Leonard Zwelling

When describing the floods in Houston for friends outside the area, I resorted to only one word. Biblical.

When water piles up in the midst of a hurricane, that is not a surprise. The wind whips the trees and the true force of nature is felt. The rain is just part of the picture.

Harvey was experienced in Houston far more quietly. It just poured and poured and poured. It never stopped. Looking out my window, I fully expected an ark to pass by at any moment. In fact, one did. It was a huge dump truck filled with rescued people, although they were not in pairs necessarily.


Apparently David Brooks was thinking along the same lines.

Mr. Brooks describes a study done by a researcher, John D. Morris, about the flood myths from over 200 cultures. The similarities among the myths are striking in that most involve a specific saved family, survival in a boat, the origin of the flood being wicked behavior by humanity, and the boat landing on a mountain. Sound familiar? Of course.

Brooks also relates how Noah took all this bad karma silently, not protesting to God as did Abraham or Moses later. Even Jesus wanted to know why he was forsaken. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks thinks that Noah was not a leader. Being the guy driving a boat full of animals as well as his family, that judgment of Noah seems a bit harsh, but Noah is not of the stature of the others named above as Brooks relates.

Floods are a time for rebirth. No doubt the city of Houston will be stronger for having survived Harvey. Perhaps now serious consideration will be given to not building homes in places that are bound to flood, to creating additional green space, and to lessening the amount of concrete that covers the ground of southeast Texas. One can hope.

MD Anderson, like Houston, is also in recovery mode and I don’t mean from a natural disaster.

The last fifteen years have been ones where the powers that control the UT System’s cancer center have opted for a scientifically-driven academic model with a side of commercialization that has undermined the very nature of the “pink palace” of the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. There is nothing wrong with scientific progress, but that should not be implemented through the obliteration of the institutional memory of clinical excellence and a leadership role in human subject research.

With the coming of the new president, the hope is that there will be a return to the strategy of clinical expertise above all else and a cessation of the drive to create a Harvard-like environment that turned out to be Harvard-lite instead.

Unfortunately, MD Anderson did have to withstand a flood to get another chance—the flood of red ink was pretty severe for a while.

Let’s hope the new leader is more Moses-like than Noah-like and questions everything. There is nothing written in stone about the future of MD Anderson. Good or bad. It is up to the new leadership team to find its way through the flood, out of the desert, and to the Promised Land of cancer care excellence and a new strategy that furthers the core values—especially integrity.

Leonard Zwelling