Our next villain is the friendliest seeming fellow, and one would be hard pressed to find a more likable character anywhere. His name is Sir Tannity, and he is all smiles and noble gestures. Never an unkind word escapes his lips. To even call him a villain seems just wrong. How could such an innocent, good-natured guy be grouped together with the likes of Sly Sufero, whom we met in a previous encounter about Sleeping Beauty?
(all GIFs courtesy of GIPHY)
Remember, the thing that is so special about these particular villains is that they convince us to believe that they are good for us. Then we end up inviting them to hang around in our closest circles and confide in them all our thoughts and feelings, precisely because we are convinced they have our best interest at heart. We think they are the good guys. It is only when we take a step back and think about what happens when we listen to them, that we see their true harm.
So let’s take a look at this villain’s profile and then I’ll tell you a real life story of how he caused the deaths of countless innocent people.
Sir Tannity’s MO: Convincing his victims not to question ideas. His methods are surprisingly effective because he rarely resorts to confronting a new idea directly.
He is probably the most crafty and difficult to detect of all the villains, because sometimes it’s only when we realize what he is NOT rewarding that we uncover what he is after.
He is the ideal partner for other villains, because he has an easy task convincing us to let him in, and if we have already made friends with any of the other villains, Sir Tannity praises us for our past choices and tells us how wise we are to stay the same no matter what happens.
See if you recognize Sir Tannity’s trademark tactics:
"Why waste time questioning something you already know? You know that answer. Let's look for something more worth your time."
He is quick to point out that anything that conflicts with what you already believe must be false, or else you would have already changed your mind.
Here is one of his favorites: “Be true to who you are.”
While in the right hands, this can actually be helpful advice, the way Sir Tannity employs it leads you to stay the same person and never look for ways to change or improve.
Let’s see what happened to a group of people who welcomed Sir Tannity into their inner circles not too long ago, the lives that were lost, and the fate of the poor man who called him out.
We are going to look at the story in three parts. Hopefully there is a happy ending in sight, but we will have to see, now won't we?
Our story begins with a well-to-do family living in a hillside town called Buda. I’ve visited the place in person, and it still holds a charm and elegance of its younger days. Its green hillsides provide a breath of fresh air for the residents of the surrounding urban areas, and it holds many posh looking homes and villas.
It was here alongside the banks of the Danube river that our ill-fated hero began his journey. For reasons unknown, rather than stay and work alongside his father in his very successful Semmelweis family business, our young hero Ignaz decided he wanted to strike out on his own and follow his dream of becoming a doctor.
He accomplished his dream in the city of Vienna where he completed his studies and obtained a position as a medical professor’s assistant in the General Hospital of Vienna.
Part of what may have drawn young Ignaz to study medicine was the exciting new approach to science that was highly popular in Vienna at the time. It focused on questioning superstitious beliefs of the past and learning through observable empirical results. Also known as the positivist movement, its proponents included young Ignaz's supervising medical professor.
This erupting shift in seeking truth was no doubt what also attracted Sir Tannity to the scene. All this questioning of long-held superstitious beliefs was sure to lead to many changes, any of which could unmask his true character and get him evicted from his comfy position in the inner circles of society.
It definitely had to be stopped.
So as fate would have it, Sir Tannity (our fictional name for a true villain) was well entrenched at the General Hospital of Vienna upon Ignaz's arrival, and he was quick to befriend the young and enthusiastic intern.
Ignaz was appointed to be the equivalent of a chief resident today, and his duties included seeing the patients being admitted to the hospital.
Ignaz was completely shocked on his first day on the job when one of his first appointments was to admit an expecting mother into a maternity clinic to have her baby. Everything was going well until the woman realized Ignaz would be sending her to the medical doctors' clinic instead of the midwives. The woman broke down in tears, begging him to let her go to the midwives clinic instead.
Ignaz politely explained how the healthcare rules and hospital policies, which he was now pleased to be quite familiar with, gave him no leeway to grant her request. Despite this, however, Ignaz reassured her that the physicians who would care for her would be the top-notch experts coming directly from the ranks of the professors at the prestigious medical school.
Rather than being comforted, the woman began begging and pleading with poor young Ignaz not to send her to the doctors' clinic to have her baby. When he saw how distraught she had become, he asked why it was so important to her. Blushing, she hesitantly explained that the doctors' clinic was cursed.
She feared for her life if she had to go there.
Ah, Ignaz sighed. Superstitions. Ignaz did all he could to reassure her, but there was no convincing her. If it weren't the only way she could ensure her child would be taken care of by the state's welfare assistance program, she wouldn't go anywhere near the doctors' clinic, but in the end, she submitted to being admitted there, and as Ignaz left the room she had buried her face in her hands weeping.
Shaking his head about the power of superstitious beliefs, Ignaz determined to prove empirically that there was no curse in doctors' clinic. It was no good for expectant mothers to get so upset, and if he could show them there was no curse, it would be better for everyone.
He paid a visit to the recordkeeper's office and asked for numbers of admitted mothers in each clinic and the number of deaths.
Much to his surprise, the number of admitted mothers and births was there, but no one had taken the time to compile numbers of deaths. No one was taking this curse question seriously.
Sir Tannity was quick to point out to the agitated young Ignaz that there would be no point in the numbers, as the fear of the women was based entirely on superstition. When Ignaz suggested he could compile the numbers himself, Sir Tannity laughed it off, saying he could if he wanted, but it would be a waste of time.
As Ignaz began putting together the numbers, there was an alarming trend. Almost twice as many mothers in the doctors' clinic were dying after childbirth.
How could this be?
Ignaz rushed with his findings to speak with his supervising professor. Sir Tannity intercepted him enroute. As Ignaz explained what the numbers showed, Sir Tannity's friendly face nodded in understanding and he patted Ignaz on the shoulder. This was a normal occurrence, and variations in numbers were to be expected. There was nothing to be concerned about, and in time Ignaz would get used to it. After all, it comes with the territory.
"But there are almost twice as many deaths in the doctors clinic! How could that be normal?"
"I've been here much longer than you, believe me, it's just to be expected."
Ignaz couldn't let it go. He was sure his supervising professor would make this a priority and begin at once figuring out how to solve it. But Sir Tannity had preceded Ignaz to the professor's office, and Ignaz was turned away with faint reassurance that this was normal and admonition to focus on his current duties until he was further along in his career.
But the problem was, Ignaz didn't have an answer for the next mother who feared for her life and begged him not to send her there.
Weren't doctors supposed to question everything and believe what they can measure? He could see the numbers right there in black and white that the doctors' clinic was in fact more deadly. What could be more important than saving these precious mothers' lives?
Since no one else was willing to look at it, Ignaz championed the cause himself, testing everything he could think of to find what the difference could be between the two clinics. Midwives delivered babies with the mothers on their sides while doctors delivered with them on their backs. Ignaz tested having the mothers in the doctors’ clinic deliver on their backs, but the numbers didn't change.
He thought maybe the priest's toll of death as he came through clinic one's maternity ward was disturbing the mothers, so he had the priest vary his route, but the numbers stayed the same. He questioned everything, but whatever he changed didn't do anything to change the numbers.
No matter what he did, still twice as many mothers were losing their life to a deadly fever in one clinic than in the other.
He was more than frustrated, and to make it worse, he had no real answer for the frightened mothers who continued to beg him not to send them there. And now he had to agree with them. Every woman he sent to the doctors' clinic was doubling the chance she would never live to raise her baby.
Ignaz finally could take no more and had to take a leave of absence. He travelled to Italy, and upon his return, he learned of a fateful stroke of luck, which would lead to an incredible breakthrough. Unfortunately for Ignaz, the stroke was in fact a scalpel, as a good friend of Ignaz was accidentally poked during an autopsy. The teachers and students worked on cadavers as a regular part of their learning.
The small poke of the knife got infected and his friend quickly became sick and died. What struck Ignaz was that the symptoms of his friend matched exactly the symptoms of the mothers who died after childbirth.
How could he not have noticed before that there was a tremendous difference between the two clinics? The doctors frequently came from examining dead bodies in their rush to deliver a baby in the maternity ward. But none of the midwives ever handled the dead bodies.
Perhaps this was the missing link to this grim puzzle that had eluded and tormented him for so long. Ignaz hypothesized that somehow tiny cadaverous particles were on the doctors hands and these particles were infecting the mothers.
The standard practice in the autopsy rooms for getting rid of the stench of the cadavers was to wash down the area with a chlorinated lime solution.
Ignaz began washing his hands with the same solution.
He also implemented hand-washing practices in the maternity ward and lo and behold, the number of deaths instantly dropped!
It was like a miracle. Who could have imagined that something as simple as washing one’s hands could save someone else’s life?!
Unfortunately for Ignaz, this discovery had the potential to ignite all kinds of additional questioning of previous beliefs, and change to the status quo. Therefore Sir Tannity jumped into the fray in order to head it off before it could spread any further.
By the time Ignaz had his data together to present to the professors, Sir Tannity had already persuaded them that there was nothing new in the data, that there was no proof of these mysterious and unprovable “cadaverous particles”, and that the young Ignaz was simply jumping to false conclusions based on limited data.
This was especially true, since there were far more complex reasons for disease than a simple hand washing could affect. What about the balance of humours in the patient’s body, and a list of 26 other things that were known to lead to a mother dying after childbirth. This handwashing thing was a new brand of snake oil and a waste of time.
Ignaz couldn’t have been more crushed.
Sir Tannity diligently headed him off at every turn, and this wonderful discovery that could be saving so many lives, was squashed at its root and prevented from making any difference beyond those few patients where Ignaz had a say. Ignaz couldn’t let it go and continued to press other doctors to listen, and before he knew it, he was pushed out of the hospital entirely.
This is the power of a friendly seeming insider who keeps the status quo going no matter what new information comes to light. It didn't matter how clear the data, nor how well Ignaz explained it, the doctors were sure it was a farce.
Sir Tannity truly a treacherous and formidable foe, and not easily discovered.
But now you know what to look for, so you can catch him in the act.
Let's all try to be more like the young Ignaz: willing to question things, willing to experiment, willing to put even the most seemingly obvious perspectives to the test.
Perhaps in doing so, we too can save a life or two.
We’ll continue story in parts 2 and 3, and perhaps Ignaz will find a way to thwart Sir Tannity and make a bigger difference in the world after all.