Confirmation Bias, Witch Hunts, and Nursing Homes

In one of my daily (hourly?) excursions down the rabbit hole that is the Internet, ended up reading about the Salem Witch trials. (FYI: the original Q: Salem is named after Jerusalem, right? How early on was it founded? Did the founders expressly or merely implicitly intend to establish the New Jerusalem when they founded it?)

A couple things leapt out: Cotton Mather was a very well-educated and accomplished man – Harvard grad, son of Harvard’s president, published over 200 books. The witch hunts were not started by ignorant rubes, but by an obvious member of the social elite. Then, once they got going, Confirmation Bias, or You’ll Find What You’re Looking For, kicked in, and fed on itself. Bad things, which sane people know are always with us, happened exactly as usual, but, because of the lather Mather had whipped up, all these very typical bad things were attributed to witches. Then, once the presence of witches among us had been confirmed, that made it all the more likely and necessary that the next bad thing would also result in a witch being found out.

2 years, 200+ accusations and 20 or so executions later, more reasonable voices, including Increase Mather’s, Cotton’s dad, prevailed, and the executions were stopped. To recap: a highly educated member of the elite whipped up a panic over some invisible cause of every bad thing that routinely happens, the many get caught up in the hysteria, everybody and especially their papist household help get accused, ridiculous evidence-free trials are held, people are executed and lives destroyed, and then, finally, it ended after saner heads prevailed.

We should be so lucky.

Had a conversation like many similar conversations I have had over the years, discussing nursing home care. While many nursing home workers are saints, some are very evil, and most are merely human, meaning they get tired, sometimes, of taking care of whiney, difficult, demanding people or simply having to do basic rather disgusting care for unappreciative (or simply unconscious) people. Last night, I was told of a visit where the unfortunate incarceree could not speak because her mouth had so dried up. What she needed was a drink of water, but that would require someone standing there and helping, one sip at a time, and then repeating that process regularly and dependably. Upon complaint to the staff, they hooked up an I.V. and pumped her full of liquids. This, I am told, is hard on a frail person’s kidneys. Be that as it may, the poor old woman died shorty afterwards.

Another story: another old lady was under a ‘check every 2 hours’ protocol, because she was demented and tended to try to walk around, which she could not safely manage. A visitor found her on the floor with a broken hip – where she had been for 5 hours.

An older story of my own: In the last few days of my father’s life, the nursing home doctor called my mom and me in, and, under the guise of sympathy and kindness, basically tried to talk us into letting him instruct the staff to not try to keep him from getting food in his lungs (he was loosing control of swallowing) and then withhold basic antibiotics when the inevitable infection resulted. Because he was on his way out, why fight it? (When you could help it along a bit, was unspoken but unmistakable.)

And on and on. I’d imagine anybody who has had a loved in a home would have similar stories, how it was only because a visitor insisted that a dirty diaper was changed, that a patient was patiently fed instead of having food shoved in front of them, and that a doctor take a look at that wound.

We’ve removed that check. Then, we’ve done our best to terrify the workers and the patients. An angel of death would be far more free to do his thing, but that’s unnecessary. That infected wound that goes untreated, the dehydration that leads to falling and breaking a hip, the general neglect that frustration, terror, and overwork are bound to create – it would be shocking if nursing home death were not rising dramatically simply due to the vigilance of visiting loved ones having been removed.

Confirmation Bias. We find what we’re looking for. There’s one cause of nursing home deaths everyone is looking for. There are a thousand others no one is there to prevent or even notice.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

9 thoughts on “Confirmation Bias, Witch Hunts, and Nursing Homes”

  1. Lockdowns kill more people than the red China virus. Between withheld treatment through neglect to torture (you can beat people up with dementia) there’s a lot of terrible things going on. And that does not include mandating that nursing homes accept patients with an infectious virus in the midst of a severe PPE shortage.

    If you want lockdowns you want to torture Grandma. To death.

    …as the mask Sharia would say.

  2. Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    I’d imagine anybody who has had a loved in a home would have similar stories, how it was only because a visitor insisted that a dirty diaper was changed, that a patient was patiently fed instead of having food shoved in front of them, and that a doctor take a look at that wound.

    We’ve removed that check.

    I had not thought of this aspect.

    1. Take a bunch of people in, at best, delicate health, who require a lot of often very unpleasant care, hire people at or near minimum wage to do the work, overwork them, terrify them, and then remove all external oversite.

      What could possibly go wrong?

      I also recall a conversation I once had with a dear friend who has been a nurse and supervising nurse for decades. After having had a variety of experiences with nurses, having been there for the birth of our 5 children and the decline of half a dozen relatives, I observed to her; it seems nurses come in two basic flavors: those who really want to help people, and those who get off on having power over people. She said ‘yes’ without a moment’s hesitation.

      So the hired help tends to be immigrants (thank God, as they mostly come from cultures with better traditions of respect for the elderly than ours) , but the medical professionals – ?? At least some of them are in that nursing home on a sick power trip.

      And NOBODY is really monitoring them now.

  3. Lots of our younger generation know all about the Salem witch trials, thanks to Arthur Miller’s play. Got my daughters defending the Puritans of all people in their high school American Lit classes, which was probably better for them than for the faith of the teacher.
    Well, not ALL about it. They don’t know about the follow-up commission that determined there were no witches. And although they were taught that Miller wrote his play to illuminate the dangers of McCarthyism, they were not taught that a) there were no witches in Salem (in 1692, anyway), and b) there were Communists in the State Department. Oh, the wondrous uses to which a cherry-picked history can be put.

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