Regular readers know the general contempt I have for the medical profession, due to personal experience. A shocking number of MDs are cold-hearted thieves, bullies, frauds, pill-pushers, and exploiters of the sick and vulnerable merely to line their own pockets.
Dermatology in particular has a long reputation for attracting the sort of doctor who values dollars over patients, rivaled only by plastic surgery in this regard. So it was with sadness that I learned that the recently deceased Dr. Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny was one of the good ones, at least if her Yelp profile is anything to go by. And believe me, Yelp reviewers are not known for holding back.
“I have never been treated with as much respect and care as when I saw you for the various skin ailments I’ve had over the years,” said one patient. “Dr Cerveny is amazing. Knowledgable and has the best bedside manner I’ve ever experienced,” said another. “I *love* her upbeat warm positive energy, and she is so knowledgeable and detailed in explaining exactly what is going on,” adds a third.
But the world neither knows nor cares about what an excellent, caring medical provider she was. No, they only care about the sordid details of her hard-partying lifestyle when off the clock — a lifestyle that ultimately ended her life. Instead of compassion or sorrow, they only feel scorn.
“[T]he doctor had been taking cocaine and drinking with two men in a third-floor apartment in the building before her lifeless body was discovered,” breathed the notoriously bottom-feeding Daily Fail. “[S]he hid a dark secret,” the NY Post gleefully said. “‘Word is she liked to do drugs.'”
And, making a beeline for the Post’s customary hook: “Cerveny was missing her underwear when found; her panties were later discovered stashed in her purse.”
From what we can tell, Cerveny did not exactly live a life free of sin. She drank to excess, snorted coke, and did God-knows what other substances. She left her husband and three children at home to party like a 20-something single starlet. She consorted with the wrong sort of men — yes, potentially even sexually, although that’s unproven — and these men possibly contributed to her demise by plying her with endless amounts of Colombian nose candy without any regard to her well-being.
But her personal demons aside, Cerveny still was a good person. She was that rare specimen, a doctor who cares about her patients. She was an excellent provider for her kids. There is zero evidence she was a bad mother. She was self-destructive, yes, but the strange thing is: this did not impact her caring of others. She would not be the first healer or caregiver to not care about her own health, after all.
This judgment does not exactly compute in the era of tabloids and their children, the online gossip sites. Celebrities — and by that I mean female celebrities — are named and shamed if they dare party like their male counterparts. Women are routinely mocked if discovered to be drunk or high in public; for men, it is simply a part of life, unless they press it to Andy Dick levels. Or if Kristen Stewart cheats, it’s the scandal of the year; if Rob had cheated on her, though, it would have barely registered, and the only stories would have been about Stewart. “Heartbroken Kristen spotted at Taco Bell — how on earth does she do it?” the Daily Fail would inquire.
Possibly it’s because it’s usually men who go down this road. If it had been Cerveny’s husband who OD’ed on coke and alcohol, he would have been remembered more for his career and his good qualities; his end would have been correctly viewed with regret; and he certainly would not have made page 1 of all the usual tabloids.
And it’s hard to find great men of history who did not have personal demons like Cerveny did. Winston Churchill was a known alcoholic and a bitter racist. Martin Luther King was a serial adulterer, as was Gandhi. And I haven’t even gotten to the artists and writers, where being self-destructive is in the job description. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was just one recent example. They were bad to themselves and for some, bad for their spouses. No question. (And I’m not denying that Cerveny was probably not Wife of the Year material.) But that doesn’t stop them from having a positive moral balance sheet once they found themselves before the pearly gates.
I didn’t know Cerveny, but I have no doubt she was a great person, a wonderful physician and a caring friend, even towards those friends who did not return the favor. If only society would judge her by her best and most relevant traits and not the nature of her demise.