Left, Right, Jewish, Christian — Arizona Shooting Victims Are More Than Political/Religious Pawns


Map of targeted congressional districts from Sarah Palin websiteIt is horrible and terrible and should not have happened, but it did. We have to look at questions we have looked at before.  We claim — all of us at one time or another — that human life is precious, and that its very existence is beyond price, and the quality of such existence is pristinely precious, and then everybody in America has to process this tragedy.

First, let’s take care of the straight medical questions. Congresswoman Giffords is obviously getting the best possible care and the most modern possible care.  People have learned a whole lot about injuries to the brain since yours truly hung out in a semi-rural University Medical Center in Northern France. (I cannot believe it was over two decades ago).

The people taking care of her have told USA Today the basics, so I can only recapitulate.The shot was made at point blank range, estimated by some as 3 or 4 feet. The bullet entered the back of her head on the left side, and exited through the front. It is true that the structures controlling heartbeat, breathing, and basic survival are more toward the middle of the brain, or “brain stem.”  Things like using the senses to put together images of what a human is dealing with are a bit more superficial.

One BIG thing that people seem to have learned since my day is that you don’t have to be aggressive about getting every little bullet bit and can actually make things worse by trying to do that. I know this. I have wondered a million times why people went poking around in the brain causing more mish-mash, back when I was the one trying to do that. Now people can minimize that kind of post-operative trauma. The physicians who run intensive care units are amazing.  Sometimes the surgery that works best has less surgery and more understanding of the physiology. Having survived the invasion of a bullet to the brain, the Congresswoman’s main danger is from brain swelling — a horrible thing that causes a lot of problems. There are effective medical ways to manage it, but the bottom line is the same way, say, that a sprained ankle gets worse a couple of days after the trauma, a head injury this severe can get plenty worse several days later.  It hasn’t in this case, and the Chief of Neurosurgery was right when he said this was so much the better.

Also, intensive care specialists can keep a person in a coma, making sure their brain gets enough of oxygen and whatever else it may require, measuring the numbers of many parameters around the clock. I am certain this latter kind of technology is pulling her through, too. Next question is what actually happened.

This woman — who was apparently very devoted not just to politics, but to the political process — had the first of her “Congress on the Corner” meetings to get closer to her constituents.  This happened at a small neighborhood-type shopping mall, where someone interviewed by one of the networks said kids usually sold Girls Scouts cookies and such.  In other words, this was pretty much your generic any-neighborhood U.S.A. So not only anyone stumping for a local candidate, but maybe just plain anybody, could have been killed.

This means that part of the reaction to this has got to be — probably for many — “There but for the grace of God go I.” Yeah, hug your kids closely tonight.  If it takes this, then it takes this, but life really is precious.

A political corollary — the map of the United States that has been tastefully removed from Sarah Palin’s website, showing Ms. Giffords as a dot at the location of her political constituency, as seen through the crosshairs of the sights of a gun.  Several angry people have thus indirectly blamed Ms. Palin for this assassination.

I do not think such blame appropriate.  First of all, Ms. Palin is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and probably has no idea what her website even looked like.  I can indeed blame the hyper-partisan way politics is conducted today in America — you’re either left or right and so angry at the other guy that extrapolating that anger into murder is just part of the kind of words that get used on the radio every day, so it is not a total surprise that this kind of an image showed up on a political website.

So one person took it seriously.  One Jared Loughner.  Now I am absolutely NOT his psychiatrist nor have I ever seen or spoken to him.

I suppose there will be LOTS of people who want to see this heinous act as a conspiracy of a political nature.  I believe there are people who see things as banal as a television commercial as a conspiracy of a political nature, and they will find such things in the trees, so they will find one here and that is just fine.

From the account of both parents and neighbors, it sounds as if this young man MIGHT fit the criteria for paranoid schizophrenia. The diagnostic classification “schizophrenia” applies to say, about 1% of our population.

Basically these are folks who are socially withdrawn and simply cannot put together and keep any normal kind of social support system.  They are also people with very unusual belief systems.  Sometimes they can fixate on one person or thing.

Most of us are old enough to remember John Hinckley and the attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan. The problem is and always has been, can we prevent this? 50 or 60 years ago there was something called “civil commitment,” where it might have been possible to somehow restrain someone on a preponderance of evidence.

Fast forward to the near future and you have the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report.  In this Steven Spielberg thriller, Cruise is a cop who can arrest someone who some computer predicts will commit a crime in the near future.  Of course the “criminal” always protests that he hasn’t done anything, and would never hurt a fly.

No, I do not think it is a good idea to try to prosecute people for crimes uncommitted. Every working day that goes by, I end up exacting a promise from at least one patient not to harm themselves or others.  If I think they are lying, then I must go out on a terrible branch, but I will.  At the very least, I’ll order another examination from a colleague.

Sometimes, if I have a specific target suggested, I can do a Tarasoff,” which means to warn the intended victim.  I will admit my preferred ideal is to try and talk the person out of this, and this has been done.  People have the right to refuse care, even if ill.  Only if they are so “gravely disabled” that food and clothing are problems and challenges which are beyond them, can anything to “protect” them be done.

Here I would side with the ACLU — no prosecution on supposition of future crimes.

The way to go — Security.  Its high-tech nature, with things like face recognition, needs to become the province of not just celebrities and entertainers, but the camps of politicians.  Jared had interacted with his victim before.  Someone should have recognized his face before he got a gun within three or four feet of her.

The politics of this? Well in this country politics and religion are surely cuddly buddies.  Nobody has yet spoken very much about the “tiny synagogue” in Tucson where Jewish Congresswoman Giffords worshipped which has been flooded with gifts of flowers and candles. Judaism is a faith that endorses neither flowers nor candles and this is a major religious faux-pas.  Maybe nobody will notice, but we are not a Christian theocracy. It is wonderful that Christians are concerned for the congresswoman, but their insensitivity to her faith and the (unknowing) forcing of their religious traditions on her house of worship.

But all faiths can and must deplore what happened, and it makes my heart glad that people of all faiths are uniting in the face of this tragedy.

Whatever universal forces anybody believes in, it looks as if she will survive this, so such forces are with her surely.

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