenis (1870-1944), Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons


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