News stories can strike you in so many different ways. Some will seem stupid, others heart-warming. In some cases, there’s just an overwhelming sense of sadness. You just ask yourself, “How could things have been allowed to get so bad?” So it is with the death of Michael Jackson. Millions of people seem to have liked his music and been prepared to forgive his more obvious eccentricities. Perhaps no-one can live so much in the glare of publicity and not end up a little strange. But his life continued and, with the world fascinated by the thought of seeing the 50 year old on stage again, he went back into full-time rehearsal. It was at this point that Dr. Conrad Murray enters the picture. The quality of the singer’s health is somewhat cloudy before this time. It seems likely he had suffered insomnia for some years but, the combination of additional stress and muscle pain from starting to dance again probably made the problem worse. In any event, the good doctor was paid some $150,000 a month to minister to the singer. In practical terms, this meant the doctor administered a nightly cocktail of drugs to knock his patient out. The basic combination was propofol and lidocaine through an intravenous drip. Not to put too fine a point on it, this combination would have rendered an elephant unconscious. Under normal circumstances, propofol is only used in carefully supervised hospital environments. The doctor was not licensed to administer it.
We do not need to go into the gory details of the death and subsequent investigations. The gossip pages have been full of the story for months. What brings it all back on to the front pages is that the doctor has now been charged with involuntary manslaughter. So, once again, we all get a front-row seat in the theater of Michael Jackson’s life (and death). And the first question is, inevitably, “How were things allowed to get so bad?” Here is a man whose health had reached such a low point that he can only rest when knocked out by industrial strength anesthetics. This is simply extraordinary. This man is worth millions (despite all his best efforts to lose money in his later years). He could have bought the best in counseling and therapy to treat his insomnia. Every scientific journal over the last ten years and more has been carrying the results of clinical trials demonstrating the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy. All he needed was some lose change and he could have bought the best in therapy for a few thousands of dollars. What psychological quirk drove him to embrace oblivion in an intravenous drip?
Celebrities often seem to be their own worst enemies. They are surrounded by weird people who advise them on how to spend their money. You can just hear someone enthusing, “I hear propofol will knock out an elephant and I got this great doctor for $150,000 a month who will give it to you.” If it had been someone “ordinary”, they would have bought some ambien online and gone to sleep like a baby. Or, if it did not work as well as expected, they would have gone to see their regular doctor, explained they tried ambien online, and received some cognitive behaviour therapy. Only celebrities die in such weird ways while the rest of us sleep on.