This book review is by Ezra Ellenberg a rising senior at the University of Maryland at College Park. He’s majoring in philosophy with a minor in neuroscience. This summer he’s interning at Dwolla.
“The Good Nurse” is at once a tragic story of a tortured, murderous individual and an indictment of our healthcare system that allowed him to slip through its pores. As the book progresses, anger, confusion, and disgust shift away from the incarcerated nurse and onto the unpunished hospital administrators. How many of these deaths could have been avoided if healthcare providers were more concerned with patient safety than upholding their reputation or covering their asses? Then again, how can we expect hospitals to champion patient safety entirely and unconditionally when they constantly face the threat of law suits, crippling losses in revenue, and eventual and unavoidable employee layoffs? The result is a system deficient in accountability, efficiency, and transparency.
Charlie Cullen murdered innocent people. We can, and did, put him in prison. But do not be mistaken; there is nothing monstrous about Nurse Cullen. He exemplifies Arendt’s idea of “The Banality of Evil” in that there is nothing uniquely, inherently horrifying, or even different, about his mental architecture. Granted, Cullen had other troubling issues — at certain stages of his life he drank too much, was clinically depressed, and even attempted suicide. However, Graeber makes it clear that Cullen endured a childhood full of abuse and isolation, and much of what Cullen says leads me to believe he has a lot in common with us “normal” people. He wanted to help people. He wanted someone to pay attention to him, to love him. He was lonely, mentally ill, and did not have a proper support system or coping mechanism. Murder was the manifestation of his unchosen circumstances, not the product of his perverted, evil genius. Therein lies the truly disturbing nature of “The Good Nurse.”
Charles Graeber’s training and experience as an investigative reporter help him create a page turner with short quick-hitting chapters told by a variety of voices. Graeber masterfully constructs Amy’s character and her struggle to decide between her loyalty to Cullen (and by extension, herself, given the way she values trust), and her duty and desire to thwart any attempts at harming her patients. Her decision is the pivotal factor of the investigation. It’s a quick and interesting read, and although we already know how the story ends, Graeber’s storytelling prowess infuses mystery into every page. I am fascinated to see how this book will influence any further legal action against hospital executives that disrupted police investigations, and were perhaps complicit in the deaths of innocent patients.
written by Ezra Ellenberg