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Friday, June 1, 2012

Life, Death and the Clearance Rack

In 1997, I was hired as the art department manager of the Jayhawk Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas.  I learned the college book business under the tutelage of Bill Muggy.  Bill had been working in the college books for over 20 years at that point.  He did a little of everything at the store.  He ordered some products, created advertisements and was always looking for the next fad or hook that would engage the public and remind them to shop at our store.

That is how I met Nathan Muggy, Bill's son.  Nathan was in his early twenties and was a quiet and introspective artist.  He would occasionally work at the store, but he would not stay long. Often Bill would bring him in to work on ad copy or during book rush. 

In the fall off 1997 the newest trend was South Park.  Bill decided to connect with the incoming youth with this new animation style.  So Nathan labored long hours creating a commercial short for the store in the South Park Style.  As I enjoyed both art and South Park, Nathan and I talked quite a bit.  After about two weeks Nathan finished the animation work and was gone again. Then Bill purchased an amazing quantity of South Park Shirts at the NACS (National Association of College Stores) conference that spring.

Now, Jayhawk bookstore was very good at selling Jayhawk merchandise, but we were not famous for trendy fashion choices.  So we sold some of those shirts 1998.  By 1999 the gift dept. staff were eager to place them on the clearance rack.

In 1997 the catch phrase was Titanic's "I am king of the world!" Or "You killed Kenny," if you watched South Park.  Every child who could walk was begging for a razor scooter and folks were starting to choose that new-fangled Google as their preferred web browser. 

And in 1997 Michael Millenson wrote Demanding Medical Excellence.  It is well-researched book written in an amazingly readable style.  It is a tome dedicated to quality and safety and the future of medicine. Michael is a journalist who wrote for the Chicago Tribune covering health matters.  His knowledge is both broad and deep.  Prior to the publication of IOM's report: "To Err is Human," Michael was already sounding the warning bell.  He addresses topic after topic that still resonates in our current medical landscape.

Michael was well upon his life course in the world health, whilst I sold art supplies and books. Rarely would my life intersect with thoughts of life or death and system of medicine. 

Then In 1999 Nathan Muggy died.

Bill called me in the early morning that spring day.  He said that Nathan had been in an automobile and drove off the side of a mountain.  Nathan had hit his head. All of this had happened in the Virgin Islands and Bill would have to fly there later that day to help his son. 

When Bill arrived Nathan was unconscious and badly injured.  His brain was swelling.  Nathan lingered for a few days.  When it looked like death was inevitable, Bill tried to organize an organ donation team, so Nathan's death would not be in vain.  They were not prepared for such requests at the remote hospital and Nathan died without being a donor as he wished.

In 2000, we placed the last of the South Park Shirts on sale and I cried.  I cried that those shirts were still there and Nathan was not. 

It is now 2012 and so many years have come and gone.  So many trends have passed us by.  So this is Michael's Jacket. He stands as a still point in time.  The paint of time smears by as Michael stands defiantly.  In his hands he holds his book, now entitled Still Demanding Medical Excellence. 

"Life, Death and the Clearance Rack" a jacket for Michael Millenson 

To the left of the painting a pay phone still has a place of honor on the wall.  A young person rides a scooter by combining trends from years apart as he wears both a South Park T-shirt and crocs shoes.  

To the right a young man stands wearing a trench coat.  Is that Neo from the Matrix or student from Columbine High School? A woman in foreground eagerly texts as she walks, while in the background the twin towers of The World Trade Center still define the New York Skyline.

Time Passing 

So much life, so much death in the last 15 years and Michael still rings the warning bell.  I dare all of you who read this, do something.  Please do something to prevent healthcare harm.  Join the participatory medicine movement, demand excellence within medicine. Do it now, before one more trend hits the clearance rack or one more person dies.    

Life, Death and the Clearance Rack


  1. I've somehow managed to miss this title, so thank you for the reading suggestion! And thank you for the eloquent call-to-arms (or call-to-demand) that we all need!

  2. Happy to join in you crusade for health care that delivers excellence to very person, very place, every visit, every time.