Yes, it really did happen.
It was late spring of 1990, and Mike Wallace was headed to Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical Center to interview me. Not JUST me, but me and several of my medical and surgical colleagues.
I wasn’t really all that scared, although in retrospect I should have been. He didn't seem all that bad.
Maybe because I take care of children for a living, I always expect the unexpected. Maybe because I am an intensivist, I am accustomed to dodging bullets and avoiding pitfalls. Maybe because I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, I am familiar with walking on uneven sidewalks, and avoiding potholes, thieves and crackpots. The producer for the segment came a couple days in advance. He was there to get a good sense of the layout of the environment (where would they be filming), prep some of the main interviewees (myself and the other docs) and try to prepare us for Mike’s questions. Of course he reassured us that they were just after the truth about how ethical issues are handled in major hospitals, blah, blah, blah.
And we shouldn’t be nervous.
photo: CBS.com [Part 1 of this story tells the tale of how it came to be]
Here again, serendipity served me well. As I recall, I spoke with the producer on a Friday. His parting words to me were: “Mr. Wallace will be here starting Monday. We plan to film your part on Tuesday at 2 pm.” My response was “Maybe.” “What do you mean, ‘maybe’ ?” “Well, as you can see, I am pregnant, and my due date is 8 days from now. This is my third pregnancy, so it’s totally possible that I could go into labor at any time.” “No, you can’t!!!!” I could see the wheels turning quickly in his brain. I guess they wanted to focus on the ethical issues in child health, or something, and he was worried his story would have less emotional appeal if I was missing. So he rearranged the schedule, putting me on FIRST to be interviewed by Mike Wallace on the Monday morning, and begged me to promise him I wouldn’t miss it. Since I had left the hospital following delivery of my second child within about 8 hours, I suggested that even if I did deliver sometime over the weekend, I could still make it (this was in my “woman of steel” phase).
So, serendipity helped me to unnerve the producer.
Not that I consciously wanted to do that, but it turned out to be a good thing. They really wanted ME, and my stories, and were going to have to play the game a little bit on my terms, even though I was not a celebrity who could demand such things. I was just matter-of-factly stating the truth. I had no control over when my third child would decide to make her entrance. When Monday came, and daughter number 3 was still in utero, we were all relieved. Except that my ankles had gotten terribly swollen, and I was going to be chagrined to think that anyone watching the program would think that I was fat. So I had a chat with the camera men and the producer and threatened to sue them if they took video of my feet. They smiled and reassured me they would edit out any swollen ankles before the segment aired.
Then I met Mike Wallace.
He was charming. Nothing to worry about. A true gentleman. Here again I was helped by serendipity. Prior to the actual interview we walked around the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit without microphones or video cameras. I was explaining to him what we were seeing on the bedside monitors, among other things (while watching out for patient privacy). When we passed the bedside of one little child he asked me “what does that number 180 mean?” When I explained that was the baby’s heart rate, he almost fainted. He grabbed his chest and told me his cardiologist had told him that if HIS heart rate went over 60 it could be curtains for him.
Well, you see, I had him then.
He gained respect for what I was saying as I explained how children are different from adults in so many ways, and I think I was showing him an aspect of medical care with which he was totally unfamiliar. This preliminary experience helped me to realize that I would be in control once the actual interview began. I knew so much more about children’s health care than he did, that I would not be intimidated by anything he would ask me. Or would I? Could it be that he was just luring me into feeling relaxed so that I would be less on my guard?
To find out, you are going to have to read Part 3…..