His stethoscope is loaded

The war on terror must be pursued wherever it leads and right now it points toward people in green scrubs.

By Garrison Keillor
July 11, 2007 2:29PM (UTC)
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It may seem craven to say so, but a person really had to wonder at the inability of trained medical personnel to hook wire A to battery B to alarm clock C and detonate a car loaded with gasoline and nails in London. And then having to resort to the rather amateurish alternative of crashing a Jeep Cherokee into the Glasgow airport terminal -- the suicide bomb alumni association must be shaking their heads.

Nonetheless, the fiasco in London is bound to bring new directives from the Department of Homeland Security forbidding doctors and nurses from operating motor vehicles. It only makes sense. Where there is smoke, there is fire. The war on terror must be pursued wherever it leads and right now it points toward people with stethoscopes.


It is the DHS that requires us to remove our shoes at the airport and put our toothpaste in a little plastic bag, all in homage to previous unsuccessful terrorists, and so a new rule from Secretary Shirtsoff seems inevitable. What evil lurks in the hearts of men, the secretary knows. Doctors have been shown to constitute a security threat: therefore they must not be allowed to drive cars or have backpacks or briefcases, which can conceal bombs. They should carry their possessions in clear plastic bags and they should go barefoot at all times. When it comes to security, there can be no shortcuts, no half-measures.

Perhaps these rules should apply only to medical personnel from the Middle East, or to all swarthy doctors, or those who have fez marks on their foreheads or who set off the fig detector, but that would require a lot of on-site decisions by motor vehicle bureaus and security personnel -- a blanket rule is easier to enforce. All docs take walks. After all, the TSA folks at the airport don't let you squeeze out a little Ipana on your finger and prove that it's only toothpaste and not nitroglycerine -- there just isn't time for that monkey business.

And so, starting Sept. 1, everybody -- no exceptions -- in the health-services field will be banned from driving anything with an ignition system. Thank you for your cooperation. You will be allowed to ride a bicycle or use public transportation, but you may not get behind the wheel or even sit in the front seat, lest you have a fit and overpower your driver and steer the vehicle into a terminal. Also you must register the purchase of nails with your local law enforcement agency.


Will this new rule apply to emergency medical technicians? Yes. The rescue vehicles they drive contain potentially explosive oxygen tanks, and so each EMT will have a non-EMT handler to keep an eye on him or her and check the gurney for suspicious bulges.

Will there be larger and uglier concrete barriers blocking public buildings? Yes, enormous ones the size of split-level ramblers, made of specially hardened concrete that will survive our civilization.

How can we be certain that our own internist or pediatrician does not have explosives strapped to his body? Medical personnel will be sniffed by trained dogs. They will be watched closely on closed-circuit cameras for beads of sweat, rapid pupil movements or other signs of anxiety. They will be required to wear transparent scrubs so that their bodies are visible and also any explosive devices.


If medical people are deprived of the right to drive, how will they serve the good folks of Yoknapatawpha County or get to the hospital late at night in an emergency? The DHS will employ and train a new corps of drivers to transport medical personnel and to watch them for furtive behavior such as whispering or making odd hand gestures.

These driver/watchers will be English majors. It is a known fact that nobody who wrote a term paper about the novels of Edith Wharton has ever committed an act of terrorism. Anyone who can write 3,000 words deconstructing "The House of Mirth" and find the subtexts and overtones of Sylvia Plath, the Beach Boys' "Fun, Fun, Fun," the journals of Meriwether Lewis, and MySpace has done enough violence and lost his appetite for terror.


At the moment, a half-million English majors are employed in the service and hospitality industry but they are ready to answer their country's call and assume responsible positions in the field of healthcare security. Trust us. We will watch the doctors and make sure they do not hurt you.

Thank you for your understanding.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)


© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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