Saving Jesus in The Desert; One Man's Cure is Another's Stand-up Routine

by Michael Monasky By the look of the line of charter buses filled with graybeards and blue hairs, the Sacramento Community Center Thea...


by Michael Monasky

By the look of the line of charter buses filled with graybeards and blue hairs, the Sacramento Community Center Theater was under the spell of neurosurgeon and CNN health spokesman Sanjay Gupta's Motivational Event and Transformational Experience. Gupta turned down Obama's call to become US Surgeon General, mainly because he “could not practice surgery while being Surgeon General.” Obama did not make an exception for Gupta, so he eschewed public health for private practice and the lecture circuit.

Gupta's medical advice seemed mediocre, especially for the inflated price of admission. It's the kind of aphorisms we've heard from our mothers and most sensible, long-lived folks. He said he's “passionate about the intersection between medicine and media,” which seemed an obtuse excuse for corny, stand-up material. He might preach consumption of “real” food, but one, telling joke about his daughter's play with his stethoscope in the car betrayed a hidden, happy habit. With the device strapped to her head, she spoke into the diaphragm: “Welcome to McDonalds-- can I take your order?” Ah, the transformative lessons learned.

He complained of “disuse atrophy” in the brain. Gupta insisted that his “goal was to exercise my brain” with new mental activities, calling the brain a “muscle” which must be mentally exercised. Gupta said this despite the growing body of empirical data debunking mental exercise theories.

Some of Gupta's stories are told like embellished variations of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Gupta joked about “saving Jesus in the Desert.” Taking his helmet off due to excessive heat, he said, US Marine Jesus Vidana sustained a bullet wound to the head from a sniper and was presumed dead. Embedded with soldiers on the battlefield who asked him to intervene, Gupta says he took a standard Black & Decker electric drill, dipped a bit into sterilizing solution, and proceeded to remove skull and clotted tissues and the offending bullet. Sealing the wound with a sterile intravenous bag of fluid, he sent the wounded soldier off by life-flight. At least that was Gupta's tale on Monday night.

A very different story emerged from a June 22, 2006 Anderson Cooper blog. Gupta wrote “How I saved a Marine from a shrapnel-filled brain” about an experience in Spring 2003 involving Jesus Vidana. There's no mention of the Black & Decker, and Gupta's encounter with the wounded Marine happened only after helicopter transport, and not in the field, but at the forward resuscitative surgical suite (FRSS), a front-line, mobile surgical hospital. And, in this version of the story, the helmet had a hole in it.

Who blogs about saving a life three years after the fact? And what media celebrity like Gupta would get the details so confabulated at a $100,000 public event over nine years later, hosted by the second largest newspaper chain and fabulously introduced by the local university hospital? Gupta stated that he isn't a “voyeur,” although he demonstrates attributes of an attention-seeker. He touts the fact that he is the most traveled CNN reporter while staking claim to the importance of raising his three young daughters. His motivational lecture about transformational experiences falls flat on his inaccuracy, which isn't a virtue in journalism.

Sanjay Gupta is no economist, either. He said that Michael Moore had “fudged the facts” in his 2007 movie, Sicko, which was critical of the US health care system. Moore's facts were just that, and Gupta's accusations were prevarication via CNN. Gupta's health segments on CNN are heavily subsidized by health insurance and pharmaceutical advertising. And that's a fact.

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