Anatomy of a Kidnapping; A Doctor's Story is a perfect title for this book, as its author, Steven L. Berk is a physician who responded to the events of March 6, 2005, with the instincts and skills he had honed in his many years of practicing medicine. On that day, an armed man entered his home, took him captive, and forced him into a white van. For four hours, Dr. Berk dealt with a meth-addicted felon with a history of violence who was looking for money to score more drugs.
Although the defense attorney and others questioned the choices he made during his ordeal at the hands of this psychopath (when Berk might have had opportunities to flee), Berk justifies and explains these choices logically; he evaluated the situation and did what he thought was best for his family and himself under the circumstances. I would never challenge that statement. Certainly the outcome suggests he made many wise choices in dealing with his captor, and that only he could evaluate the terrifying situation in which he found himself and determine the strategies he would use to deal with it.
This is an engrossing book that details not only the kidnapping of Dr. Berk, but also contains many fascinating anecdotes from his years as a physician that helped to develop his particular method of assessing situations and acting accordingly. “In times of crisis,” he writes, “no matter the nature, a physician must do his best to promote calm, rational solutions to any problem. Even when emotions are running high and a situation is getting out of control, a physician must stay impassive and composed, and practice clear judgment.”
Even at the trial, Dr. Berk maintained this clear judgment when he addressed the man who had held a shotgun to his head and changed his life forever, telling him, “Someday I hope you admit to your crimes and ask forgiveness.”
The book also contains excerpts of testimony from the trial and newspaper articles relating to the case, which contain information from other points of view, adding more depth to the story.
A term Berk often uses is “aequanimitas” which Dr. William Osler defines as: “imperturbability . . . Imperturability means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, and clearness of judgment in moments of great peril, immobility, impassiveness. It is the quality which is most appreciated by the laity though often misunderstood by them.”
The most moving part of the book comes at the end, when in a dream, Dr. Berk is able to make amends for mistakes he has made in his life and learns of treatments and research that benefited others, many of which he had not known. Later, imagining the worst scenario, he writes a touching letter to his son. His address to students at a white coat ceremony, when they begin the study of medicine and take the Hippocratic Oath, is also included, and has a powerful message about the need to develop compassion, honesty and respect as they continue in their training.
Berk explains how his own concept of aequanimitas was strengthened and refined by his kidnapping as he concludes: “Jack Lindsey Jordan taught me a lesson using his temper, his shotgun, his attempt at intimidation. I could not afford to fret over small things or imagined fears again. I would celebrate my life, my experiences, and my contributions at every opportunity. I would fear no evil, large or small. I had become much closer to a life of aequanimitas. Perhaps that is the most important lesson coming from my experience: to live each day to its fullest; to celebrate the joys of family, work, and good health; and to appreciate our every moment as precious.”
I found Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story compelling and well written. It’s a definite page-turner. Even though we know the outcome from the beginning, we want to see the actual events unfold, and Dr. Berk invites us into his unique personal perspective as he does so.
I also had another reason for wanting to read Anatomy of a Kidnapping: my son is a physician in residency in El Paso, Texas, at a hospital and clinic associated with Texas Tech University, where Dr. Berk is Dean of Medicine and Provost of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. In other words, though somewhat distanced through the chain of administrative command, Dr. Berk is ultimately my son’s boss. With Dr. Berk at the helm, he is in excellent hands.
Dr. Berk's story was recently featured on Biography Channel's "I Survived" Season 4 http://www.biography.com/tv/i-survived/episodes/lenorestevenellen-jim