Why Can’t They Just Go Away?

Why Can’t They Just Go Away?


Leonard Zwelling

In May and June of 2004 I went through a transformation that was a few years in the making.

By 2002, the stress of my job as Vice President for Research Administration had become unbearable. I was also trying to build a new house and move my family while my wife was pretty busy running Pediatrics at MD Anderson.

The proof of the stress was in the pudding of my need for by-pass surgery in August of 2002. I had managed to exceed my body’s ability to recover.

I had also succumbed to sufficient neuroses that I had taken advantage of the Faculty Assistance Program (I was the VP on the list they displayed of who had used the service by academic rank). My therapist at the time thought that I needed a real time out. He sent me to Miraval in Arizona. This is essentially a Betty Ford Clinic for the less hopelessly impaired. There I joined a group of alcohol, drug and sex addicts in working with therapeutic horses.

The theory goes this way.

Horses are strong, social animals that live in the present moment. If you want to get a horse to do what you want it to do, you too need to be in the present moment. Since addicts of all kinds are rarely present, this is good treatment and does not involve drugs. You just have to watch where you step—like academics in general.

Without going into the details that will be in a book I am currently writing, working with the horse at Miraval had two important effects on me. First, it got me into that present moment if I didn’t want the horse to step on me. Second, it made me realize that I was an addict, too and belonged with all of the others in my group. I was addicted to “gold-stars” and had been since I was a preschooler. I had two parents who doted on their only child at the time and reinforced all of his intellectual accomplishments (reading hubcaps to name cars and completing sentences in my own reading books at two years of age). Fortunately for me, my sister came along when I was three.

It was shortly after I returned from Miraval that I had a lunch conversation with a good friend who asked me a key question about my work at Anderson.

He asked, “why do you keep doing what you hate doing?”

Good question.

It was then that I worked with Dr. Kripke to rid myself of the oversight of clinical research, to turn it over to Dr. Markman, and to make Dr. Mendelsohn glad that he got me out of the way. But I made a big mistake that day, June 23, 2004. I didn’t quit all of administration and try something new. I chose to hang on. Working with the horse had not cured me.

It took the coming of Dr. DuBois and his need to have me out of the way completely for me to finally be displaced from my vice presidency—something that should have taken place years before. Then came DC and working on the Hill and a whole new career in writing about health policy.

Since that day I examined why I didn’t just quit it all in 2004. I liked the title. I liked the money. I liked the big office. These are awful reasons to do anything that you dislike doing, yet I did it anyway.

We saw a similar scenario with Dr. DePinho who, despite overwhelming evidence that he was leading a failed administration that was hemorrhaging cash, he stuck it out for six years before the Regents finally had had enough.

Now, we are seeing a similar story play out in Washington, DC. Mr. Trump has clearly committed felonies and we haven’t even gotten to the Russians yet. It took the urging of congressional leadership in 1974 to get Mr. Nixon to quit. It may take the same now to get Trump out, but it’s coming. If it takes a dismal GOP showing in the mid-terms to make it happen, so be it. Trump will not go easily. He just needs to pardon the kids and himself and crawl back to his skyscraper on Manhattan only to be heard from again at the parade for his funeral. (Some how, he’ll manage it.)

As someone who hung on too long, I understand why Trump won’t go. He should follow the great advice of Dr. Kripke of leaving the party while you’re still having a good time. She did and was rewarded for her good sense with an assignment at CPRIT that she did very well indeed when her expertise and calmness was needed to steady a wobbly ship.

There are many second acts, but it is tough to follow up on being President of the United States. But Trump plays golf and may well be headed to court soon anyway. He’ll need the time to prepare.

He needs to leave.

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