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Censorship in Medicine is Nothing New

Censorship in Medicine is Nothing New


If you believe that the censorship we have seen over the past four years during the Covid response is a recent phenomenon, think again! 

It was in August of 2020 when I first heard that open cardiac massage (a term I’ll explain shortly) was frequently instituted in patients on ventilators for Covid-induced respiratory failure experiencing cardiac arrest. This immediately brought to mind a situation that I experienced during the summer of 1978, as a second-year Internal Medicine resident at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. I’ll present this event exactly as I remember it, and I’ll then correct a few small details that I came to know during August of 2020 when I researched the incident I am about to describe. 

First, I’ll define open cardiac massage. When CPR is done on a patient who has experienced cardiac arrest, the chest compressions that are done are also known as closed cardiac massage. If, during CPR, the chest wall is opened, such that you can place the patient’s heart in your hand in order to squeeze it directly to try to pump blood into the circulatory system, that’s known as open cardiac massage.

Getting back to the event at hand; on the day that it happened, I was either the on-call second-year medical resident to the Emergency Dept (ED) or it was the month where I was stationed in the ED as one of the senior medical residents. Just before noon, I was informed that ambulances were coming to the ED carrying 6 or 8 women who were receiving CPR due to cardiac arrest from gunshot wounds sustained while attending the Rastafarian Day Parade on Eastern Parkway. I was also informed that shortly before the incident, Ed Koch, who was in his first year as New York City Mayor had been in attendance, but at a certain point was told to leave, and that the guns came out shortly after he was gone.  

Minutes after receiving this information, the ambulances arrived, and the women were placed on stretchers in the same room in the ED. I immediately noticed that they were all in their late teens, and they were all wearing the exact same full-length orange flowered sundress that consisted of a number of black discs surrounded with petals. I also couldn’t help noticing that, despite what was happening, each of these young women was incredibly beautiful. 

We continued CPR, but almost immediately, every available thoracic surgeon onsite was summoned to the ED to open each woman’s chest in order to do open cardiac massage. I was working on the third or fourth patient that had her chest opened; at which point, I put my right arm into this young woman’s chest cavity, placed her heart in my hand, and attempted to pump life back into her body. 

This resuscitation effort lasted approximately 45 minutes to an hour; when you’re in the midst of something like this, you lose track of time. I then remember being the last person to leave the ED room where we had been working, turning around, and seeing all of the young women lying on identical stretchers, wearing identical full-length flowered sundresses. They were all very beautiful…and they were all dead! We saved no one that day.

Returning to August 2020, I began looking on the internet to see if I could find any information regarding this event. I came up empty. This infuriated me, given that these young women were murdered at a public event attended by the Mayor. 

Several days later, I was channel surfing, something I rarely, if ever, do, when I saw a notice that the West Indian Day Parade to be held on Labor Day on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn was going to be canceled due to Covid. I immediately realized that the event I described did not occur during the Rastafarian Day Parade; it was during the West Indian Day Parade; an event that has been held every year on Labor Day on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn since the mid-1960s. 

As such, I now knew that the event I described occurred on September 4, 1978. This also confirmed that it was either my first day as one of the senior residents assigned to the ED for the next month or the last day of my month as a senior ward resident, who happened to be on call to the ED. 

How could I know this with such precision? It actually was easy, because the ward where I was a senior resident was the pulmonary service where, that very weekend, we finally confirmed that we were treating the two index cases of the second major Legionnaires’ outbreak in the US.

The first outbreak was two years earlier in Philadelphia during a 1976 bicentennial gathering of the American Legion (hence the name of the organism) at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. This time, the outbreak occurred in Manhattan’s Garment District right outside of Macy’s. Several months later, I gave the case presentations at Grand Rounds, which had an overflow crowd, including high-level people from the CDC (when the CDC was actually doing good work), and the NYC and NYS Departments of Health. The two index cases were young Black men in their early twenties, who were cured and sent home after a one-week hospital stay.

With this new information, I began looking on the internet to see if I could find anything. I thought I hit pay dirt when I found a short video of a local TV news report from that date. Back in 1978, WPIX in NYC was known as the Daily News station (Channel 11). As you view the video, you’ll note that at the 20-second mark, you’ll see a couple of preteen girls wearing the exact same sundress I described previously, except that each of theirs has a white shoulder covering. At the 35-second mark, you’ll see Mayor Koch. The second person to his right is Elizabeth Holtzman, who at the time was a Brooklyn Congresswoman. Of note, when she became Kings County District Attorney in 1981, Chuck Schumer succeeded her in Congress. 

Finally, pay attention to the last statement by the reporter covering the event. It’s chilling!

Having found this video clip, I was more optimistic that I could find additional information on the internet about the atrocity that occurred only a few minutes after that news report was filed. I found nothing! I checked with the Kings County Hospital ED record room to see whether the paper documents from that era had been placed on microfiche. Again, nothing! 

At this point, I stopped looking. Maybe the NYPD precinct where this happened has records on microfiche, and maybe I’ll check it out, but I really have no stomach to be disappointed again. 

I am left with two emotions. One is a feeling of rage that what I was part of was buried as if it never happened. More importantly, I also have a feeling of profound sadness that I might be the only person alive on this planet who carries the memory of these young women. 

Over the past 45-plus years, I have only told this story to three or four other people, so by putting it out there, maybe something more will be unearthed, and with it, some kind of closure can occur. Otherwise, the memory of these young women very possibly dies with me. That’s not the way it should be!

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  • Steven Kritz

    Steven Kritz, MD is a retired physician, who has been in the healthcare field for 50 years. He graduated from SUNY Downstate Medical School and completed IM Residency at Kings County Hospital. This was followed by almost 40 years of healthcare experience, including 19 years of direct patient care in a rural setting as a Board Certified Internist; 17 years of clinical research at a private-not-for-profit healthcare agency; and over 35 years of involvement in public health, and health systems infrastructure and administration activities. He retired 5 years ago, and became a member of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the agency where he had done clinical research, where he has been IRB Chair for the past 3 years.

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