"Gunshot wound to the head," the medic call announced, and we geared
up for the worst. They were bringing us a young
store clerk who'd been shot in a robbery.
When the ambulance arrived, I was surprised
to see the patient sitting up. He tried to talk
but his speech gurgled as blood oozed from his
mouth. The police told me his story. A robber
had viciously put a gun to the clerk's mouth and
pulled the trigger. Instead of killing him, the
bullet shattered his lower jaw and exited his
neck, without injuring a single major nerve or
"Damn, he was lucky," I thought. "Mr.
Lucky." I think that was the moment I came
to realize how bad things have really become.
I used to think luck was winning the lottery,
but it is the awful state of our society today
that one feels lucky simply in not being a victim
or merely to survive if one becomes a victim.
Violence has become such a problem that it has
moved beyond being just a public safety issue
and is now described as a health care issue. Gunshot
wounds account for nearly forty thousand deaths
a year and are our seventh-leading cause of death.
Annually, there are more than 500,000 visits to
ER's due to violent injuries with costs exceeding
Emergency physicians often come into contact
with perpetrators of violence. Police bring us
patients in custody, injured in the course of
an arrest, often after committing some heinous
crime. I have sometimes thought, why are we treating
this scum. But usually these feelings are transient
and soon become ambivalent. Often the perpetrators
of violent crime are young. And often when they
calm, or perhaps come down from drink or drugs,
they can be very nice people - polite and grateful.
Abstractly, it is easy to hate them. Up close,
as I often come, you can feel as sorry for them
as for their victims.
Everybody's on the bandwagon against crime today.
Voters, usually reluctant to increase taxes, readily
passed California's public safety law. Congress
is throwing in more billions. More police will
be hired, more prisons built, and remedial programs
created. But I am skeptical any of those efforts
will solve the problem. I have my own suggestions:
When a juvenile is sentenced, their parents
should get some corresponding sentence as well.
Not until you realize you're responsible for what
you breed will you breed responsibly.
Within legal guidelines, victims or their families
ought to hand down sentences, not judges. The
feeling that justice has been done ought to be
a part of the therapeutic regimen of every victim.
Members of the parole board should be elected
or otherwise held accountable. And if a doctor
can be sued because of an error in judgment, why
can't members of the parole board be put under
the same scrutiny.
Whatever solutions are tried, I won't believe
we'll have a handle on this problem until the
day comes when I can think again of the guy who
wins the lottery as being "Mr. Lucky,"
and not some hapless victim who's been shot in