Week in Review: Collective Failures Edition

By Hazlitt

Every Sunday members of the Hazlitt staff and the occasional guest share what was notable about their week—online and off.

Tom Jokinen, Contributing Writer
Earlier this week on CNN, I watched a 10-minute master class in how to deal with morons: Dr. Peter Fagenholz, a Boston trauma surgeon, after hours of operating on victims of the marathon attacks, took questions from reporters outside of Mass General. There was shrapnel, he said, amputations. Eight patients were critical. He himself had operated on six. One reporter asked if “things were looking OK” for the critical patients. Well no, he said calmly, that’s not what critical means. Others asked how he felt. Another asked how his training with Israeli first responders had prepared him for all this. He explained he’d never had any training with Israeli first responders. The questions continued (“How about their eardrums? Are you seeing any shattered eardrums?”), and he answered with alert patience and grace, while those of us watching at home cringed. One entry on Twitter summed it up nicely: “Dr. Fagenholz is handling this derp onslaught like a boss.”

It’s hard covering a live event. All your mistakes show up on air. But let’s agree it’s even harder to operate for 11 hours and amputate limbs and then face a knot of journalists shouting out whatever clueless questions pop into their heads. This calls for character, which they don’t teach in med school. I only know this because a long time ago I spent two years in medical school myself, in Toronto, before failing spectacularly. I had to drop out. Call it career evasion, or more to the point, maturity evasion: medical students are serious, and I was not. I was enamored of the mythology of a medical career, but not the hard work.

I used to see med students and doctors as arrogant, and plenty are. I’ve met them: they have six ways of looking at you and five of them are about how they know more than you do. Only later in my life did I figure it out: this is what medicine calls triage, the ability to measure crises and make decisions without losing your shit. For the medical professional everything is triage, including breakfast: more blueberries, stat! The downside, and we’ve all seen it, is a supreme confidence shaded by self-admiration. But then you meet a doctor with character, like Dr. Fagenholz. His performance with the derp onslaught only hints at what he’s like in the operating room, where there’s no time to be enamored of the myth of medicine.

At the press conference they asked, what’s it like? How do you handle it? He took a second to think. I waited for him to roll his eyes and school them in the matter of colossally missing the point. He didn’t. “This is work,” he said finally. “When this happens you just go to work.” There were no more questions after that.

*

Haley Mlotek, Contributing Writer
I just came back from a trip to New York, and the whole experience reminded me that a) I am terrible at being in New York, and b) I am terrible outside of a routine. I live what some would consider to be an extremely regimented life—even my Twitter breaks are scheduled at regular intervals—and I always thought that I chose to live by this routine. Being in New York reminded me that, in fact, I absolutely need this routine, or my entire life falls apart. I felt like I was accomplishing next to nothing and instead spent most of my time lost on the subway, lost in Chinatown, lost in Whole Foods; nothing will make you feel more useless as a person than getting yelled at for using the purple line at Whole Foods when it should have been the green line.

On Sunday night, I decided to check on my wallet and passport, in advance of my return flight on Tuesday, and could not locate the passport. I tore apart my suitcase and then my room—it was nowhere. I do not lose or damage my belongings ever, and now I had lost the single worst thing you can lose while travelling. I tried to re-trace my steps and couldn’t even remember what I had done that morning, let alone two days earlier. I called the Canadian consulate, who told me to relax, I had a driver’s licence, right? My driver’s licence, I explained, expired more than five years ago. Silence. I had failed on all fronts and now this kind government employee knew everything was a lie: I am not a calm and organized person who is an asset to every workplace, I had fallen apart at the first disruption in my stupidly regimented life, I had accidentally cut in front of someone in line at the Whole Foods, and New York would be lucky to be rid of me.

I found the passport inside a book in my purse. I got to the airport early on Tuesday morning. I flew back on my scheduled flight, arrived home, and immediately went right into two back-to-back meetings, a few hours of catching up on emails, and an appropriately timed Twitter break. It felt amazing.

*

Jordan Ginsberg, Senior Editor
Collected Failures, Embarrassments and Indignities: An Incomplete List

1998: Staying with extended family in Philadelphia while on a trip with my mom to see Pearl Jam for my 14th birthday, I clog the toilet in uncommonly brutal fashion. Mom tries to cover for me, chalking it up to a “feminine hygiene product mishap,” but nobody buys it. Remainder of the trip is characterized by sullen side-eye and not-subtle dietary suggestions. I buy a Pearl Jam bucket hat.

2000: A friend of mine, who has apparently picked up on my delicate attempts to steal his girlfriend, sets me up with somebody from his high school. I meet Kristy outside Future Bakery in Toronto’s Annex and, after exchanging hellos, she takes my hand, slaps a single handcuff—which I notice is attached to a chain wrapped around her neck—on my wrist and cheerily tells me, “You’re the master, let’s go.” We spend the day in the park with her vagabond friends, who seem pretty nonchalant about the fact that I’m securely fastened to their pal’s throat. I have a thoroughly bewildering conversation with one guy during which he keeps referring to “emo” but, because of his mumbling, I think he’s saying “email.” “Are you into emo?” “Well … I have a website.” Real Frost/Nixon shit. Eventually I’m freed, and while Kristy and I inexplicably end up going on another date, she then proceeds to dump me for a four-foot-six girl with Tourette’s. Masterful indeed.

2001: Dreadlocks.

Also 2001: I finish my exams before the rest of my friends, so I decide to do ecstasy by myself in my bedroom on a Friday night, and end up forcing my little brother to dance to Aphex Twin with me in the dark. He is not feeling it. He does, however, get a good laugh at his idiotic brother’s expense when I decide—and explain in agonizing detail—that there’s no better name for an old-timey baseball player than “Finger Knuckle Elbow.”

2002: I meet Matt, my first friend at a new high school, and our courtship period consists of repeating standup comedy routines to each other. After I blow his mind with some super-edgy Bill Hicks bits, as is the custom, I then break the news that Hicks died of pancreatic cancer years earlier, adding some grisly details about the disease and mentioning the miniscule survival rate. “I know,” Matt says, “that’s what my dad died from.” I proceed to drown myself in Lake Ontario.

2003: An ex-girlfriend (but close friend nonetheless) and I get an apartment together, which is actually fine, until she dislocates her knee in a work accident and then comes to rely on me for help with many rudimentary moving- and eating-related tasks. Eventually, I start sleeping on Matt’s floor instead of going home, leading to one particularly proud moment when, during a screaming match, I tell her I don’t actually give a shit if she starves. I move back home shortly thereafter.

2005: In Mexico City for a weekend festival/sideshow for my first reporting assignment ever, I fail to make certain arrangements, such as a place to sleep. After a day of bloody and bizarre performances and consuming nothing but oversized novelty beers, the one person I know there hooks me up with George, a burly performer I’d last seen banging a sword against a shield, blowing fireballs and roaring out death-metal incantations while wearing a grotesque half-warthog mask. He speaks little English and I speak no Spanish, but he rounds up his girlfriend and another friend and drives back to his place, dropping his girlfriend off on the way. He maneuvers his way through labyrinthine alleyways before reaching his apartment building, the interior of which is immaculately clean. He shows me to my room, though, which is small and dank and covered in cigarette ash, and rolls out a twin-sized mattress for me. When I thank him and say goodnight, he looks puzzled. “No,” he says, pointing to his friend, “we sleep here too.” On the twin rollout mattress. Lying horizontally. Cool. Okay. Sure. I take the far end against the wall, opting to stay fully clothed despite a generous offer of terrible pajamas. George, who has ditched his black mesh shirt and thigh-high boots but apparently sleeps in his leather pants, seems to sense my discomfort. “Do you like Radiohead?” he asks, and, before I can whimper my acquiescence, he puts on a CD-R that is quite obviously some local guy playing Radiohead covers on an acoustic guitar. George and his pal lie down next to me and pass out, while I sleep for about seven seconds, waiting for death to take me. Somehow, I survive the night. Then I apply for a credit card.

Coda: Week in Review runs every Sunday


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