Page 22 - Volume 69 Number 2
P. 22

Paralyzing Summer
By Richard E. Burney, MD
When Marty Lindenauer walked off the plane in New York City on September 1, 1975, having just returned with his family from a six month sabbatical in Europe, he walked into a living nightmare that was to last for the next 2 1⁄2 years and has never quite gone away. He has relived this nightmare in the new book published this year by University of Michigan Press entitled, Paralyzing Summer: The true story of the Ann Arbor V. A. hospital poisonings and deaths. The book was co-authored by Zibby Oneal, a local author whose husband, Bob Oneal, may be familiar to readers as a distinguished, now retired plastic surgeon from Ann Arbor. I recommend it to you.
S. Martin (Marty) Lindenauer, a general and vascular surgeon on the faculty of the University of Michigan, was in 1975 the Chief of Staff of the Ann Arbor V. A. Hospital. He was the man most responsible for overseeing the care provided to veterans at his hospital, but he had been out of the country during the 6-week period between July 1 and August 15, 1975, during which as many as 50 cardiorespiratory arrests had occurred as a result of the muscle relaxant pancuronium having been infused into their IV lines. Many of these patients died.
I do not intend to summarize the story here; I think you should read the book. Even if you are old enough
to already know what happened in the end, the book still reads like a murder mystery involving a series of mysterious, at first inexplicable events, and recounts in detail the long, contentious courtroom drama that ensued during which it becomes hard to tell truth from fiction. The key players in this courtroom game are the Judge, the FBI, the federal prosecutors, and the two nurses accused of conspiracy and murder. It is clear that a muscle relaxant drug was given to patients but the evidence beyond that is circumstantial. The tension between the prosecution and the defense table is intense. The narrative language is plain, the presentation matter of fact, but emotions both inside and outside the courtroom run high. If you know nothing of these events, I will not spoil it for you.
TOhe Story Behind the Story
ne of the most interesting aspects for me as I read the book is that I knew or know many of the people that played roles in this story. This led me
to ask Dr. Lindenauer and Ms. Oneal if they could tell me more: how did this book come to be? What was the experience of writing it? In other words, what is the story behind the story?
Dr. Lindenauer graduated from Tufts medical school in 1957, did a rotating internship in the military and spent two years on active duty as an “obligate volunteer” in the
Army medical corps at Fort Knox, KY, as a general medical officer to “help pay off his bills.” He then came to the University of Michigan for surgical training following C. Gardner Child III, who had left Tufts to become chair of the department of surgery at the University of Michigan in 1957. In 1964 he joined the faculty and moved to the VA Hospital as chief of surgery in 1971. He became the Chief of Staff at the VA Hospital in 1974. Part of the agreement that made him Chief of Staff was that he would be entitled to take a 6-month sabbatical, which he enjoyed in England with his family starting in January 1975. At the end of the sabbatical, they toured Europe for six weeks, on vacation, during which they were completely out of touch with any events at home. Returning to Ann Arbor in mid-August, he was greeted for the first time with the troubling news of the mysterious events that had taken place at his hospital over the prior six weeks.
Marty Lindenauer sensed from the outset that these were epochal events, unprecedented, unexpected, and deeply disturbing to the fragile sense of trust that is a prerequisite for any hospital to function. Prior to 1975, nothing like this had ever happened. There was no reason for special safety precautions, locked doors and cabinets, ID badges, or more than one “security” person on the premises. Doctors and nurses did their jobs without any thought given to special oversight or super- vision. It was simply unimaginable that some person or persons would violate that culture of safety, using it as
a cloak of invisibility, to administer a paralytic agent
to patients, causing respiratory arrest, and in many cases, death.
The investigation of the deaths at the VA Hospital by the FBI and the U. S. Attorney’s office for southeastern Michigan was well underway when Dr. Lindenauer returned to work. As the FBI agent leading the investiga- tion told him, he was the only person on the VA staff that was not under suspicion, having been out of the country when the events occurred. Lindenauer began to systematically collect and preserve as much information as he could, saving news articles, records, and other items in large scrapbooks for future reference. He drove to Detroit every day to attend the trial that finally began in January 1977, and recorded his observations on a Dictaphone while driving home. He had the strong feeling that there was a story unfolding that was potentially going to change the culture of hospital care forever that needed to be recorded. He did not, however, have the writer’s tools needed to do it. The writing didn’t begin for almost 30 years.
Around 2006, he was entertaining an old college friend, Bob Oneal, also a surgeon and colleague in Ann
22 Washtenaw County Medical Society BULLETIN APRIL / MAY / JUNE 2017


































































































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