Ghost Ship


Leonard Zwelling

“It is a common superstition of
mariners, that, in the high southern latitudes on the coast of Africa,
hurricanes are frequently ushered in by the appearance of a spectre-ship,
denominated the Flying Dutchman … The crew of this vessel are supposed
to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and
to have been stricken with pestilence … and are ordained still to
traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance
expire.” (John Leydon, Scenes of Infancy, 1803, an early reference to the
legend of the Flying Dutchman)

         I had an occasion to visit the mid-campus building for a business
meeting with a colleague who offices there. I hadn’t been on or near the MD
Anderson campus for a while and I am always amazed to see the growth in
buildings and personnel. This visit was no exception.

         I approached the Good Ship Mendelsohn from the south,
tacking to the east to park in the multilevel facility that services the
building and serves as its dock.

         I managed to recall that the floor on which one enters the
building from the multi-level parking facility is not obvious, but the signs
labeled the correct floor as 5. Of course, in the building it is floor 3, so I
was already confused. My confusion was not aided by the guard who directed me
to the wrong elevator bank that, fortunately, also had a list of offices on the
wall near it. I was sent to the north bank, when the office I was searching for
was on the south. I recovered my bearings without the use of GPS.

         When I arrived at the correct floor I was greeted by intense
security necessitating my calling into the office of my destination to be
admitted. The meeting took place and I left. I descended down to 3. Cleared my
parking card in the machine that substitutes for a human and took the elevators
on 5 down to 2 where I parked.

         I left at 4 PM along with many employees. This surprised me as
I thought most shifts were 8:30 to five, but there must be a significant
contingent of 7:30 to 4 workers. Almost every person I saw was a female except
for a few men who appeared to resemble the people I knew at the NIH as “double
knits,” for that was their usual cloth of choice as life-long government
employees.  The guy with the clip on
braces was my favorite member of the crew of the Good Ship Mendelsohn. No
doubt, a sturdy sailor, he.

         I was struck with the dour spirit which I hope was just
Monday blues and not a general tenor of the attitude that pervades the administrative
levels of MD Anderson. I fear though that the faces I saw reflect the shock
that most employees find themselves in. Most who had been there at least five
years are probably wondering what happened to the MD Anderson of energy that
used to be a bee hive of activity for a worthy cause, “fighting cancer.” But
that’s now history.

         What I saw was a bunch of workers who couldn’t get home fast
enough. They looked like a typical group of union members hurrying to their
homes, their families, and their television sets. I guess that is not all that
bad, but it is not the MD Anderson I knew for almost 30 years.


Good Ship Mendelsohn is unlikely to sink given that is not even on water, but
the crew looks sea sick and not at all happy about the next journey. It really
is amazing what lousy leadership can do.

         The members of the staff I saw all looked like zombies or
automatons grinding through another day. How sad that a gallant vessel in
concept has been reduced to a hulk of concrete and steel with a reluctant crew
rowing about as slowly as their salaries allow in a long, lazy circle.

         I would hate to see what is happening in the clinics.

ashore that’s going ashore.”

Leonard Zwelling