Last week, Rick Rosen, a writer for Heavy, wrote about the "5 Fast Facts You Need to Know" about Dr. Anjali Ramkissoon, the now infamous drunk physician who attacked a Miami Uber driver. We have learned through his article and the associated YouTube video about a girl who probably never wanted the world's eye focusing on her. Unfortunately for her, the world won't stop paying attention anytime soon. But, for the rest of us, her actions can teach several facts about society.
Thirst for Drama
Understanding society's thirst for drama, Caesar once prophetically said that the key to the public's approval was to give them "bread and circuses." As it was true in ancient Rome, it is true in modern Miami, and wherever else YouTube videos are shown. Which is now everywhere. The public spectacle of someone's demise, however costly, has been and will continue to be a source of entertainment. The Romans used to feed prisoners to hungry beasts, like lions and bears. These events - called damnatio ad bestias - were wildly popular among the masses.
In modern times, society has replaced the amphitheater with the internet. If it were not for her, there would be other memes that the public would have found to keep the show going. Anjali Ramkissoon, who has fed our hunger for drama, will not be the last to be damnatio ad YouTube.
Professionals are Imperfect
In a Good Morning America interview, Anjali Ramkissoon enlightened her overnight cadre of followers with the events preceding her punching an Uber driver. Her father was sick. She was dumped. Toss in a few beers and voila: Uber tantrum galore. Regardless of the circumstances, the behavior is abnormal and inappropriate. Online posts are replete with theories of raging substance abuse to outright psychosis - any one of these theories may also be true, but we may never know.
Yet, substance abuse and mental illness are no strangers to professionals. They affect doctors, lawyers, politicians, and whoever else you look up at the same rate, if not higher, as anyone else. Our neuroticism may be the key to our successes, but it may also be our Achilles heel. Depression, anxiety, and burnout are rampant in the medical profession. The manifestations of mental illness can take the shape of many forms, including substance abuse, loss of anger control, and poor judgement.
They can also take the shape of public tantrums like the enraged Uber scene or worse: some people may even commit suicide. Physician suicide has become so common that some practitioners, like Pamela Wible, are leading crusades to stop it. Errant behavior maybe more of a sign for help than of a bad apple. The appropriate response is to refrain from judgement, albeit it may not be easy. As physicians our purpose is to withhold judgement while helping our patients get better. The irony is that society may not do the same.
Society is Unforgiving
Society may even be bloodthirsty. In the aftermath of the YouTube video, many in the public have called for her to be fired and to lose her opportunity to continue training as a physician. Not to mention, the mere fact that the presence of countless disparaging remarks will remain on these websites for years, if not decades, to come. To be abundantly clear, her actions in the video never endangered anyone's life in the hospital. However, there are instances where physicians have done things that could have jeopardized the health of their patients, for example by abusing propofol or cocaine. Yet, society is asking for a sentence comparable to the Salem witch trials. Empirically banishing Dr. Ramkissoon from medicine may serve more harm than good, for her and us. Neurologists are in short supply, and her absence from the profession could adversely affect countless more people. Not to mention, we would have also sounded the death knell for her career.
Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Dr. Ramkissoon's situation just so happens to be the unlucky one. She received the misfortune of being caught on camera and publicized to the whole world. Not only that, she also has become the victim of society's stones, which may be more damaging to her and her career than the original tantrum. The incident teaches us a lot about the interplay between the performer and the public, the patient and the physician. It teaches us more about ourselves than the one we are watching.
Dr. Shivam Joshi is a third-year internal medical resident at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, FL. He blogs at afternoonrounds.com.