Monthly Archives: June 2013

Our North American sojourn

Last night, we got back from our whirlwind trip to Ottawa, DC, and DF, and boy, were we tired. Al calculated that our total flying time for this trip was 54 hours, with at least six additional hours of airport time (looking at you, Dulles, you monster), which means we traveled an average of five hours for each day of our trip. Yikes. But you know what? It was SO worth it. We had so much fun, and we packed each day to the gills with friends and family, which was the whole point of this North American adventure.

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Here, in brief, is what we got up to on each leg of our trip.

Ottawa

In Ottawa, we attended the lovely wedding of Tom and Kristy. Tom is one of Al’s closest friends from high school in Canada, and Al was a groomsman in the wedding, which ended up meaning zero responsibilities and lots of perks for him and his fellow groomsmen, since the bride and her attendants were totally on top of things. Lucky guys.

Al and me at the wedding

Al and me at the wedding – Brittania Yacht Club, Ottawa

The bride and groom

The beautiful bride and handsome groom 

We were lucky enough to hang out with the newlyweds and some other friends after the wedding and we also got to spend quality time with Al’s brother Calum and his adorable cat, Mick Jagger. This cat is seriously The Cutest. Look at these photos of Jaggy and her lion haircut and look me in the eye and tell me she is not the CUTEST cat in the world. I dare you.

Watching the Real Housewives of Orange County

Watching the Real Housewives of Orange County

Chillin'

Chillin’

All in all, Ottawa was fun and relaxing, and after five years of visits to the city, I finally got to see it not covered in a solid foot of snow and ice. It’s much nicer in the summer (and I can go running without my ipod literally freezing!).

DC

In DC, our main goals were to see as many of our friends as possible, and to buy things. Well, maybe that second one was just my goal, but I succeeded handsomely! I pretty much raided Forever 21, snatching up anything vaguely nautical, including a pair of not-so-vaguely-nautical sailor shorts. I wore them to the bar to meet our friends, and as we were walking there, I asked Al, “Am I too old to wear these?” He said no, but I’m still not sure. I sort of just choose to ignore the whole “21” admonition built into Forever 21. I think it should be renamed Forever 30-ish, so ladies like me can feel good about buying cheap clothes there. Anyway. DC was great! We saw lots of people, ate lots of good food, and enjoyed the hot, muggy weather and low-level chaos that makes DC DC.

DC breakfast

DC breakfast

Seeing our friend Tanya at The Passenger. Note my nautical attire.

Seeing our friend Tanya at The Passenger. Note my nautical attire.

DF (Mexico City)

The final stop on our North American tour was Mexico City, where we attended the beautiful wedding of Anna and Íñigo. Anna is one of my closest law school (and DC) friends, and she and Íñigo are some of our favorite people to go salsa dancing with. Their wedding was held at a gorgeous museum called El Museo Franz Mayer, in the heart of Mexico City, and included awesome food, tiny jugs of Mezcal, and lots of salsa dancing. So much fun.

At the wedding

At the wedding

While in El DF, Al and I also got up to some sightseeing. We were staying at a hotel in a very hipstery neighborhood called La Roma. Just how hipstery was it? Well, our first night there, we went to a Japanese restaurant where people sat outside on kegs and a wandering gypsy band played klezmer music as we ate, so… you tell me. Also, Al wore this, just to blend in:

Just hanging out in La Roma.

Just hanging out in La Roma.

We also spent an afternoon sightseeing near the Zocalo, downtown, where we wandered around  the Templo Mayor, the ruins of a prominent temple in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (right on top of which the Spanish built Mexico City — how considerate of them). I was especially interested in seeing the Museo del Templo Mayor, where they keep such gory Aztec relics as “face knives” and other accoutrements related to human sacrifice. It was fun to celebrate the part of my heritage that involves ripping out people’s still-beating hearts and sacrificing them to the sun god. You know how it goes.

Stone skulls

Stone skulls, Museo del Templo Mayor

Cool door

Cool door

Me and a giant Mexican flag

Me and a giant Mexican flag

Helpful pamphlets at the Cathedral downtown. Our favorite was "100 questions for a Mormon."

Helpful pamphlets at the Cathedral downtown. Our favorite (not pictured) was “100 questions for a Mormon.”

We also ate lunch at Pujol, number 17 on the current list of the world’s 50 Best Restaurants. We were expecting great things from Pujol, but we walked away a bit underwhelmed, for a few reasons. First of all, if lunch is going to cost $260 USD, you want it to be spectacular. Not just good, but spectacular. Lunch at Pujol, though, was just okay. Some of the dishes were superlative (for example, their reimagined tres leches dessert was to die for), but others were just meh, and still others were downright, well, gross. Okay, so maybe I’m not the most adventurous eater, and call me old-fashioned, but if I’m eating at a fancy restaurant, I don’t want to be eating ant larvae. Yet, guess what I ate at Pujol? An ant larvae taco. (Note to self: next time, after lunch, don’t google the taco ingredients you didn’t understand. Escamoles are not a vegetable, turns out). We also ate a soup made out of ants. Which begs the question: was there a sale on ants at the market that morning, or were they just messing with us? Or both? Also, I could have done without the fried frog leg, bone still in, which was one of the courses. Blech.

But, some of the dishes were nice (and photogenic).

Delish dessert

Delish dessert

Tiny, very expensive, very cute fish taco

Very tiny, very expensive, very cute fish taco

After our Pujol experience, Al and I decided we’re kinda done with tasting menus for a while. Especially considering that the rest of the food we ate in Mexico was outrageously good (and affordable). I wanted to stuff tacos and queso fresco and frijoles in my bag and bring it all back to South Africa, the land where they think this is an example of authentic Mexican food:

"Da border?" Really, South Africa?

“Da border?” Really, South Africa?

So, now we’re back in Joburg, it’s freezing cold (I’m wearing a hat indoors), and I’m missing the sunny climes of my home continent. I’m really glad we took our trip, because it was a great reminder of the wonderful people (and food, and public transportation, and cheap clothing) that we have to look forward to when we eventually move back to the US. For now, though, I’m going to enjoy my remaining time here in SA by eating a lot of steak and biltong.

Hasta luego!

What I like about DC

We’re back in DC after more than eight months away (holy moly!) and being here after so long is throwing this city into sharp relief for me. Suddenly, I’m remembering all the things that drive me bat-poop bonkers about this place (see, e.g., the Red Line), but also all the wonderful stuff that makes DC the place I want to live permanently.

I have a love-hate relationship with this.

I have a love-hate relationship with this.

Last night, after a great dinner with some of our best DC friends, Al and I walked back to our hotel and talked about what we miss about this place. We both agreed that we’re glad we’re doing this stint abroad (with more international adventures still to come over the next year!) but that we’ll be very glad to head back to Our Nation’s Capital when the time comes. There’s just a lot of things to love about this place.

So here, without further ado, is a short list of things I like about DC:

  1. Weather. Yes, summers tend to be muggy and, one might fairly argue, swampy. Literally. Like, the city was built on a swamp. But you know what? It’s temperate! There are seasons. And Shorts Weather lasts for a long time, which is really all you can ask for from a place.
  2. Monuments. I’m talking huge, in-yo’-face, impressive monuments. Every time I come back to DC after being away, I marvel at much the city looks like a movie set, with all of these big, famous monuments just crammed together. It looks fake — but it’s not. Although, contrary to what TV would have us believe, people don’t actually conduct business meetings at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial or while dipping their feet in the reflecting pool. Sorry.
  3. Walkability. After being cooped up at home in Joburg for so long, there’s something deliciously liberating about being able to walk places, by myself, when I please. You know what I’ve really missed? Sidewalks.
  4. Food. Over the last few years, DC has evolved into a great food city, and it feels like there are still new restaurants and new chefs popping up all the time. And dang, this city does a good lunch salad. I missed you, Chop’t.
  5. Friends. Al and I have a great group of friends here and we miss them. Can’t wait until we can hang out with them again on the regular.
  6. Location. DC is so convenient. You can get anywhere on the East Coast easily, either by flying or driving, and it’s midway between Europe and California. After having lived for the past eight months in a country that feels impossibly remote from everything and everyone, I now really appreciate DC’s accessibility.
  7. Happy hour. This city runs on happy hours. It’s basically like one of those Brazilian cars that runs on alcohol. And now that I’m no longer chained to a desk at a law firm, I may even be able to enjoy the DC tradition of meeting for early drinks, often on a rooftop somewhere.
  8. Culture. Gotta love a city that has the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, theater, and live music. You never have an excuse to be bored here.
  9. International influence. DC has to be one of the most international cities in the world. Period, the end.
  10. NPR. I’m a public radio junkie and I love that NPR is based right here. It also makes me think my ultimate life goal of becoming best friends with all of the hosts of Pop Culture Happy Hour may eventually become a reality. Here’s hoping.
  11. Family. DC seems like one of the rare big cities in the US where you could theoretically raise children without them automatically becoming entitled, privileged monsters. Just my impression, although I’m not ruling anything out at this point.
DC Metro. Sure, the occasional person dies on the escalator. But at least there's public transportation.

DC Metro. Sure, the occasional person dies on the escalator. But at least there’s public transportation here.

Of course, there are things about DC, as I mentioned above, that make me want to wring its figurative neck. But that’s going to be the case for any city, anywhere in the world. Nowhere’s perfect. But DC is a pretty good match for me, and I’m looking forward to living here again, after our international sojourn. See you next spring, DC!

America

These next two weeks will be light on blogging because Al and I are going back to North America today for two weddings: one in Canada and one in Mexico. We’re also stopping in DC for a few days, so our itinerary is Ottawa –> DC –> Mexico City, which I like to think of as The Greens’ North American Capitals Tour. I’m especially excited to go back to America and be reunited with normal tasting Diet Coke, roads without potholes, sidewalks you can actually walk on, public transportation, H&M, gummy vitamins, the Eastern Standard Time Zone, and other luxuries. I’m also excited to finally see Ottawa in the summer (I’ve heard good things) and go back to Mexico City for the first time in over ten years. So, I’ll try to update you guys when I can, but things’ll be fairly whirlwind, so don’t expect frequent posts.

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In the meantime, for those of you who aren’t aware, I have been writing for a great new TV website, Previously.TV, covering one of the hottest perennial messes on the ABC lineup, The Bachelorette. If you’re inclined to enjoy fairly unforgiving TV snark, please check out my posts here.

One other thing to keep you guys occupied while I’m gone: this genius tumblr that has been making the rounds of the internet: Hipsters Who Dress Like Jackie from Roseanne. Incredible.

Okay, so I’ll see you guys when I see you guys!

Book review Monday: Into the Abyss, by Carol Shaben

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately. In fact, I’ve been craving it. There’s just something about real stories with an impact on real human lives that’s been appealing to me more than fiction. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I just finished a first draft of my second manuscript (huzzah!) and so I’ve been so immersed in my own brand of fiction that I’ve wanted a break from it when I sit down to read at night. In any case, over the last couple weeks, I’ve read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s excellent Half The Sky, about the importance of ending the oppression of women worldwide, Charles Graeber’s The Good Nurse, which I discussed last week, and, most recently, Carol Shaben’s Into the Abyss: An Extraordinary True Story, which tells the story of a plane crash in Canada in 1984 that killed six and left four survivors, including Shaben’s father, Larry.

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Shaben, by interviewing her father and other survivors of the crash, managed to piece together the tragic story of Wapiti Flight 402, which crashed in the Canadian wilderness on October 19, 1984. The four survivors were Shaben’s father, Larry Shaben, a prominent Alberta politician, Erik Vogel, the pilot of the plane, Scott Deschamps, a young officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Paul Archambault, a criminal in Deschamps’ custody. The other six passengers, including another prominent Alberta politician, Grant Notley, perished. The commuter flight had been traveling from Edmonton, the provincial capital of Alberta, to High Prairie, Alberta, transporting people who worked in Edmonton (including Shaben and Notley, the other politician on the flight) to their homes.

In the book, Shaben explores the factors that led to the crash — including pilot exhaustion leading to a loss of situational awareness, plus Wapiti Aviation policies that forced pilots to “push” bad weather to stay on schedule, despite severe safety risks. Ultimately, the pilot of Wapiti 402 lost track of where he was as he was flying and became so confused he crashed the plane. Shaben explains:

Whether in aviation, mountain climbing or other high-risk scenarios, several factors can predispose individuals to lose situational awareness. Broadly, these factors are environmental, psychological and physiological. Erik experienced all three. Foul weather reduced his visual information to nil and severe icing had slowed his speed over ground to a degree that put him several miles further back from his destination than he’d estimated. Psychological factors — those imposing an additional processing load on the conscious brain — taxed Erik’s ability to determine his exact location using dead reckoning, and impaired his decision-making. 

Shaben goes on to explain that Vogel simultaneously had to battle task saturation, during which he “needed to handle more information than his highly stressed brain could process” and fatigue, which contributed to his making an error in reckoning that led to him trying to land approximately 40 km outside of the airport. Considering Vogel’s fatigue plus the bad weather in which he was forced to fly, Wapiti Flight 402 had a high probability of crashing.

Shaben delves into the long night in the wilderness that the four survivors spent together and their struggle to stay alive in the brutal cold despite the lack of adequate firewood and serious injuries sustained by three out of four of them. Shaben tells each of the survivors’ stories: how they came to be aboard Wapiti Flight 402 in the first place, as well as their lives after the crash. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching story was that of Paul Archambault, the prisoner who was being transported from Edmonton back to High Prairie to go to court for his previous offenses. Archambault was, according to the other three survivors, a hero. He helped keep the other three men alive, even going back to the wreckage of the plane to rescue his police escort, Deschamps, from where he was trapped. After the crash and the survivors’ eventual rescue, Archambault tried to start his life over, giving up alcohol, holding down a steady job, and falling in love. But things eventually fell apart for him, and, in a twist of cruel irony, he died at age 33 of exposure in Grande Praire, Alberta, near a men’s shelter where he had been staying.

The thing about non-fiction is that the stories don’t always come out the way you want them to. If the story of the crash of Wapiti 402 had been a work of fiction, miracles would have happened to the survivors, and their lives would have changed for the better in some sort of grand Karmic righting-of-wrongs. But in reality, the survivors of the crash struggled. Some of them ultimately ended up happy, but some of them, like Archambault, experienced even more tragedy after surviving their ordeal. Shaben’s book is sensitive to their stories and their struggles, and she doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties all four of the men experienced as a direct result of the crash of Wapiti 402.

Highly recommended for fellow non-fiction lovers, people interested in aviation, and anyone looking for sensitive journalism about an avoidable tragedy.

 

Sound Advice Thursday: Should I go to law school?

Dear Steph,

I just finished my junior year of college. I wanted to reach out to you to ask about your experience with law school and with law as a career. I get that you didn’t find law as a career to be particularly rewarding — could you elaborate a bit? I’ve always had law school in the back of my mind as a main post-grad option, but I’ve increasingly become skeptical that it’s the right path for me after reading insights like yours. I find it really inspirational that you left law to write. 

Sincerely,

Law School or Bust?

Dear LSOB,

This is a question I’ve gotten many times, in some form, over the years, even before I ever left the law to pursue writing, and I always wonder how to phrase my answer (which basically boils down to: “don’t go to law school unless you have a REALLY good reason”) while still getting across the fact that I actually really liked law school. So let me take a crack at it here.

First, I’ve written before on this blog about my experience of law school in the context of being a woman at Harvard Law School, and I blogged about my time in law school on my old blog (here, for example, and here). If you don’t feel like reading my archives, the basic gist is that I (mostly) loved law school. There were things about it that were highly annoying (see, e.g., 90% of the people), and three years of studying/writing papers could get monotonous (as I illustrated here), but mostly, I really enjoyed it. Law school, for me, was often intellectually engaging, challenging, and, turns out, fun.

No, seriously, I REALLY liked law school. Steph, circa October 2006.

No, seriously, I REALLY liked law school. Steph, circa October 2006.

Keep in mind, however, that I was in law school from 2006-2009 and I secured a job with a firm before the economy completely went to hell, so when I graduated, I was looking at a completely different job landscape than kids who are graduating from law school now (turns out that law graduates are now experiencing a “jobs crisis,” even graduates from top law schools). My experience was also helped by the fact that I was not gunning to be a Supreme Court clerk, so I made time for clinicals that interested me, language classes, salsa dancing, cooking, and hanging out with my now-husband, all of which helped to make my three years at HLS feel fun and easy. If I had been chained to my desk, trying to get on law review or trying to get all A+’s, I might be singing a different tune right now.

So here’s my first big piece of advice about law school: don’t go unless you’re POSITIVE you want to be a lawyer and know exactly WHY you want to be a lawyer. This is what I used to tell Harvard undergrads when I was in law school and was a pre-law tutor at one of the colleges. I’d beg these kids to please please please please not look at law school as a “fall-back” option. There are many reasons why law school is probably the absolute worst choice for a post-undergrad fall-back option, including the huge expense, the crazy debt you will probably rack up, the dwindling job market for lawyers (see the frightening Atlantic article cited above, and this article about how almost half of 2011 law grads can’t afford a house), and the fact that MANY people who go to law school end up not liking either law school or the practice of law (or both).

Consider that if you get a job after graduation (which is no longer a guarantee), there’s a decent chance you’ll go to work at a firm. Which means billable hours. Which means, unless you really love what you’re working on, your life is not going to be much fun, especially when you’re first starting out. Sure, I have friends from law school who are the kind of lawyers who go to court and get to say “Your Honor” and “may I approach the bench” and stuff, but they are the exceptions. The vast majority of my friends work at corporate law firms and have terrible, soul-crushing hours. Just like I used to! And the only way to make those soul-crushing hours worth it is if you’re doing something you care about. Period. Otherwise, life’s too short.

This probably won't be your life.

This probably won’t be your life.

This might be.

This might be.

As you’ve gathered, being an attorney was most definitely not my cup of tea. I did it for three years and then I got out, and I’m approximately 1000% happier now. The lesson here for you is that it’s possible to go to law school and hate being a lawyer, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean I regret going to law school. I enjoyed it, plus it was the right (and well-reasoned) choice for me at the time. I happened to have a crisis of disillusionment with what I was doing (human rights law) midway through my time at HLS and switch horses midstream, which contributed to me ending up at a law firm, which I hated, so there are lots of individual circumstances that affected my experience both as a law student and as a lawyer.

Here comes my second piece of general advice: WORK for a year or two once you’ve graduated college, rather than going straight to law school. Save some money, experience life a little bit, and then reevaluate and see if law school is still something you’re interested in. You can even do what I did, which is to apply to law school when you’re in college and have easy access to professors for rec letters, etc., and then just defer for a year or two if you get in. But really, I think it’s better to just apply to law school when you think you want to go. Everyone I knew at HLS who had taken more than a year off before law school (including my husband, who took three years off between college and law school) was happier, better adjusted, and more focused, because they tended to have entered into law school with clear ideas about what they wanted to do post-graduation.

If you think law school is something that you’d really like, and you’re sure you want to be a lawyer and have a type of law in mind that you think you’d like to practice, I’d strongly recommend working as a paralegal first and getting a sense for what the lawyers’ lives are like and what the work is like. If you can work as a paralegal in the type of practice area you’re interested in, all the better. I worked as a paralegal for a year in Brazil before going to law school, but the horribleness of the lawyers’ lives/work didn’t dissuade me because I wasn’t planning on working in a firm after graduation (but, guess what — I did end up at a firm, anyway. Oops!).

When all is said and done, whether or not to go to law school is an individual decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to sit down and consider what actually makes you happy.  What do you enjoy doing? What interests you? Do your skills and interests match up to a realistic/attainable job within the law? There’s no rush here, so take your time, think it through, and then make the most informed decision you can make.

Best of luck,

~Steph

 

 

Lesotho

This past weekend, we went to Lesotho, which is a tiny kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa (unlike Swaziland, which is just almost surrounded by South Africa).

map-of-lesotho

 

The initial impetus of the trip was to help our friend Elli deliver some school uniforms to the Maseru office of Kick 4 Life, an NGO that does HIV/AIDS prevention and other types of community outreach, including social enterprise, with vulnerable youths and women in the community. So, we set out from Joburg bright and early with bold intentions to get to Maseru by two PM, which seemed reasonable, since it’s only a five hour drive. You’d think, after seven months in Africa, that we would have figured out by this point that road trips NEVER go as planned, ever, but I guess we’re just indefatigable optimists-slash-actual crazy people who do the same thing over and over and expect different results each time. Anyway, long story short, we arrived in Maseru at eight PM, i.e., it took us SIX hours longer than we anticipated to get across the border. Siiiiigh.

After dropping off the uniforms with Kick 4 Life, we drove on 40 minutes to Morija, where we stayed at the Morija Guesthouse, which has gorgeous views of the surrounding hills.

Colorful rocks and sky

Colorful rocks and sky

 

View from the back of the Guesthouse

View from the back of the Guesthouse

The first night, we sat in front of the fire, drank red wine, ate chicken, and then went to bed. The next morning, refreshed, we hired a local guy, Kefue, to take us horseback riding around Morija. Kefue was an interesting character. He was missing some teeth, but he spoke perfect English and told us about his second career as a freelance journalist. He also got into a lively debate with one of our traveling companions, Jed, about Robert Mugabe. Kefue offered a spirited defense of Mugabe’s leadership, which kinda baffled everyone (and pissed off Jed). Anyway. We went on a pony trek and then did some hiking, and then settled in again for a night of wine, chicken, and sitting around.

Here are some photos that Al and I took during the hike and pony trek:

Cow

Cow

View from our hike

View from our hike

Al on top of a rock with dinosaur prints

Al on top of a rock with dinosaur prints

Lesotho is a very beautiful place. I see why the Basotho people are proud of their country, its geography, and its history. Unfortunately, Lesotho has some serious problems with HIV/AIDS, with a staggering 23% of the population HIV positive, as of 2011, which is the third highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. The countries with the two highest prevalence rates, Botswana and Swaziland, are also in Southern Africa, and South Africa has the fourth highest prevalence rate. I spent time this weekend thinking about these statistics and wondering why this part of the world is so susceptible to the spread of HIV/AIDS, and what the best way to tackle it might be. Almost makes me wish I had a degree in public health, instead of that dumb law degree.

But let’s not end on a depressing note! Here are a few more photos of the beautiful Lesotho.

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Book review Monday: The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber

I’ve talked on my blog before about how I am a carrier of the Crime Gene — no, I’m not a criminal; I just enjoy reading about them — but I haven’t discussed any of the excellent crime journalism I’ve read over the past six months, including Richard Lloyd Parry’s outstanding People Who Eat Darkness, and, more recently, Charles Graeber’s The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder.

good nurse

Charles Graeber spent seven years researching the story of former critical care nurse Charles Cullen, who is suspected to be the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. Graeber’s chilling book tells the deeply disturbing story of a nurse who was allowed by hospitals to murder his patients with impunity for sixteen years, and the difficult criminal investigation that finally led to his arrest, confession, trial, and imprisonment. How did Cullen get away with murdering patients without ever having his nursing license(s) revoked? It was shockingly easy, as it turns out. When one hospital started to suspect something was awry — a large number of recovering patients suddenly crashing with sky-high levels of insulin in their blood, for example — they would quietly send Cullen on his way, giving him neutral recommendations for his next hospital job. The hospitals didn’t want to fire Cullen outright for killing patients because that would impact on their own liability. So, one after another, the hospitals chose to cover their own butts instead of protecting patients. And in this way, Cullen bounced from hospital to hospital and continued to kill off patients in each new place of employment.

The investigative journalism show 60 Minutes recently did a segment in which they interviewed Cullen from behind bars, and it is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in quite a while — and I watch a lot of creepy TV, you guys. First of all, Cullen looks like this:

cullen

This look is doing Cullen no favors in convincing people he’s NOT a serial killer.

 

Second of all, he expresses no genuine remorse about murdering what he estimates to be forty people, but what people who have studied the case believe to be a much higher number of human lives, probably in the hundreds. Instead, he sees himself as the victim. Throughout his life, he attempted suicide at least twenty times in a bid for attention, and he enjoyed being the one who had to be taken care of and pitied and nursed back to health. But in his professional capacity as a critical care nurse, he was able to exercise ultimate control and power over truly helpless people. He knew he held their lives in his hands, and rather than caring for them, he murdered them. What makes his crimes especially monstrous is that he was killing people whose families had implicitly trusted him. His actions shook many people’s faith in medical and nursing care. If you can’t trust a healthcare professional to care for your sick loved one, who can you trust?

One of the most interesting parts of this story, to me, was the involvement of a woman named Amy Ridgway, a colleague of Cullen’s who worked alongside him on the night shift at a New Jersey hospital. Ridgway was Cullen’s best friend at work, and she was initially indignant when detectives suggested that he was murdering patients — she just couldn’t believe he was capable of such a thing. After reviewing the evidence of Cullen’s drug requests during his shifts, though, she ended up cooperating with detectives to record her conversations with Cullen, which ultimately resulted in his confession. It took a lot of guts for Ridgway to wear a wire and confront Cullen, especially since she has a heart condition for which she wears a pacemaker, and the stress of acting as an undercover agent was literally putting her life at risk. Her involvement was crucial in bringing Cullen to justice. (She was also interviewed by the 60 Minutes crew.)

Graeber’s book is a quick, gripping read, and will leave you shaken (which is exactly what we want in crime journalism, of course). I’d heartily recommend it for any fellow crime gene carriers, particularly those interested in medical/nursing related crimes. Cullen’s story is shocking on several levels — not just the awful crimes themselves, but the fact that he was allowed by hospital administrations to remain at large for so many years. Horrifying.