When the Doctor Is the Killer

Blind Eye: How the Medical Establishment Let a Doctor Get Away with Murder by James B. Stewart

Sure, I slept with the lights on for a few nights after reading Hannibal. But nobody has scared me as deeply as the demented subject of James B Stewart’s new chiller, Blind Eye.

Dr. Michael Swango is a pure sociopath. After flying through medical school despite learning so little and acting so strangely that his classmates petitioned the school to flunk him, Swango fails upward impressively, landing one of the most prestigious internships in the country, at the vaunted Ohio State Hospitals program. He spends his free time and summers as a paramedic in his hometown of Quincy, Il (also the hometown of the author).

There he poisons many of his colleagues.

“Is this tea a little too sweet?” was an oft-heard question among those who would have preferred Equal to arsenic—and tells his colleagues how excited he is by Henry Lee Lucas. “Wouldn’t that be great?” he exclaims after watching a television program on the serial killer. “To travel around the country killing people! Just moving on, killing some more—a great lifestyle!”

Dr. Mike is a nonfiction grim reaper—wherever he goes, hearts stop beating, coworkers start convulsing, relatives are told matter-of-factly that someone has died. After a series of odd deaths at the Ohio State hospital, including the demise of a college gymnast and the poisoning of elderly patients, one nurse becomes convinced that Swango is behind the high mortality rate. Her claims are ignored by the doctors on staff, who decide to end Swango’s residency in neurosurgery, but not to pursue the trail of dead bodies.

Up to his old tricks, the doctor nicknamed Double-O Swango pulls a transparent “Why are they persecuting me?” whenever it’s reported that unapproved injections have been made or food tastes sweeter than it should. Fearing a lawsuit, the board allowed Swango to complete his internship at the hospital, and went on to license Swango to practice medicine in Ohio.

Luckily, officials back in Quincy were not so easily swayed. Swango was arrested in Ohio—to the horror of hospital officials—after police found a stock of arsenic, ricin, and sundry poisons in his fetid apartment. Swango serves a short term in prison, then finds a new job in Sioux Falls. He moves there, along with a new girlfriend, Kristin. Like many of the women in Swango’s life, Kristin suffers from terrible headaches and vomits frequently. It is only after her suicide that an autopsy shows high levels of arsenic in her body.

If anything is scarier than a doctor who kills, it’s a hospital that allows it

Stewart, the author of 80s investment classic Den of Thieves, lays bare the egos and arrogance that allowed Swango to escape detection and punishment time and again. Even more frightening than Swango’s compulsion to kill is the medical establishment’s compulsion to deny that such a monster ever could infiltrated their lofty ranks.

Swango’s loony rampage could have been stopped any number of times. Had the various medical professionals around him worried more about the welfare of their patients and less about litigation and bad publicity, someone might have questioned Swango’s obsession with violence and bizarre pronouncements about his capacity to kill. Someone might have listened to nurses who swore that they’d seen him make injections into the IVs of patients who minutes later turned up dead or dying. Instead, Swango turns up time and again, from the Midwest to Zimbabwe, speeding the inevitable in the guise of a physician.

Blind Eye: How the Medical Establishment Let a Doctor Get Away with Murder by James B. Stewart (Simon and Schuster)

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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