I just learned about the horrifying death of Shanda Sharer. I’d imagine one or two longtime Hoosier Pencillistas might recognize her name.
I came upon the incident while on the way to looking something else up.
Scads of movies, books, TV shows, documentaries, YouTube videos, and even poems and song lyrics have been written about the 12-year-old’s gruesome murder by four teen girls in 1992.
Frankly, I want to kick myself for reading about it. I feel somehow diminished or even tainted just by having it in my brain.
I’m not going to recount the lowlights of the murder here. The details surrounding it are as gasp-inducing as the life story of the father of the killers’ ringleader, a then 17-year-old named Melinda Loveless, who will remain in prison until 2019. Old man Loveless was so depraved and so traumatized his daughter as she was growing up (as well as pretty much everyone else in his family, his workplaces, and his neighborhood) that the fact that Melinda would eventually become the leader of a kidnapping/torture/murder posse seems a logical outcome.
Coincidentally, one of Shanda Sharer’s murderers, Laurie Tackett, was released from the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis this past January, after serving 26 years of a 60-year sentence.
Tune in this afternoon at 5:30 for this week’s edition of Big Talk. My guest will be angel investor and tech innovator Pat East, founder and CEO of Hanapin Marketing and executive director of the under-construction Dimension Mill tech company incubator.
Come back here tomorrow morning for a link to the podcast in case you miss today’s show. Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM, immediately following the Daily Local News.
I’m reading Atul Gawande’s book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. Gawande is the Brooklyn-born son of Indian immigrants who has written four books on the world of medicine and the life of a doctor. His first book, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, was a National Book Award finalist. His third and fourth books, The Checklist Manifesto and Being Mortal, both were New York Times bestsellers.
In Better, Gawande recounts at one point the story of Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis who, in 1847, well before it was known that much disease is caused by microscopic bacteria, figured out that doctors and other health care workers ought to wash their hands. True.
See, Semmelweis had realized that a huge percentage of women who gave birth in hospitals were dying of puerperal fever. Women who gave birth at home almost never contracted the disease. Somehow, Semmelweis concluded that doctors dashing from patient to patient in his women’s hospital were somehow carrying the disease with them. He instituted mandatory handwashing after all patient contacts. In fact, he’d stand by the handwashing sink and bark at people who passed it by. Despite this obvious success rate, much of the rest of the medical profession wouldn’t accept Semmelweis’ conclusion. The prevailing wisdom at the time held that there was a “miasma” in the air of women’s hospitals that caused the illness.
We can blame arrogance or intransigence for other doctors’ refusal to follow Semmelweis’ lead and that would be true — to an extent. But Semmelweis’ own prickly nature was just as much or more to blame. He refused to do standardized experiments to prove his conclusion. His own arrogance revealed itself as he insisted doctors listen to him just because he was smarter than they were. When other doctors would seem skeptical of his finding, he’d publicly lambaste them, comparing them to the worst mass murderers in human history. His manner was so unbearable that even people at his own hospital resisted washing their hands just to spite him. Truth is, he became such a jerk that he was dismissed from the hospital as a result of his behavior after instituting the handwashing procedure.
It wasn’t until two decades later, when the germ theory of disease was just emerging, that Joseph Lister wrote his groundbreaking paper on handwashing and the practice became accepted.
Gawande employs the tale to illustrate the assertion that humans practice medicine. No matter the theoretical findings, no matter the logic or evidence, we depend on frail, imperfect, often ignorant, occasionally self-centered, all-too-humans to heal us. The best medical practitioners, Gawande posits, are those who recognize those weaknesses within themselves and strive to minimize them.