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Henry Denker (November 25, 1912 – May 15, 2012) was an American novelist and playwright.
Denker was admitted to the New York Bar in 1935, at the height of the Depression, and he soon left law practice to earn his living by writing. His legal training was reflected in many of his works. During Denker’s brief legal career, he won a Workmen’s Compensation case which,
according to Denker, for the first time established that a physical trauma can induce a mental disease. In another case, Denker served a summons on heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.
Denker was married for 61 years to Edith Heckman, whom he met when he was a patient and she was a nurse in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Denker was the originator and writer of what he describes as the “first television series ever produced,” False Witness, on NBC-TV in 1939. Despite its success, the series was discontinued when the nascent medium of television was converted into an instruction tool for the mass training of Air Raid Wardens in anticipation of the U.S. entry into World War II.
Denker started writing for radio with three productions on CBS Radio’s Columbia Workshop: “Me? I Drive a Hack,” starring Richard Widmark, “Emile, the Seal,” a fantasy, and “Laughter for the Leader,” a political drama in which CBS, without explanation, forbade the character of Hitler to be played with a German accent. During the War World II, Denker worked as a writer on the English Desk of the Office of War Information.
In 1945, Denker began his full-time writing career as the writer of the Radio Readers Digest on CBS. One of his scripts, he says, was the first radio drama about a physical transplant, a corneal transplant of a human eye to restore sight.
In 1947, Denker wrote the first script for the religious radio series The Greatest Story Ever Told, which, in its first year, won the Peabody Award, the Christopher Award, the CCNY Outstanding Program of the Year Award, the Variety Award of the Year 1947, and others. Denker was to write every script in the series, which ran from 1947 to 1957.
Later, on television, Denker wrote, and David Susskind produced, the first dramatic treatment of a heart transplant, “The Choice,” which anticipated the challenge of so many patients in need and so few hearts to give. With a cast including Melvyn Douglas, George Grizzard and Frank Langella, the TV drama included film of an actual surgery provided by Dr. Michael E. DeBakey. Denker recalls that CBS allowed only 30 seconds of the surgical film for fear that the audience would shrink from seeing a beating heart in an open chest cavity.
While writing for radio and television, Denker branched out into the theater, which he describes as “my first love.” Later he began writing novels. Of his 34 published novels, 17—more than any other author’s—have been selected and published by Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.
Six plays by Denker have been produced on Broadway, two in the Kenne
dy Center in Washington, D.C., and two in other venues.
Denker died of lung cancer on May 15, 2012.
“Error of Judgment” is probably one of the finest medical-suspense, fictional novels penned by Henry Denker. While the entire novel is ensconced in a medical background, it
is a very apt description of true love on the one hand and human frailties on the other – it captures the very essence of avarice, greed, selfishness, manipulation and vindictiveness that form part and parcel of human nature. It is a story of intrigue and how Truth shall always triumph despite many odds to the contrary; it is equally a story of how false pride and arrogance shall inevitably have their fall.
Dr. Harvey Price, M.D. was one of the top-notch, senior attending surgeons of State University Hospital, in its Obstetric-Gynecology (Ob-Gyn) department, since the last eleven years. He had had an excellent reputation in the Northeast, having been affiliated with a most prestigious hospital there. His reason for leaving had hardly been unique in itself – he had grown weary of the hassle of life in the large old city. Instead, he preferred a newer community where he and his wife, Margaret – of long standing – could live graciously in the pleasant suburbs, only ten minutes away from the hospital. Dr. Harvey Prince was tall, handsome, with a commanding presence and was a veritable genius with a scalpel. He prided himself on being a highly influential personality – one who held a position of power and prestige in the hospital.
Dr. Prince tended to pretend great affability and pleasantness, towards his patients, to hide his basic aloofness. He rarely – if ever – took the time to listen to his patients’ worries or complaints. Dr. Prince tended to leave such ‘menial jobs’ to his underlings. His patients became more and more suspicious when he laughed too much or when he tended to smile too much – they invariably felt he was hiding some vital detail from them and most of the time, the patient was sadly right.
It came as no great surprise, when the resident doctors of the hospital nicknamed him, “Goldfingers” – his skill and economy of time, whilst in surgery, were legendary and all that he seemed to touch turned to gold. He commanded a six-figure tax shelter himself. He was known to give long, drawn-out speeches to the attending resident doctors on how they should think of building up a substantial income for themselves by investing in blue- chip companies and energy stocks – he continually advised residents on how they ought to concentrate on piling up equity, till the day that they retired from private practice. He seemed to be obsessed with money and kept thinking of ways and means by which an already rich man could get richer.
On the downside, he was known to perform a lot more hysterectomies than most of his other colleagues in the Ob-Gyn department of the hospital – he was known to make swift – and often impulsive – decisions in the operating theatre, without any true concern for the well-being of his patients. It soon became obvious to many other attending doctors that a lot of his operational procedures were unnecessary and that they were more a result of his self-serving ways and callousness. Since Dr. Prince was notorious for his vengeful ways and vindictive personality, most of his colleagues and junior attendings remained willfully silent in the face of gross injustice to his patients. Meanwhile, Dr. Prince continued heartlessly on this self-same “operating rampage,” as long as the dollars kept flowing in.
It is true that Dr. Prince was one of the finest and most skillful technicians in the operating room – his incisions were akin to cosmetic gems and his sutures were like works of art. However, he had a tendency to get carried away with his own skill. He worshipped technique to the exclusion of his patients’ total welfare. The surgery became more important than the patient herself. He seemed to court difficult, even dangerous surgery, to prove that he could accomplish it. He reveled in the praise, admiration and even in the envy of his colleagues. He was in love with his own ability. He became like an actor – a star – who needed fame, praise and applause all the time. He entered the operating room thinking that he was about to give a great show. He did give a great show – most of the time and overdid, in the bargain too. Perfectly healthy uteruses were removed; ovaries that other surgeons would have hesitated to remove, he removed without a qualm or second thought. The statistics seemed to fade away in the face of the ruthless, if elegant, butchery practiced on the patient.
Rita Hallen had sharp, neat features which were accented by the severe headdress that she was required to wear in the operating room, where she presided as chief scrub nurse. She was dark-haired and tall and when she was not attired in her required hospital garb, she was apt to be pleasing and attractive. She had turned forty recently and impressed strangers as being in her mid-thirties. A tyrant in the O.R., Rita had proved to be most inept in her private life. She had met Dr. Prince when she was twenty-nine and he was forty-four. Rita was the essence of professionalism – she avoided cultivating friendships and sought no personal attachments in the hospital or outside. Soon, she found herself falling prey to the wily charms and seduction of Dr. Prince. They started having a torrid, if unfulfilling, sexual affair. There were times when Rita could barely hide her pent-up resentment against the handsome man who seemed bent on “using” her to satisfy his own self-serving ways. There were days when Dr. Prince spoke avidly of the day when he would be free of his wife, Margaret – he spoke of the day when he would be free to marry Rita. He always talked that way but over the years his reasons had subtly changed. Whereas earlier, possible damage to his professional reputation stood in the way, in more recent times his problem had become how to divorce Margaret without giving her legal grounds to take most of his substantial holdings. Since Dr. Prince had proved time and again, as being an unscrupulous liar and vengeful manipulator, Rita found herself growing to hate the man to whom she had unstintingly given so many years of her life – at the crux of this story, she was already on the threshold of menopause herself. At this stage in her life, she needed love, concern and consideration – yet, Prince, being the self-centered man that he was, had little or no understanding or consideration to offer her. Instead, he resented her moody silences and mood swings. Since, she knew Prince to be a potent adversary, she dared not speak out in her own defense and bore her lot in quiet – if intolerant – silence.
Dr. Craig Pearson, M.D. was a dedicated and talented second-year resident doctor at State University Hospital. Pearson was well-liked by all his colleagues and especially by the Head of the Ob-Gyn department of the hospital, for his fair-minded and honest ways. He was a man of conscience and held values and morality in high stead. One of the reasons why Dr. Pearson would make a fine doctor and surgeon was the fact that he was a caring and understanding man who took the time to listen to his patients’ woes and took the time to reassure them. He equally tended to be a stubborn, self-willed, obstinate and principled young man and was willing to put his own career on the line when he found that a certain patient had been gravely wronged by Prince’s rashness and callousness in the operating theater.
Dr. Katherine (Kate) Lindstrom, M.D. was a practicing consultant psychiatrist at the State University Hospital. She was a disarmingly small blonde young woman of twenty-nine years. Standing at a little over five feet tall, with a slender and quite feminine body, she was destined to be taken for a college junior for the next five years of her life. Actually, she had graduated from a Midwestern university “cum laude;” had been accepted by its medical school and had broken off her relationship with a law student to concentrate on her own career. Actually, Dr. Lindstrom was driven by a strong sense of morality, integrity and justice herself – it was her boldness, her fair-mindedness and honesty that endeared her to Dr. Craig Pearson. Their relationship had crossed the boundaries of friendship a long time ago and they had become lovers, over time. She remained a true and sincere friend to Dr. Pearson, till the bitter end, even in his most troubled and angry moments.
Cynthia Horton was the young, troubled patient from Room 442 of State University Hospital. She was barely twenty-two years old and on the threshold of marriage, within a matter of one month, from the date of her admission to the hospital. She was admitted for an exploratory laparotomy – surgery performed through the abdomen for the purpose of doing a biopsy on her right ovary. She had signed an informed consent form to this effect, on the intervention of Dr. Lindstrom who was treating Cynthia for certain psychiatric issues that she was facing.
When Dr. Prince performed the procedure on Cynthia, it was soon discovered that the right ovary presented itself with a tumour exhibiting borderline carcinoma/malignancy. Dr. Prince wasted no time in performing a bilateral salpingoophorectomy, as he thought was clearly indicated in such a case. In simple language, Dr. Prince performed an unnecessary hysterectomy on a young woman; he removed both of her ovaries and removed her uterus, in the name of saving her life. It was true that there was no malignancy involvement of her left ovary, uterus, nodes, liver, diaphragm, omentum and other organs. Dr. Craig Pearson objected in the strongest terms, against such a drastic action – a matter that was not taken to at all kindly by Dr. Prince. Dr. Pearson was of the opinion that since the patient presented carcinoma in her right ovary of low malignant potential, that the patient be closed up to await the definitive pathology report, due in five days time. He was most definitely strongly opposed to the bilateral procedure – as advocated by Dr. Prince – when a more conservative procedure could have worked just as well. As Dr. Pearson argued, it was not as if the patient’s life was in danger; the cancer was “in situ” and could be treated adequately without as much haste and impatience – such as that exhibited by Dr. Prince.
As a result of Dr. Prince’s erroneous lapse of judgment, Cynthia started exhibiting a host of serious complications – in a medical case, such as hers, that could have turned out to be relatively simple. She developed thrombophlebitis and was in danger of developing a pulmonary embolism (a fatal condition where a blood clot travels up to the lungs and heart and causes a painful death). As a result of this complication, the doctors were unable to prescribe the artificial estrogen hormone that would aid in preventing a full-blown, premature menopause. Cynthia became severely depressed, cried incessantly, became exceedingly nervous, got unpleasant hot flushes and started exhibiting all the symptoms of menopause, such as those seen in middle-aged women. One evening, Dr. Craig Pearson was paged urgently to prevent her from committing suicide. Dr. Pearson was overcome with rage and helplessness and he started making the strongest recommendations that Cynthia’s medical case be presented during the Pathology Conference; at the Morbidity and Mortality Conference and at Grand Rounds. For all his efforts, to gain maximum awareness and some sense of justice for Cynthia and her family, obstacles of all kinds were constantly thrown in his path by the hospital management, administrators and by Dr. Prince in particular.
Dr. Prince went on to exhibit his vengeful and manipulative best and Dr. Pearson faced humiliation and angry recriminations, every step of the way. Finally, the hospital convened an official hearing to address the eventual dismissal of Dr. Pearson from the hospital for his alleged insubordination, arrogance and breach of conduct amounting to basically unethical behavior. Dr. Pearson stood not a chance of winning, in the hearing – he was, after all, only a young doctor, on the threshold of his career, up against some of the most influential members of the Medical Board. After a host of witnesses were presented and lengthy arguments from both parties were heard, the panel of judges declared that Dr. Pearson be immediately dismissed from service.
In the meanwhile, Dr. Lindstrom was playing sleuth to an anonymous note that she had received: the writer requested that she probe into Dr. Prince’s previous employment, especially his conduct with other young, resident doctors. In the course of her investigation, Dr. Lindstrom found another young doctor – Dr. Stiehl – whose career had been destroyed by Dr. Prince’s arrogance and vindictiveness. Dr. Stiehl – like Dr. Pearson – had been accused of insubordination, arrogance and unethical conduct – just because he had dared to speak out in favour of the truth. Dr. Lindstrom brought in sufficient pressure on the Medical Board to reconvene and re-open the hearing, for another four hours so that she could present her witness to them. When the panel of judges heard damning testimony from this new witness, they were forced to reinstate Dr. Pearson and all his privileges at the State University Hospital.
Dr. Prince was dismissed from years of service and was forced to leave the hospital in a cloud of disgrace. It was much later that Dr. Pearson realized that the anonymous letter writer must be Rita Hallen – chief scrub nurse and Dr. Prince’s long-time, neglected mistress.
Rita must have undoubtedly realized the hidden reason for the sincere thanks that Dr. Pearson offered her soon after in the O.R.
There will come many times in your life when you need to stand up for what you strongly believe to be right and true. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you strongly believe in, even if it means that you are the only one left standing. After all, what is the sense of being driven by the strength of one’s beliefs and one’s convictions, if one either cannot – or will not – stand up to protect them?
May it also teach you to know that False Pride and Arrogance inevitably have their fall.
Despite many odds to the contrary, Truth shall always Triumph.
That is the Law of Nature and it shall forever be so!