Tag Archives: Rosette Royal

The hidden epidemic: Medical errors are the leading cause of death in the U.S.

by Rosette Royale, Contributing Writer

I’ve got a friend, I’ll call him George, who, for several months, experienced an intense pain on his side. Turned out to be a kidney stone. George had dealt with them before and passed each one, with varying degrees of discomfort. But this time, no such luck.

Doctors determined that due to the kidney stone’s size — 9 millimeters by 7 millimeters, roughly the size of a raisin — it was too large to pass through his ureter, into his bladder and out his urethra. So they scheduled George for a lithotripsy, a procedure that would use acoustic shock waves to “blast” the stone to bits, the easier for it to pass. It was supposed to be an easy procedure.

It wasn’t.

Somehow, during the process, a tear developed in George’s kidney. Could it have been the result of stone fragmentation during the procedure? No one knows. But as a result, George lost two quarts of blood. Doctors worried about complications. George had to wear special “socks” to massage his calves, to prevent blood clots. He wondered if something else would go wrong. Luckily, it didn’t. And after spending several days in the hospital, he went home, where, for a couple weeks, he battled through waves of pain. A follow-up visit with a new doctor revealed that his urologist had prescribed an improper dosage of pain medication. His new doctor tweaked his medication. Finally, after a month, George seems to be on the mend.

Did my friend George experience a medical error? Maybe. It’s impossible to know. But the whole time I spoke with William Charney, I couldn’t stop thinking about George.

With 30 years experience as a health and safety officer in the health care industry, including five years as the safety coordinator for the Washington Hospital Association, Charney has become a vocal activist for health care reform. Recently, his attention has been drawn to medical errors, those events that occur in health care settings that impact patients’ health. By Charney’s reckoning, some of those impacts have deadly consequences. Through research he’s gathered, he believes that medical errors lead to more than 788,000 deaths a year, making them the leading cause of death in the United States. Continue reading

The white man’s burden — from Kermit the Frog to $20 bowls of mac and cheese

by Rosette Royale, Contributing Writer

What would you do, say, if you came across a group of people who’d never been studied before? Some yet-to-be chronicled civilization of homo sapiens who acted in ways that, on the surface, made little sense but whose internal logic demanded deeper explorations? Would you apply for a research grant to study them? Or would you write a blog? Well, if you’ve got a penchant for comedy and one-liners, you’d go for option two. That’s what Christian Lander did and people can’t get enough.

Maybe the ethnographic works of Christian Lander don’t spring to mind as easily as those of Claude Lévi-Strauss, who upended the notion that savages exist, or Margaret Mead, who presented successful, war-averse matrilineal societies. But chances are, if you do yoga, drive a Prius, watch “Mad Men” or “The Colbert Report,” read “The Onion,” love the ACLU, Noam Chomsky or reusable shopping bags, Lander knows you. And he’s written about you on his blog, Stuff White People Like, which, to date, has had more than 76 million hits (a factoid that would impress many white people.)

But hold on, white people. Before you get your hackles in a tizzy and throw your glass of organic pomegranate juice with acai across your IKEA-furnished living room, just know that Lander has the heart of a humorist. What he’s really doing is holding up a mirror, at times, a pretty funny one, to what he sees in the circles he’s traveled in, which are largely circles of white people. And his observations have obtained a white-hot popularity. His first book, “Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions,” enjoyed a healthy life on the New York Times Bestseller list. Perhaps the same future will arrive for the just-released “Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle’s Sweaters to Maine’s Microbreweries.” (Random House, $15)

In a little afternoon study session at the Alexis Hotel in Seattle, Lander and I got down and dirty on the notion of whiteness. I learned a lot from his ethnographic research, as we touched upon topics ranging from the humorous (over-priced sandwiches, anyone?) to the serious (why is the progressive class so, well, white?). Field notes from our conference follow. But politically correct students should be forewarned: References to the “w-word” abound.

Rosette Royale: Do you remember the first time you saw a white person?

Christian Lander: Yes. I was just out of the womb and I saw my father. I believe that was the first one. But the first time I really remember meeting a white person was when I got home from the hospital and I met my next-door neighbor. And from there, my brother. So I’ve been noticing them for quite some time.

R.R.: Did you know that you were going to be doing this kind of work?

C.L.: No, no. I was literally born into the field. I was under the impression that I was going to grow up and follow a typical white career: documentary filmmaker, journalist, nonprofit administrator, possibly some sort of fundraiser for an opera company. Little did I know I was heading toward this anthropological study of this world. And I don’t think I can escape it. I’m like Kurtz (in Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness.”) I’m in “The Heart of Whiteness” here.

R.R.: Well, Seattle is sometimes known as a heart of whiteness.

C.L.: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. Although I’ve recently been to Portland, which might have taken over. Continue reading

Andy Warhol once said that, “In the future everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.” But is that enough these days?

Here one second,      gone the next (Real Change)

From the June 26, edition of Street Roots

Remember Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher? Chances are, that name doesn’t set off bells of recognition. But if someone said “Joe the Plumber,” you might recall that shaved-headed man who questioned Barack Obama on the campaign trail, about small business tax. For a while, his face, his nickname, they were everywhere, as TV shows and newspapers and blogs and the Republican Party became obsessed with the guy. And then — — he seemed to fall away into oblivion.

Or how about Thomas Beatie? He’s the transgender man who announced he was pregnant. That picture of him — with his military haircut and chin stubble — touching his swelled, there’s-a-baby-inside belly was an internet hit. He even appeared on Oprah, to the delight and confusion of millions of viewers: A pregnant man? But wait: Is he really a man? The blogosphere was a-twitter. Then… he disappeared, resurfacing just long enough to announce he’d had a girl, before falling below the waves of obscurity yet again.

There are more people like Joe and Thomas out there: Short-lived media sensations who, for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, appear to be everywhere. Until, at some point, they’re not. Gone. Bye-bye. Forgotten. Which begs the question: Why? Why does it keep happening? And what does it mean, that our attention gets drawn to ephemeral distractions?

Maybe Bill Wasik knows. What’s that? Ain’t heard of him? Well, not yet, you haven’t. But chances are you might be familiar with something Wasik did: He created “flash mobs,” those seemingly impromptu actions where dozens, maybe hundreds, of people, brought together by the Internet, would converge on a department store, bar, train station and do something — then leave. His experiences with an idea that led to a social phenomenon caused him to consider, on a deeper level, how our interconnected, hyper, hyped-up media culture influences our lives. And how we, in turn, influence the media.

These observation are gathered in “And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture,” (Viking, $25.95), a rollicking ride through some of the sensations of the past few years, their stories presented in bits, bytes, graphs and charts that take a longer look at the impact of the transitory. Speaking from New York, Wasik, a senior editor at Harper’s, let loose on social science, YouTube fame and the concept of the “nanostory.”

Rosette Royale: You start off your book with Blair Hornstine. What was Blair’s story?

Bill Wasik: Blair Hornstine was a high school student in New Jersey and there was a dispute over whether she would be named valedictorian of her high school or whether it would be declared a tie with another boy. When the principal declared a tie, Blair sued the school to become valedictorian. And of course this became a big media circus where, “Oh, this litigious society. This girl is suing to become valedictorian!” and it became fodder for all the cable news shows and all the Internet sites. It was this classic media tempest in a teapot.
Continue reading

A duet: Soloist writer talks about his experiences


From the June 12 edition of Street Roots

You never know what you’ll find when you walk down the street. And there was Steve Lopez, in 2005, doing just that, making his way through L.A. when he heard it: music. Nearby stood a man – homeless, playing for what seemed to be beauty’s sake – drawing his bow over the strings of a beat-up violin. Lopez stopped and listened. He introduced himself to the violinist. And from that moment on, both men’s lives became interwoven.

That violinist was named Nathaniel Ayers and Lopez, a columnist for the L.A. Times, wrote about their encounter. Soon after that, he wrote another column. Then another and another. As he continued, over the months, to chronicle their relationship, a complex portrait of Ayers unfolded: a childhood in Cleveland; a scholarship to Juilliard, the premier New York arts academy; the onset, in his early 20s, of paranoid schizophrenia; homelessness; nights on Skid Row.

Readers loved the columns and, buoyed by support from a newspaper editor, Lopez, already an author of books, wrote another one: “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship and the Redemptive Power of Music” (Putnam, 2008), which detailed their at times chaotic yet inspiring relationship. From that, a recent hit movie was born. All of which has kept Lopez busy and humanized Ayers.

We tried to set up a time to talk. But scheduling those minutes to chat took some work. So, while in a cab en route to the airport, Lopez revealed, via cell phone, how his life has been affected by a man who lives on the street, a man for whom Beethoven provides salvation, and praised the gifts that can arise just from stopping to hear the music.

Rosette Royal: I heard you came across Nathaniel Ayers when you were out looking for material for a column.

Steve Lopez: Yeah. I was in downtown Los Angeles and I heard music. So I turned and looked and here’s a guy living out of a shopping cart and he was playing a violin that was missing two strings. And he looked very determined. So it just begged the question: Who is he?

So all of that made me very curious and I went over and introduced myself and that was how it started. He was very wary of me and he looked a little frightened, but he calmed down a little bit. I said, “Why do you play right here?” And he points across the street and he says, “There’s the Beethoven statue and I play here for inspiration.”

I realized — because he had some clear mental issues — that it was going to take a while. So this just began a series of meetings over the course of several weeks, and every time I met with him he was a little more comfortable and a little more forthcoming. I wrote my first column with no idea that there’d be a second one, or a third one, or a 20th one. Or a book. Or a movie. It all happened organically.

And when I wrote the first column, readers responded in a huge way. They sent e-mails in the hundreds, and letters, and they wanted to buy the missing strings. My desk at the L.A. Times was surrounded by boxes of instruments that people had sent, and when I took them to him, I realized that I had just complicated his life — I was afraid he would get mugged for those instruments, and I thought he could even get beaten to death on Skid Row where he lived.

I felt it was my duty to try to get some help for him and keep him out of harm’s way. That’s when I started this dialogue with a mental health agency called Lamp Community and it took me into this world that I knew virtually nothing about: mental illness and homelessness and public policy regarding those issues. Continue reading