Don's Blog: February 2021

Clay Shaw/Man of a Million Fragments: The True Story of Clay Shaw/Dueling Voices/I Lost It at the Beginning/101 Reasons Not To Murder The Entire Saudi Royal Family/He Knew Where He Was Going (?)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Clay Shaw and Dr. Alton Ochsner

Dr. Alton Ochsner was a very prominent citizen in New Orleans during the 1940s through the 1970s. He was a world-renowned surgeon, known for his surgical skills and his opposition to cigarette smoking.

In my biography of Clay Shaw, Man of a Million Fragments: The True Story of Clay Shaw, I go into Shaw's interactions with Dr. Ochsner over the years when both men were public figures.

Dr. Ochsner was involved in various conservative, mainly anti-Communist, activities during this period, and sometimes pops up on leftist conspiracy theory radars.

From going through Dr. Ochsner's records at libraries, I recall certain things related to the practice of medicine in the 1950s and 1960s, including:

1. His opposition to cigarette smoking was not shared by many doctors in the early going. One medical colleague of Ochsner compared the increase in lung cancer cases at a time of increased cigarette consumption to a similar rise in the use of nylon hosiery during the same time period! many doctors smoked at the time, and were not open to the linkage between cigarettes and lung cancer.

2. Doctors during the era often charged patients vastly different fees for services based upon the patients' incomes. It was not uncommon for surgeons to charge 3-5 times the fee for a surgery to a wealthy patient compared to a patient of more modest means. Prominent New Orleans lawyer Edgar Stern, planning for an operation needed for his son, pre-emptively sent a letter to Dr. Ochsner sounding a note of concern about the fee he would be charged. Ochsner responded assuring him his fee would be reasonable, and Stern later agreed that it was.

3. In the 1970s, a writer worked on a proposed biography of Dr. Ochsner. One of Dr. Ochsner's colleagues, in a 2-page letter to the writer, recalled how, as a young intern, he had witnessed Dr. Ochsner and Dr. Michael DeBakey, the prominent Houston surgeon under whom Dr. Ochsner had trained, performing a surgery on a patient. The letter writer recalled how relaxed the two surgeons were during the surgery, and how they got into the steam shower together later to celebrate; the writer recalled how meaningful the event had been to him, to witness such a successful surgery. On the second page of the letter, however, the writer indicated how, unfortunately, the patient had died that same day.

4. The issue of malpractice suits was already a contentious issue. Around 1959-60, Dr. Ochsner's own grandchild had died as a result of a defective polio vaccine. The parents (Dr. Ochsner's daughter and son-in-law) filed suit against the drug maker. At a board meeting of the Ochsner medical group held around that time, there was discussion of firing Dr. Ochsner's son-in-law, who was the group's public affairs director. At a later board meeting, it was discussed that the lawsuit had been dropped, but no reason was given.

Clay Shaw was a prominent smoker among figures of that era, and his father underwent a surgery in the mid-1960s performed by Dr. Ochsner, so these issues likely arose. Shaw also underwent several yearly lung scans in the early 1960s, somewhat unusual for that era. Based upon my review, it seemed that Shaw and Ochsner had a mutual respect for each other. Shaw served as interim Managing Director for International House during a year when Dr. Ochsner was the group's president (after Charles Nutter had left the group and before Paul Fabry replaced him). Later, Ochsner was supportive, behind the scenes, at least in written correspondence, of Shaw during Shaw's ordeal at the hands of Jim Garrison.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Nashville: The Mood Sales PIcking up Steam

 I have noticed an uptick in sales of one or more portions of Nashville: The Mood (Parts 1-10) during 2020. The sordid version of life in Nashville weaves its way through a landscape of semi-corrupt, non-ideological politicians, mediocre hospitals and physicians, thoughtful prostitutes, tormented preachers, prejudices and biases, both sound and emotional. The city is marred by both vicious gossip and unhealthy white flour to a point that its unrecognizability as a modern city is within its grasp.

Let's see what 2021 brings!