Old joke. You probably have heard it. 95 year old man walks into the doctor's office and with some pride tells the doc that his 19 year old bride is pregnant. The doctor tells the man to sit down. "Let me tell you a story" he says. The man sits and listens. "There is an elephant hunter" starts the doctor. "The elephant hunter goes out to get the elephants one day, but instead of grabbing his rifle, grabs his umbrella. The hunter gets to the area where elephants lurk, spots one, takes out what he thinks is a rifle, but is his umbrella, and shoots the elephant. The elephant is dead."
The 95 year old man snickers, looks to his left and to his right, smiles at the doctor and says with some condescension. "Doc, that's a ridiculous story. You can't shoot an elephant with an umbrella. Someone else must have shot the elephant."
The doctor nods, points his finger at the 95 year old man with the 19 year old pregnant wife and says, " My point exactly."
In November I was on a jury. It lasted a week ending just before Thanksgiving. The case involved a woman who had gone in for gall bladder surgery. When the doctor began the operation he saw that the woman's system was unusual. He could not tell what was the common bile duct and, as I was educated, one never wants to sever the common bile duct. The common bile duct is the key conduit through which, and which allows, our bile to be eliminated. Damage the common bile duct and, in effect, the bile has no route through which to exit.
Not knowing which duct was the common bile duct, the doctor puts a weck clamp on a duct to allow him to test if it was indeed the common bile duct. It was. He then knew not to cut there and that he had to change what he intended to do and rebuild the woman's biliary system.
The lawyers for the woman claimed that when the doctor placed the weck clamp on the common bile duct he eliminated any chance of doing anything other than rebuilding the biliary system. And the lawyers claimed that the method he selected for rebuilding the system jeopardized the woman's health.
As it turned out, months after the operation, the woman suffered a stricture; the rebuilt system that would facilitate taking the bile out was not functioning. The toxins were literally poisoning her system and she nearly perished. She prevailed but was suing the doctor for a year of lost life because of his compromising the common bile duct, and the choice he made for rebuilding the biliary system.
When questioned, the doctor--a very highly regarded Boston physician--claimed that he had done nothing out of the ordinary by using the weck clamp. He regretted that he had placed it on the common bile duct, but asserted that he had no real choice given the complexity of the woman's system and his need to discover what duct was what. When asked why he had selected the method he used to rebuild the system, he said quite candidly that it was the method he was most familiar with and that it was within what was considered protocol. One expert supported the decision. Another thought it was unwise.
For some reason this case crept into my consciousness today, now 7 months after it ended and we the jurors rendered a decision. I thought of it as a metaphor.
We have emotional bile in our systems as well. Some of this bile just comes with the territory of being human. Others we produce because of decisions that turn out to be unwise. When we stop, look, and test, and see what is what, we find ourselves staring at the challenge of figuring out a way to purge the bile in our systems that we have accrued and are accruing.
We can select the best method for healing ourselves, or alternatively proceed using a method that is acceptable and easier for us because there is less immediate discomfort.
The doctor was found not guilty and I think, given the nuances of this case that we heard for five very long days, appropriately so. But are we innocent if we choose a second rate method for addressing our emotional bile. What on the surface seems to be a defensible response might result in an accumulation of additional bile which could render us very sick.
I was thinking of this today not as it relates to the world of sports. However, with reports about Penn State again surfacing, and increased attention to concussions affecting player health, I think the metaphor applies to the world of sport as well as to our more serious personal issues. When we come to the fork in the road, and know which way to go, sometimes we have to take the road with the bumps. You can't shoot an elephant with an umbrella. My point exactly.