I was asked: “is there such a thing as a necessary evil?” It took time for it to sink in. And when it did, more than a bit of rage and guilt struggled to coexist in my heart. This story is true, but I have omitted details that might identify people, places, or dates.
As a young man, I worked as a Surgical Technician in ORs (operating rooms). I’ve never been able to forget one tragic case in which the patient could not be recovered from anesthesia. The famous head of anesthesia and eventually his whole team migrated to the one room and this patient. Multiple checks on the airway, anesthesia record, vital signs, and equipment followed.
The older doctor who had been in charge was ejected from the room. The suspicion was that he had been negligent. The patient stayed persistently unable to be aroused and was moved first to the recovery room and later to a facility equipped to deal with the case.
Instead of tongues being kept safely quiet, rumors spread allegations of mispractice, if not malpractice, around the OR suite and eventually around the hospital. The head of anesthesia had the older doctor continually monitored every case he did. There was no respite. For him, a trip into the OR lounge for coffee met with sullen silence. As he walked down the hall, we all stared at him. We all treated him with a sort of dumb insolence. In our expressions and the clipped responses to questions, the entire staff made their attitude clear.
One day he did not come in. He took early retirement and was never seen in the OR again. We all reacted with relief. We knew that we had hurried him along. What we had done was justified. We would not tolerate such incompetence.
About two months passed, and one day the entire crew gathered in the lounge for an extended coffee break on a slow day. The chief of anesthesia walked in looking grim. We all quieted down fast, seeing the expression on his face. He announced that the patient had died and that the autopsy had shown a never-diagnosed brain tumor that was almost certainly the reason why the patient had not been able to recover from the anesthesia.
The room was silent and stayed silent as we all reflected on our role in hounding an innocent man out of practice. By silent agreement, we did not discuss it among ourselves. Each of us had to live with our guilt and responsibility.
Years passed. Every once in a while, I recalled the events and the guilt but thought no more than that. Then someone attempted to ruin my good name. The damage to my career took years to repair. A colleague confided that the woman who started the rumor thought she was doing good by exposing my supposed incompetence.
No, I don’t think there is such a thing as a necessary evil. For me, it’s not an academic inquiry. I’ve stood on both sides looking into the abyss. Try it on for size if you dare.