Preventable Tragedies:A Helen Mirkin Novel

By: Ruth Shidlo


The author would like to thank Karen McIntosh, Kathleen Costa, and Jonathan Siegel for reading previous versions of this novel, when still a work-in-progress, and for their helpful comments, feedback and encouragement. I enjoyed having a male perspective, Jon. Basel, thanks so much for what has become the Hoopoe logo. Great job! Thanks too, to Catherine Wilson for her consistent efficiency and admirable professionalism.

I would also like to thank Assaf Shtilman for his brilliant creative artwork and generosity.

Last but not least, I wish to thank friends and family for their unwavering support and artistic feedback along the way. I am particularly indebted to Noa Shidlo, Alon Or, Ana Shidlo, Ariel Shidlo, Shai Alexandroni and Michal Or.

Tongue in cheek, I have also enjoyed our Valen’s companionship while writing.


Tel Aviv, 2008

The car park at Mid-City Hospital was filled to the brim and the slim young woman squeezed her way between cars, bending more than one passenger mirror in her eagerness to get to her Jeep and make a quick getaway.

Detective Inspector Helen Mirkin couldn’t stand being in a hospital environment for very long, ever since her father had been allowed to die of post-operative complications in a renowned Jerusalem hospital several years back. As with war, the patient and his or her family knew when, and sometimes why, a medical procedure was initiated, but not how it would end. Following what the heart surgeon had described as a “successful operation,” the staff had failed to maintain an acceptable standard of hygiene, thus enabling a lethal bug to flourish within the operating theatre and/or their post-operative care and silently wreak its havoc. The result: a dead father. Her father.

Now, as she weaved her way through the cars, Helen couldn’t help thinking, as she had many times before, that her father’s hospitalization had been a death warrant. All told, it had taken his doctors one month to transform a living, breathing, reasonably happy and functioning person into a defeated man, one suffering from multi-system failure. A man who no longer feared, and at certain moments may even have welcomed death with its promise of liberation from this cascade of events and spiraling torture.

Never one to trust physicians blindly as though they were the gods they craved to be, since her father’s untimely death, Helen had even less faith in hospitals and their staff and avoided them as much as possible. Her recent altercation at the Nuclear Medicine Isotope Clinic hadn’t helped restore her trust. Minutes ago she’d had a serving of radioactive cornflakes and milk at the Isotope Clinic. She had been referred there by the police medic upon admitting during the mandatory annual checkup that she was having trouble swallowing her food unless she washed it down with some water. Yet upon scheduling this upper GI test, the staff had neglected to inform her that it involved the ingestion of radioactive markers to facilitate the tracking of the semi-solids coursing down her esophagus. Having learned this to her chagrin just prior to the exam, upon inquiring about potential side-effects, Helen was concerned about exposing Sheila to her body’s radioactivity following the imaging diagnostic. Sheila hadn’t gone to school today and Helen was to be with her while her partner, Mira, was at work. Minimal dose or not, Helen needed to be sure the Tc99m marker wasn’t dangerous, for it had a half-life of at least six hours. The radiologist’s noncommittal response that she was welcome to research this online and schedule a later appointment did nothing to reassure her, on the contrary, it incensed her even further. She had needed to hear a clear communication regarding the potential hazards, and had hoped to be reassured it was okay to undergo the test.

Her mobile rang. “Mira? I’m on my way home. Should be there in twenty … don’t ask. Crazy doctor. She wanted to kick me out because I had the audacity to ask about side effects. Talk to you when I get there. Bye.”

Damn doctors. Whatever had happened to true “informed consent?” Exiting the multi-level parking structure, it occurred to her that the referring physician, the GI specialist who had seen her at the hospital’s outpatient clinic before ordering the test, might have taken the time to explain the nature of the procedure, of which most people had never heard. Knowing herself, she was sure she had asked about it. Good thing it was behind her—she should get the results in the mail in about a week.

Meanwhile she had two more tests scheduled over the next few days. None of them fun, but at least she’d know if her esophageal sphincter muscles were doing their job. She wondered if the Paula exercises she’d once learned to improve her singing voice, yet neglected of late, would kick in. They focused on the body’s sphincter muscles and trained them to act in concert, in a kinetic melody. Surely better than meds. Any meds. She promised herself that from now on, she’d devote a few minutes to training her muscles each day. If it didn’t help with her specific complaint, at least it would do no harm, and was bound to improve her vocal production, her sound. An amateur singer in a semi-professional chamber choir, her voice was important. While not in Mira’s league, for Mira was a professional singer at the Opera, she needed to be way up there, with the other sopranos.