This Stinks by Pat Conrad MD

carson  droop

“What is a physician?” asked Dr. Ben Carson in 1993. His naive definition dealt with healing the mental and spiritual hurts in humans. Silly doctor. In 2015, I can assure Dr. Carson that a physician is a target, and if he doesn’t yet believe that, then hang on.

Note to the reader: I am not at all trying to support a given party here, but I am struggling with how to describe this reaction to Dr. Carson without talking politics. Up front, I do not think he will be a very good candidate, his impressive personal story notwithstanding. Moreover, I actually think he is running simply to influence the direction of the debates, and for a shot at a vice-presidential selection. Maybe you like his politics and maybe you don’t – but what does that have to do with his professional record as a surgeon? has dutifully posted an article from The Guardian that attempts to explain Dr. Carson’s candidacy by profiling malpractice complaints against him. Carson thinks that our economy is in serious trouble, that our culture is collapsing, and that ObamaCare is a proven failure. You and I can debate all of that over a beer, but the author Ryan Felton – who I can only presume is living proof that rats and cigarette butts are reincarnated – has made malpractice the center of his piece.

“The seven known malpractice claims against Carson in Maryland – an average of one every five years throughout his 35-year career at Johns Hopkins – are consistent with a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found roughly 20% of neurosurgeons face a malpractice claim annually.” Why then this entire sob story featuring malpractice malcontents as though they are in any way relevant to a political candidacy? Carson has not been accused of a crime, unprofessional behavior, Patrick Kennedy rehabbing, Mark Sanford absentee hiking, or Anthony Weiner amateur photography.

The featured story is of Karly Bailey, a seven year-old who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, received a shunt, and resumed a normal kid life. But two years (1997) later her tumor had regrown, and Carson determined her shunt had failed. “According to a pending lawsuit against him … her parents said they explained to Carson their concerns over a full resection which they wished to avoid. “Before my surgery … he came out and told my parents, ‘I will follow your surgical guidelines in your surgery – my goal is not to kill your kid,’” Bailey, now 26, told the Guardian in an interview. The column posted a before/after picture of her, highlighting a facial droop that the reader is meant to attribute to Dr. Carson.

You can guess the rest. There were long-term complications, including “facial motor functions, horizontal gaze movements, and other psychological functions.” She spent years in therapy, and was confined to a wheelchair. “She is currently receiving Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) income, she said. “I can’t get the care I need on my Medicaid plan from a neuropathologist because they have very special skills,” she said. “And they ain’t gonna take Medicaid.”” Yes this is a tragic story, but what does it have to do with Carson’s candidacy, and why roll it out now?

Mr. Felton naturally found space to quote the plaintiff’s expert attorney: “The location of [Bailey’s] tumor was such that it was in close proximity to the brain stem and any effort to remove all the tumor posed a significant risk of collateral injury to the brain stem and other cranial nerves,” said Robert Hudgins, a retired neurosurgeon brought on as Bailey’s expert witness. Any of you who have ever dealt with scurrilous plaintiff’s experts can imagine the bucket of invective I would love to fling at this low-rent mercenary.

The author laid out another case involving MS lesions, chronic facial pain, post-procedure complications, and utterly one-sided recitation of the plaintiff’s version of events: that Carson performed surgery without reviewing the latest surgical imagery, and then said post-op “they did not tell me there are lesions on your brainstem. Had I known that, we would have never done the [surgery].” Maybe that happened and maybe not, but that is only one side of the story. Felton covers himself earlier with “A spokeswoman for Carson did not respond to a detailed list of questions sent by the Guardian for this article…” And why should Carson respond?

An obviously biased hit-piece, sadly, mirrors larger societal presumptions. Doctors are easy targets for a media largely bought into class warfare. We are presumed by the government and other third-party insurance overlords to be thieves and drug pushers. Survey after survey details how much we are loved, respected, and trusted by our patients – until there is a poor outcome, or the collection notice arrives in the mail.

Of course if its 2004 and you are a left-wing Vermont governor and former internist who wants nationalized health care, then friendly media will strew your path with roses for your compassion. But if you don’t toe the approved line on issues, then a contemptuous media will immediately boil up a hit piece featuring those you have maimed and wounded over your career in order to demonstrate…what exactly? Below the picture of the little girl with the facial droop is another of Carson speaking under a giant U.S. flag with a plaintiff quote: “The truth Will Set Dr. Carson Free.”

Again, as a politics watcher, I’m not particularly a Ben Carson fan. But this stinks.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  4 comments for “This Stinks by Pat Conrad MD

  1. Bill Ameen MD
    May 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Agree with Dr. Conrad that Carson’s malpractice suit history should have nothing to do with his running for or qualifications for the Presidency. I am amused at the Republicans who are lining up and the nominee will most likely be JEB. Voters are repelled by what they perceive as extremist views. Carson is a little too overtly religious to be a unifier, in my opinion, as this country is slowly shifting to diversification, tolerance, and even nonbelief.

  2. Sir Lance-a-lot
    May 6, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Hey, I don’t know about Mr. Carson’s politics, but he seems like a (social) idiot to me after his comment that he knows that being gay is a choice because otherwise, why do people who go to prison become gay (yes, he really said this, and I saw the tape), thus insulting not only gay people, but also prisoners, ex-convicts, and straight people.

    Also, I don’t trust anyone who gives a speech in front of a huge American flag unless his name is Patton.

    All of that being said, you’re absolutely right: The guy’s a neurosurgeon. Neurosurgeons operate on people’s brains. And not just any people’s brains, but the brains of people with brain injuries and brain cancer.
    Naturally, there will be poor outcomes (we’re not to the stage of Dr, McCoy’s tricorder yet…), and therefore lawsuits. I’d wonder about a neurosurgeon who DIDN’T have a string of claims.

    This is scurrilous, slimy reporting at its lowest, and, yes, it does illustrate, once again, how we doctors have a great big freakin’ target painted on all of our backs.

  3. Perry
    May 6, 2015 at 9:10 am

    This of course is nothing new. When someone throws the hat in the ring for political office, anything and everything in their past is fair game. It’s unfortunate they will use Dr. Carson’s malpractice experience as mud-slinging material.

  4. Steve O'
    May 6, 2015 at 9:08 am

    “What is a physician?” Currently, physicians are an occupational class who engage in a particular activity that is held in regard by society, but whose members are nevertheless scorned and vilified for what society at large considers bad character and disreputable intentions.
    The role is uncomfortably like that of the West European Jews. Banking and finance was thought to be disreputable and suspect in West European society. The Jew was identified as the type of individual who could engage in this shady practice.
    In truth, the Jewish society was the only structure with enough obedience to honor and morals to handle the transaction of money honestly, based on trust. Much of the hatred towards West European Jews stemmed from their inexplicable trustworthiness. It was jealousy, not distrust, that drove a horrible resentment towards the Jews. It was jealousy that drove the non-Jewish society to abuse them, manipulate them, and steal their property, over and over again through the centuries.
    The hatred of the Doctor uncomfortably represents the hatred of the Jew. They can be objectified, described as a class, and manipulated as a concept. Even in World War I, when hundreds of thousands of Jewish men died in defense of the Kaiser and Germany, they were immediately vilified as the cause of the German losses in WWI.
    Resentment of doctors may have in fact overlapped our quiet at-home anti-Semitism. Jews were the achieving class of a hundred years ago, as the Asians have been, the East Indians have been more recently. Achievement is not something universally honorable here at home.
    We have a strange affection for royalty while at a distance; we do not like them doing business in our town. Charlise Theron and Ben Affleck are knighted American royalty with fabulous lives and millions of dollars. But they do not live in our town, their kids do not attend our schools, their ownings are not envied up close.
    I’ll have to admit, I am neither Jewish, nor East Indian or Asian, and I am troubled by referring to this comparison with its apocalyptic significance. But, being a doctor, I see how mindless bigotry and suspicion permeates our society. Our culture no longer trusts those claiming that they care about “healing the mental and spiritual hurts in humans.” We hate and despise humans in principle. We resemble other cultures that have done so. All of them seem to tower, hard as marble, for a little while; then they are off to nothing like chaff. We chose that path, and we choose that today. I fear we are beyond healing.

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