A key to creativity, slowing time perception, a nitwit nursing home, and saving Detroit

I recently learned an important key to creativity that could help you or a loved one become more creative and hence much more successful if you are or aspire to be an inventor, scientist, writer, businessperson, or engage in any occupation in which flashes of insight can pave the way for your success individually and our success collectively, since we're all in this boat together—one reason I've spent so many years writing, BTW.

Before I reveal an important key to creativity, I'll explain how I learned it and a corollary that's doubly relevant (more about that later): don't assume that someone who appears stupid or demented is that; he or she might just be under tremendous stress.

Until recently, I don't recall ever receiving a wrong-number phone call from a business. I'd usually get such a call once every few years, usually from a child asking for “Billy” or some other friend, or some intoxicated person looking for “Frank” or “George.” Thus I was highly surprised when a business began calling me four months ago—that's what they said. To me, it seemed like a year, but my perception of time has slowed since I've invented full-time.

That's an important side lesson that might make you happier, so I'll briefly mention it. Most people are alarmed by how time seems to accelerate as we age. A year seemed like an eternity when I was young, but in my thirties and forties, decades passed so quickly I wondered where they went. Scientists have pondered this, too. One study (Subjective acceleration of time with aging) concluded that “the subjective duration of an interval of real time varies inversely with the square root of the total real time (age).” (I will put other research in the Notes section below.) Here's two of my conclusions:

  1. If you can't wait for something, it can make time seem to pass slowly. For example, for kids who can't wait for Christmas or summer vacation to arrive, those events can seem like almost an eternity in the future. I had the same experience during medical school. I couldn't wait for the next year to arrive, but time passed at a glacial pace.
  2. Time passes more slowly if you are constantly learning and especially if you're constantly engaged in novel experiences: doing or thinking about things you've never done before. What I do each day as an inventor is often something I've never done before or will ever do again. Now that my life is almost constant novelty, time passes much more slowly than when I worked as an ER doctor.

Now back to the main topic … .

Of the many millions of businesses that could have called me by mistake but did not, I find it really odd that all of these wrong-number calls originated from a single business: the nursing home that is evidently the epicenter of idiocy—or maliciousness, since it is difficult to believe a group of adults could be so shockingly stupid.

Considering that I had never before received a wrong-number call from a business, I was shocked when they kept coming, and coming, and coming from one business: a nursing home. Sometimes the callers would hang up without saying a word after I said “hello” a few times, or if they spoke, they'd ask for someone: a female employee who didn't show up for work. Or that's what they said. Initially I wondered why they just didn't fire anyone who missed work that often—or fix her car or do whatever it took to help her show up on time.

I put up with that for months, with me repeatedly explaining that no such person lives here or has this phone number, which I've had for many years. However, when the calls began coming late at night and early in the morning, disrupting my sleep, I knew I had to put a stop to this because I was falling asleep in the middle of the day—thanks to them—instead of inventing. If I'm not inventing, I'm not being paid. Hence I twice spoke with supervisors, who assured me that I would not be called again, but I was.

Exhausted and now angry, I wrote a letter to their main office: that nursing home was part of a group owned and managed by some folks who, from their website, seemed like smart, ethical, very successful people. Surely they'd want the calls to stop and compensate me for at least part of my losses.

Oh, am I naive! First, I was called again by the nursing home, three days after they received my letter. They didn't want to give me anything except (1) a hard time (evidently knowing that the best defense is a good offense) and (2) excuses. The excuse given was that the calls to me were mistakes that resulted because their employees didn't know they should dial “1” for long distance. If you're laughing now, you're much smarter than I am, because it took me days to figure out and prove how ridiculous that was.

I'm usually reasonably intelligent, but I was so sleep-deprived and frazzled by these calls and trying to figure out why they kept calling and calling when I kept asking them to stop … well, I was so exhausted that I wasn't thinking well. My sixth-grade teacher said I was “slow” and I struggled so much in high school that my big dream was to drop out and work on an auto assembly line, but after I serendipitously stumbled upon a way to significantly boost brainpower, I aced college and graduated in the top 1% of my class in medical school BUT I still have what I call “islands of idiocy.” The dumb vestiges usually surface when I am tired and not thinking, or not thinking well. Like recently.

There's more to this story than meets the eye; I'll include more of it at the end of this article in Some of the rest of the story.

Some of the things I've done, or not done, surprise me. I'd forget to eat, drink water, take vitamins, do laundry, get my mail, take a shower, or even get dressed. One day I belatedly realized I was still in my bathrobe after 3 PM! The last time that happened was never; I'm always dressed within seconds after getting up. I've sometimes forgotten to take vitamins or do laundry (doesn't everybody forget now and then?), but that other stuff? How could I forget things so basic? Less sleep, more stress, more distractions, and a mystery I couldn't solve: why do they keep calling?

The excuse they gave—a flimsy one, it turned out—seemed plausible at first, but that erroneous conclusion surely came from one of my islands of idiocy. Once I regained my normal ability to think, I feared for the residents of that nursing home. Staff caring for them can't correctly dial a telephone, but they can deliver topnotch healthcare?

DOES. NOT. COMPUTE. I could correctly dial a phone when I was a child—a “slow” one, according to my teacher—and I once worked with a nurse who (sadly) developed dementia at a young age, but even she could use a phone just fine!

Speaking of computing, as my brain got in gear again, a mathematical model flashed into my mind that proved WAY beyond a reasonable doubt that their explanation was hogwash. My mathematical proof is based on statistics, and you already know enough of that to understand what I'm about to say even if you haven't taken a class in that subject.

It all boils down to simple logic and probability. The latter may seem like something only for eggheads, but you're smart and intuitively understand how statistical probability is so incredibly reliable that scientists rely on it all the time and are never wrong when basing conclusions on it. Here's one that you've already noticed:

In high school or before, you surely learned that the stuff around us is made of atoms and molecules. Even invisible air is something: molecules of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other gases constantly zipping around at different speeds: some very slow and some very fast. Their average speed determines their temperature.

If you take a closed container and subdivide it with a wall bearing a very tiny hole, it is possible that all or most of the fast molecules will pass to one side while all or most of the slow ones will move to the other. The result would be that one side would heat up while the other would cool down. If you had a two-roomed house with such a subdivider, one room might burn up while the other froze.

But when was the last time that happened? Never. Will it ever happen? Realistically, there isn't one chance in a trillion it will ever happen in billions and billions and billions of years.

Why do we know this beyond any reasonable doubt? Or why do we know the air around you will never spontaneously burn one half of your body and freeze the other half? Elementary statistics.

The number of molecules involved is so vast that you-know-what could freeze over many times without any part of you suddenly igniting or freezing. It's like flipping a coin many trillions of times in a row: while you could get all heads or tails, it will never happen because of statistical probability.

Hence statistics isn't just reliable, but incredibly reliable. Judges and juries use statistical evidence to decide who goes free and who dies. Judging by how often they reach incorrect verdicts and convict people who should be set free, the common perception of “beyond a reasonable” doubt is nowhere near as reliable as statistical probability proving that your thumb will never freeze while your index finger burns to a crisp.

In this case, the statistical evidence is so easy to understand I wonder why it took so long for me to reject the excuse that nursing home employees didn't know to dial “1” for long distance. Let's consider this, point by basic point:

  1. You either dial a “1” for long distance OR you don't. Even if employees didn't know, at least half of them would guess the correct choice the first time they placed a long-distance call. All of the many phone systems I've used at home and work (in dozens of places) has required “1” for long-distance calls.
  2. If they didn't know, they could ask a co-worker.
  3. If they still didn't know a “1” was required and guessed wrong, the first time they tried to call long distance, they wouldn't reach their intended recipient, so they should have immediately recognized their error.

Thus, even if no one at that nursing home knew they had to dial “1” for long distance, at least 50% (and likely almost everyone) would guess correctly, use a “1,” place the call successfully, and hence reinforce the need for a “1.” The others wouldn't use a “1” but should have instantly realized it was required when they couldn't reach the number they tried calling.

So why so many calls from that nursing home? Why repeat calls from one person? Here are the possibilities:

  1. They're ignorant, which means they didn't know. However, considering the above evidence, either they have many ignorant employees or some who are too stupid to learn from mistakes: if they didn't know whether or not a “1” was required, they should have figured that out the first time they placed a call without it!
  2. They're not ignorant or stupid, but they are so stressed or rushed they make one mistake after another.

Before I became a doctor and later an inventor, I had dozens of jobs, beginning around age 11: I began by mowing yards, weeding, painting, and eventually working in factories. One of my customers, an elderly man I loved like a father, asked me to weed and otherwise tidy up the land between the road and the fence in front of a business he and his son owned. My stepfather Don dropped me off at the business in Walled Lake on his way to work in Ann Arbor. After cutting meat all day long, he'd pick me up on his way home.

I began working that morning as the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Before long, the blazing sun and no shade made work unpleasant, but I kept going. I was in good shape then and worked fast with no breaks until noon, when I took a break to eat lunch. I gulped it down in a couple minutes, then lied down in my wheelbarrow full of weeds as a makeshift bed. A minute later someone screamed at me, “Get back to work, you lazy bum!” I didn't see him approach, so I rocketed out of the wheelbarrow and immediately resumed working without any breaks until Don arrived hours later. As I jumped up, I saw who yelled at me: a middle-aged man in a luxury car: the son of the gentleman whose lawn I'd mowed for years.

In retrospect, what I wanted to tell him was that I was just taking a well-deserved break and was hardly lazy. When I was a young kid, I felt sorry for my single mother, so when she was at work, I'd often do the dishes, laundry, iron the clothes (it needed it back then), scrub the bathroom, vacuum the entire house, dust everything, polish all the wood (I thought wood needed regular waxing so it wouldn't dry out), clean the garage, and mow and trim our large yard. My goal was that Mom had nothing to do when she got home, but she always found something: one day she pulled off the kitchen curtains that looked fine to me, washed them, then ironed them. I tried.

I tried as an adult, too. I made free house calls during my years as an ER doctor because I wanted to make life easier for patients. Going to the ER, and waiting, and waiting—it's a pain. It's much easier when the doctor comes to you. Besides, I never charged for any housecall. I never starved—not in those days, at least—so I didn't think of squeezing every last dollar from patients. In fact, I was happy to give them things: presents I made, homemade “Get Well” cards, free drugs, and even free pizza on some of the many times I ordered pizza for the ER staff and local police.

I'd even baby-sit for free. I had this Marcus Welby, MD image of being friends with my patients, some of whom visited me at home, with me writing prescriptions or doing procedures at my kitchen table. My bosses surprisingly never gave me any flak for this, but I'd occasionally worry that I wasn't robotic enough to please the State Board of Medicine, should they ever get wind of my humanity. They would, however, be thrilled how I turned down women who offered me their gorgeous bodies in exchange for narcotic prescriptions. One offered lots of money, too. I told them I didn't go to medical school to become a drug pusher, so I said no, of course.

Many doctors seem to think they're being professional by acting in a cold, detached manner, but I learned to loathe such physicians who would, for example, muscle in and even recruit nurses and techs to restrain a child who was merely afraid. I recalled some of my fears about doctors when I was a kid, none of which were ever addressed by them, so all of those fears persisted throughout my childhood. If my Mom even mentioned going to the doctor, I was instantly terrified.

I previously described a case that illustrates the tragic consequences of NOT playing with pediatric patients to relax them. An ER doc didn't use my methods, obtained an incomplete examination, and missed an injury that caused a young child to lose his eye.

I spent most of my medical career working in a busy, high-acuity emergency department, but I always made time for the patients who needed it most. If I had a frightened child, I'd play with him or her, often using my stuffed animal “Alf,” scratch-'n'-sniff stickers I bought, or some gizmo I made. I turned the examination or procedure into a fun game they enjoyed. That was better for everyone: the child, the parents, me, and the staff, although it often took additional time. I frequently worked unpaid hours after the end of my shift to complete patient care, so lazy I'm not.

On one of my off days, I loaded my snowblower and a shovel onto a sled I hauled with my snowmobile a mile away to spend the afternoon clearing chest-deep snow from the driveway and porch of an elderly man with one leg. Countless other days I snowblowed the driveways of my neighbors, hand-shoveling their sidewalks and porches.

That's lazy?

I never asked for a penny, nor would I accept it, but I am always thinking of others. During a three-day power outage a few years ago, I unplugged my generator and did without power for a day so I could let my neighbors use it even though I barely know them.

I've been the Energizer Bunny since I was young. One thing I'm not is lazy, so I resented the accusation from the erstwhile multimillionaire who screamed at me to get back to work, with just a five-minute break in about 11 hours of work (Don had something else to do on the way home).

Now for the relevance of this long-winded discussion: What I should have done when Mr. Multimillionaire yelled at me was calmly explain that I'd been working for hours and deserved a break, but at that time, I couldn't think: cowered by fear and humiliated, I jumped up like a scared rabbit and worked like a dog, fearing that if I stopped for even a few seconds, he might see me and scream again.

Some bosses go overboard with intimidation, perhaps thinking that frightening their employees will squeeze more work out of them. Smart bosses don't do that; work is ultimately teamwork, and harmony promotes teamwork—not fear, not screaming, not threats, not other abuse.

Wondering about the nursing home work environment, I read reviews on glassdoor.com and learned that former employees felt they were bullied by their management in ways that strike me as callous and overly bossy if not illegal, so bullying may be routine for them and hence possibly why I received so many wrong-number calls. I find it very difficult to believe they're so stupid or ignorant they can't use a phone correctly and dial “1” for long distance. This isn't rocket science.

Mistakes don't always penalize the ones who commit them. Because of them, I lost many thousands of dollars now and possibly much more in the future. But I didn't pay the ultimate price; some people will die because of those wrong-number calls from the nursing home.

Surprised? I'll explain.

Americans haven't seen a big idea in decades, since the advent of the Internet, but I assure you some are coming. I'm working on them, two of which will save millions of lives and extend the lives of billions. They're not pipe dreams built on wishful thinking; they are prototyped and proven ideas, and they will eventually be sold (for less than you might expect, BTW). Ultimately, they won't cost you a dime. In fact, they will save you thousands of dollars per year, reduce healthcare costs, improve your appearance, happiness, health, performance, and longevity. Depending on how they're introduced to market, the citizens of Michigan (my home state) might need to pay no more state sales or income taxes and instead receive a check from the government each year, similar to how Alaska distributes its oil bounty, but much greater.

What ultimately killed U.S. President James Garfield wasn't a bullet but germs, introduced into his body by doctors who rejected Joseph Lister's antiseptic surgery techniques that were documented and accepted in Europe for nearly 30 years before they were accepted in America. He and many others died because too many doctors and the AMA were slow to realize that germs can kill. Now even kids know about germs.

When I researched this in college, reading the actual journals and newspapers of that era, I was struck by how the leading doctors in the USA mocked the germ theory of disease. They made fun of those who believed in it; they thought germ theory proponents were fools and quacks for thinking that germs too small to be seen with the naked eye could possibly injure and kill people, but they obviously do. As I discussed in another article, even smart people often ridicule new ideas and those who generate them.

Our mocking days aren't over. A Media Matters-led smear of me alleged I claimed to have a cure for cancer. Bull. I didn't say that; I never did cancer research, which is just one of the thousands of topics I written about and heavily documented with many thousands of references from reputable scientific journals. Media Matters cares more about their left-wing partisan agenda than telling the truth.

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat, declared war on Media Matters, saying they have “crossed the line” and use Hitler-like tactics. (“Hitler-like tactics” are baseless attacks on good people who are demonized by monsters.) Professor Dershowitz said he “can't tolerate bigotry on any side of the political spectrum.”

bigot (noun): (1) a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing opinion, belief, or creed; (2) a person who is obstinately intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on politics or religion, and has animosity toward those of differing beliefs.

Dershowitz said the Media Matters smear merchant used “virulent hate speech” and an odious, “wildly inaccurate” canard:

canard (noun): a fabricated sensational statement or report, especially one set afloat in the media to hoax the public; an absurd, unfounded, false, baseless, or extravagant report, rumor, hoax, or story that is deliberately misleading and usually derogatory; a false report motivated by maliciousness that is intended to deceive people; a fable, fiction, or falsehood; a lie.

Dana Loesch wrote that Media Matters “has been an embarrassment with pettiness and hyperbole permeating every post. Their baseless attacks on political enemies they wish to blacklist has earned them the reputation as modern-day book burners. Their mission of correcting "conservative misinformation" has been refuted countless times by numerous outlets.”

I'm not fully liberal or conservative. By sincerely listening to others, I realized that people who disagree with me are often correct, so I change my mind. That flexibility may also be a key to creativity, but it isn't the big one I haven't yet mentioned.

It's natural to be skeptical of anyone claiming they have a really big idea that will change the world. While I am not an expert in cancer, I am in some of the topics for which I perform research and development that leads to an invention.

For example, if you have a certain type of common infection that doesn't respond well to antibiotics and often needs minor surgery to hasten its resolution, you could see the best doctors in the world and not obtain the almost instant relief and rapid resolution you could get from one of my inventions. And that's not one of my big ideas—not even close to it. The really big ones I can't yet talk about. Their impact on healthcare and life will be staggering; not just occasionally useful, but such a vital part of your life that you'll use them several times per day and wonder how you ever got along without them.

Unless you die in an accident, you will almost surely live longer because of me. I will probably save more lives than any doctor who ever lived. Contrary to popular conception, most people could live a full life without antibiotics, x-rays, and even surgery. The facets of health my inventions address are inescapable; they are vital to the health and well-being of everyone, every minute of every day. There's absolutely no question about that, and when you see what I have up my sleeve, you will know that I have very good reasons for what must seem like overly bold promises now. But every so often, someone comes up with ideas that fundamentally improve life. I have them, now.

spot a typo?
If so, please tell me about it.

Remember what I said about teamwork? It takes a team to transform inventions into products. I am an inventor; I am not a manufacturer, marketer, or venture capitalist, nor do I want to be. My boss pays me to think of new ideas, but they focus on areas of technology unrelated to my big ideas. To pay the bills, I invent in those other areas of technology, which has its plusses and minuses: it delays introduction of my big ideas, but it gives me time to make them even better. With people suffering and dying (and wasting time, energy, and money) because they don't yet have them, I feel tremendous pressure to work seven days per week, even on holidays. I stock up and rarely leave home; I didn't go to town once in four months earlier this year, which was torture because I love being around people—but if I must sacrifice to make this world a better place, I will. When my inventions start pouring out (I have a few big ideas and many lesser ones), you'll see that I've been very productive. Definitely not lazy!

Thus with lives on the line, I was understandably upset about the calls from the nursing home, their flimsy excuse, and the hassles of dealing with a mess they created. They cost me money (almost all of which I invest in research and development) and time, wasting at least seven days so far. That may not seem like much, but who has seven days to spare so some strangers can take it without compensation? I planned on taking a desperately needed day-and-a-half vacation, my first since 2008, but now I have to cut back on yard work and needed home repairs so I can hopefully recoup some of the time they stole from me.

However, they did give me one thing: a better understanding of where my creativity comes from. I usually have about 1000 or more inventions per year in addition to my handful of big ideas—so many I will soon begin giving most away to anyone who wants to start a business based on them IF you move to Detroit and start a business there. That is, by the way, one of my ideas for saving Detroit, a city I love. My other idea to save Detroit would be considerably more effective (likely transforming it from bankruptcy to increasing its worth by $200 billion to $500 billion within a month), but our leaders surely wouldn't go along with my plan. I'm more realistic than you may think! :-)

With the frequent calls from the nursing home and the many hassles stemming from them, my work almost ground to a halt. So did my creativity. I wondered, where did all the ideas go? I wondered what I would have invented, but didn't, because of them.

Full creativity requires long stretches of uninterrupted free time. It can't be flipped on and off, like a switch, to be squeezed into small blocks of time.

“It has been my experience that there is no substitute for time where thinking is concerned. Why is it so? The answer seems to be that in many cases to think means to be able to allow the mind to stray from the task at hand. The mind must be able to be ‘elsewhere.’ This needs time.”
Eric Hoffer

To be fully creative, or anything close to my peak, I need long periods of time for my mind to wander. When it does, ideas pop into my consciousness from my subconscious that evidently is hammered by interruptions and diversions.

Almost certainly, this applies not just to me but everyone. However, most of our lives are filled with one distraction after another and one task after another that takes away the mental downtime we need to be maximally creative.

I shudder to think of what we've lost because of this: probably millions if not billions of good ideas, some undoubtedly utterly brilliant ones that could help people in myriad ways and jumpstart our economy.

Sure, work is important, but hard work can take us only so far. One invention can obviate the need for a lot of work. For example, imagine if the people who invented the lightbulb instead devoted those hours to making better candles or more candles. Or mowing their yard, or dealing with a nursing home in need of a Phone 101 lesson or a lesson in how to be a better boss.

In the short-term, pursuing the path of lightbulbs helped no one. In the years it took to make them practical, people of that era would have been a bit better off with better or cheaper candles. For well over a century, and for eternity, we will ultimately be better off because time was invested in something that would eventually, but not immediately, reap great benefits.

Fortunately, my big ideas will not require decades of improvement or even a fortune to commercialize; whoever invests in them will likely be the first trillionaire. But realistically, what could one person do with a trillion dollars? Buy thousands of jets instead of just one? Buy a house so big his kids live in a different zip code? Or time zone?

I favor spreading the wealth around, especially when it is mine to share. It took me a few days to think of a mathematical model that gave solid statistical evidence for wondering What On Earth was going on in that nursing home, but I instinctively know that even if income rises astronomically, happiness plateaus long before. I could be somewhat happier if I had more money so I could, for example, buy a new tractor to replace my old ones (one smokes, and one is downright dangerous), or to give jobs to the many people I want to help out (or just plain give money to), but I'd rather spread the money to the citizens of Michigan. However, I may not have that choice; inventors usually lose control of their inventions the minute they're sold. However, I will surely boost the local economy. Considering that, I just had an idea: given that I have more inventions than people willing to move into Detroit, I'll extend my offer to anyone willing to start a business in my county.

With free time essential to creativity, you may wonder why I write so much. The answer is simple. Writing, especially the way I do it, is yet another way to augment intelligence and creativity. Some invention challenges that mystified me a few years ago I can now solve in a flash.

When one of my big inventions comes out, I'll show early models of it. While they worked fine and seem like the logical way to do it, I thought of a method that is considerably better in every way, yet is is smaller, much less expensive, requires no maintenance, and on and on. Most engineering involves tradeoffs: better this for worse that, or more cost, or more complexity, blah, blah, blah. Once in a blue moon, though, a breakthrough is better in every way and lower cost—and this one is, as you will see some day. But for that to happen, I must get back to work.

Let's hope the phone stops ringing, and remember …

Dial “1” for long distance!

Some of the rest of the story

I didn't fully reveal all of the reasons why the nursing home calls were so upsetting, nor will I, because I don't believe in giving ammunition to enemies—and that's exactly what they became because of a fight they started (I never wanted anything to do with them!) and how they responded to me: in a way that went WAY overboard in being shockingly aggressive. Imagine someone smashes your foot with a sledgehammer and then complains about you screaming in pain—now you know how I feel.

It's not my fault some of their employees appear to need a brain transplant or stat infusion of common sense and ethics. I shouldn't need to take time out of my days (and nights!) to deal with such an inexcusably long string of reckless errors they committed—so many it is hard to believe they're innocent mistakes.

Four months of calls may not seem like a big deal UNLESS they happen to you, disrupt your sleep, affect your significant other, screw up your plans, affect your work, and slash your paycheck to zero. Realistically, I had to send a nastygram. Repeatedly asking them to stop didn't work. Asking their supervisors didn't work (after speaking with them, I think the calls became more frequent).

It all boils down to provocation. If you're not bothering someone who threatens to kill you, that's a crime. If someone is coming after you, you have the right to tell that person to leave you alone and get lost. If they keep coming, and coming, and coming, you have the right to defend yourself to deter their aggression. If need be, you can even point a gun at them or kill them. Whoever starts a fight has no right to complain about it snowballing out of control. Just ask Trayvon Martin. I don't think he deserved to die; I think he deserved to go to prison, but George Zimmerman didn't have a prison handy. But he did have a gun. You use the tool you have.

I didn't want to waste a minute writing to them; they forced me because of their off-the-scale idiocy (or maliciousness) that became one of the most bizarre experiences in my life. Even “Rachel from Cardholder Services,” nor any other telemarketer, ever woke me up.

I considered reporting their calls as violations of Do Not Call laws but in reviewing their criteria, it seems to me that they are intended to deter businesses from calling to solicit sales, not businesses calling because of incompetence or intentional harassment—I don’t think our legislators imagined that any business would behave so irresponsibly.

My girlfriend, a psychologist, opined that one of their employees was a sociopath, based on what she said to me. Perhaps. Or perhaps she was in a 'roid rage and felt entitled to bully her way through life—and let me tell you, I am not easily bullied.

Nursing homes should be places of loving care. As a rule, they should not employ pit bulls. Or idiots. Or self-centered people. Health professions are caring professions involving caring for others and putting them first. At this dysfunctional nursing home, I saw a lot of me, me, me thinking and no consideration of others. Scary.

If your neighbor's child hits a baseball through your window, well, that's life, accidents happen. But accident or not, they owe you not just for the window, but the labor to replace it, and any incidental damage caused: perhaps the baseball also ruined your big-screen TV. Now imagine the baseballs keep coming for four months. You'd lose your patience, trust me. Anyone can make an error now and then … but four months in a row? That's so unconscionably reckless I bet most prosecutors would term it a crime.

Hitting a baseball accurately to a specific spot or safe zone is so difficult that even the best professional players cannot always do it, but dialing a telephone is so easy that even “slow” kids (like I was) can do it fine almost every time: I think I placed one inadvertent wrong-number call in my life. When presumably competent adults can't do it month after month after month, it's bound to make you wonder if they're really that stupid or perhaps too careless about the law and common sense that dictates Rule #1: leave others alone and don't go looking for trouble. If you make a mistake, immediately apologize.

When I wrote most of this article yesterday, I thought the most likely explanation for the calls was because the employees were too stressed or too rushed to function well. I couldn't believe any healthcare providers were that stupid or ignorant, but as an ER doctor working in an overly busy, high-stress emergency department (it was so intense that most docs quit in their first week, even if they were experienced), I'm sure I handled stress at least comparable to working in a nursing home: I often had dozens of critically ill and injured patients at a time. Here's what one parent said about me:

(Telephone call from Mrs. A., received by administration.) “Dr. Pezzi was the physician on duty, and Mrs. A. indicated that he was extremely caring and considerate in the treatment of Michele. Mrs. A. was impressed with Dr. Pezzi's efficiency in treating so many people at one time and his low-keyed manner in such a hectic atmosphere.”

You would hardly know it now, but I once was partially paralyzed by something that ultimately occurred because of stress, so I take stress seriously. Stress can kill, so anyone who injects it needlessly into your life deserves a taste of his or her own medicine. Some people just love to dish it out and expect others to figuratively tuck their tails between their legs like submissive dogs and not utter a peep in protest. That's ridiculous. Self-defense is our most basic right. That right is inviolable. It never goes away and can never be taken away.

Another double standard

When I worked as an ER doc, I was surprised by how one hospital gave considerably better care to patients who were wealthy and especially well-connected. If they arrived by ambulance, I always found out about it not from a paramedic, police officer, or ER staff member but from some hospital big shot calling me to let me know who the Pooh-Bah was.

The deal was always the same. If I wrote an order, the head nurse of the hospital or the critical care units (they would always appear, even in the middle of the night) would immediately take the chart, give it to the clerk (for lab orders, x-rays, etc.) or a nurse, who immediately postponed all care on other patients to give top priority to that order. Their lab specimens were immediately hand-carried to the lab for priority processing while the others sat on a shelf and waited. Lab results hot off the printer were immediately carried to me while results for other patients were placed in a chart that went in a bin that waited its turn.

I'm sorry, that's wrong. I have nothing against people who are rich or well-connected, but I and every other ER doctor is trained to attend to patients in order of priority. Thus a multimillionaire sports celebrity with some bumps and bruises after a street fight (yes, really) had to wait because an unemployed man was having a heart attack. That's the way it should be. In the ER, no one is turned away because of lack of money, prestige, or connections, and when some staff wanted to give second-rate care to people they thought of as second-rate, I put my foot down. However, when Pooh-Bahs were present, the head nurses dictated how the ER would prioritize care. Different rules for different folks.

It's not supposed to be this way in legal matters, but it is. The rule of law stipulates that all people are equally subject to the law and treated the same by it, but that's a joke. Beat up the President or Bill Gates, and you WILL go to jail, guaranteed. Beat up me and you probably won't.

In another article, I described how my electrician threatened me, demanding money now, or he'd start ripping out his work and going after me, which he did with his fists, feet (he kicked me), and a hammer. My father was killed in a similar manner when his skull was bashed in with a pipe, after which he was dumped in a swamp, so I take assaults very seriously.

The electrician brought a young, muscled thug to help him who knew nothing about electricity—just for the intimidation value, no doubt. I caught part of the assault on videotape, but even that and the evidence wasn't enough for the prosecutor, who didn't file charges.

I belatedly realized I was a victim not just of an assault (and other crimes mentioned in my article), but also extortion, too. The electrician had ZERO right to get money from me; I paid the general contractor, he in turn paid the subcontractors. That's the way it works. If he thought he was owed more money, he should have sued for it or at least threatened that. That's how civilized people settle disputes: in court.

“It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of reason is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.”

People with a poor grasp of law often assume that every demand for money is extortion. Wrong. Most demands for money are what is called a “demand letter” that go something like this: you've wronged me, pay up, or I will sue you.

One of many legal opinions I excerpted from the Web:

“It is clear, and the cases so hold, that when the threat of litigation has some legitimate basis, i.e., the person making the threat has a colorable legal claim of entitlement to damages, the conduct is not extortion. … Even when the threat of litigation absent settlement is made in bad faith (that is, when the threatener knows that he has no legal claim or entitlement to damages), a strong majority of federal courts have held that the threat likewise is not “extortion” under the Hobbs Act. … We agree with the reasoning of the clear majority of the federal courts in holding that a threat to file suit unless a settlement is paid, even when made in bad faith, is not a ‘wrongful’ threat.”
(source: http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2007/2616s05.pdf)

The reason why threats to sue are not wrongful threats is obvious: if the person threatened does what they want to do, which is not give in, what's the worst that can happen? They go to court and let a judge or jury decide if the demand for damages is valid. If so, they're paid; if not, they're ignored. Settling disputes in court is reasonable, not extortion. If someone had a beef with me, I'd much rather they give me an opportunity to settle out of court. No matter how unwelcome settlement demands are, they're a ray of sunshine compared to being served with a lawsuit.

In this case, I could have exercised my constitutional right to free speech by naming the nursing home and thereby giving its residents and their families reason to wonder if people too incompetent to correctly use a phone can deliver superb healthcare. After all, anyone mystified by correct phone usage or ultra-basic problem solving would scare the daylights out of me and everyone with common sense. Thus I did that nursing home a big favor, but—true to form—they were too dumb to realize it.

Extortion is NOT a synonym for “frivolous lawsuit.” Frivolous lawsuits may be a pain, but they are not illegal, especially when the person filing suit (or threatening to do that) has some halfway plausible reason to think the other party owes him something. RIAA sent many demand letters to people they allege engaged in unauthorized music sharing. Stealing a 99¢ song is one thing; stealing days of my life, as the nursing home did, is even worse. RIAA demand letters are about as popular as a heart attack; recipients often perceive them as outrageous attempts to extort unreasonable settlements, but if they were extortion, RIAA directors would be singing a different tune in prison. Instead, they're free as a bird and probably singing on their way to the bank.

What the electrician did to me is a textbook case of extortion (see UPDATE below), yet even that wasn't prosecuted. For months afterward, terrified he would return at night, I slept on a cement floor in a closet and … well, I might tell the rest of the story after he is dead. I thought about naming the nursing home, which would become a laughingstock, but life is too short to waste a minute more on such morons.

UPDATE: I wondered why the prosecutor didn't charge the electrician with extortion. The answer is that he's likely very smart and respects the Constitution. Since any Tom, Dick, or Harry can become a legislator, it's not surprising that they often enact laws that are unconstitutional and hence not valid. The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It's not just some law; it is the law that forms the foundation for others. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

“Congress shall make no law” means that Congress shall make NO law—not one law, not even if it is itsy-bitsy. No means none, zip, zero, zilch, nada.

Speech that is restricted in any way is controlled and therefore NOT free and NOT constitutional. Don't like it? Change the Constitution.

“Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and U.S. Treaties as "the supreme law of the land." The text provides that these are the highest form of law in the U.S. legal system, and mandates that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and either the state constitution or state law of any state.” (source)

Furthermore, the Privileges or Immunities Clause (Section 1, Clause 2) of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” One of our most fundamental privileges is the right to free speech and immunity for exercising it.

Even state constitutions are subordinate to federal law.” The U.S. Constitution is valid in 100% of the United States, not just some states, so no state can outlaw free speech or penalize it. Hence verbal threats—and especially threats to sue!—are not a crime according to the Constitution, and therefore not a crime in any state. However, when you beat up someone trying to get what you want, as the electrician did to me—now that's a crime!

If threats were illegal, the government could endlessly prosecute itself since most threats come from it: “You will pay this tax OR ELSE we're going to get you,” “you will obey this regulation OR ELSE …” The government has so many millions of laws and regulations, most of which are threats, that it is virtually impossible to know all of them even if you quit your job and spend the rest of your life reading them. More than a few of them are unconstitutional, hence illegal, and therefore not worth the paper they are printed on.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed that the state does not have the right to outlaw public profanity. Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the government “cannot act as speech police.” Nor should they even try. Although some speech seems clearly reprehensible and worthy of deterrence, speech is too subject to interpretation. What Person A finds offensive Person B may find funny. If profanity were illegal, many comedians would be in jail.

I worked for years with a wonderful, kind, and wise ER doc before he became a State Representative. His desire to become a legislator was fueled by a passion for education, something he was knowledgeable about. However, once in office, legislators vote on all sorts of legislation, not just topics they're experts in. Few legislators are constitutional scholars. Frankly, many laymen know more about the constitution than they do. They too often use seat-of-the-pants guesswork to vote for or against laws, but no matter how carefully they craft their wants, if they conflict with the Constitution, they are not valid. Case closed; end of story.

This experience reinforced my belief that most problems in this world come from people who are stupid, inexcusable negligent, or evil. In this case, it is one of the three but—days later—I am still stunned that anyone could be so stupid. A reader (see Comment #341, below) pointed out that some animals could be taught to dial a phone correctly, so why can't nursing home employees?

Related topics

The U.S. government: breaking some laws is OK

Chicken-human behavioral similarities

In that article, I included many links scientifically documenting surprising animal intelligence. Relevance: some animals could be taught to dial a phone correctly. Now see Comment #341 (below).

Telephone dialing tips circa 1950:

Here's another tip: If you reach the wrong number for four months, engage your brain and consider what you're doing wrong. If neither you nor your supervisors can figure out what you're doing wrong, consult a competent adult for assistance.

Throughout our childhood and sometimes even as adults, my Mom would tell my brothers and me to remember to dial “1” when she gave us a long-distance number. This became something of a family joke because we repeatedly reminded her that everyone knew to dial “1” for long-distance. We couldn't imagine that anyone could be so stupid they needed to be told that more than once. Evidently some people do—and I know where they work!


  1. The Creative Benefits of Boredom
  2. 1-28-2014: I received a call from a nursing home asking for Darlisa. Two minutes later, same thing. In the fall of that year, another caller asked for Darlisa, sounding too serious — not the usual upbeat car dealer happy-to-have-your-business voice. At noon on December 13, 2014, a woman called asking for Darlisa AGAIN; the caller, seemingly a middle-aged female who appeared to be Darlisa's friend or acquaintance—not a business—hence should have likely known how to reach her. In any case, let's connect the dots:
    1. For well over a year, I've received numerous calls asking for Darlisa—an uncommon name in this area—from a variety of people and businesses, usually with repeat phone calls from the same callers.
    2. In that period, I received wrong-number calls for others so rarely I can't recall the last one for anyone but Darlisa.
    3. If individuals and businesses truly had such profound difficulty calling the correct people, I should have received a blizzard of calls asking for people other than Darlisa, as well as callers trying to reach businesses—but I didn't.
    These facts suggest something bizarre.
  3. 1-15-2015 12:31 PM: Yet another call for Darlisa. Odd.
  4. 5-4-2015 9:59 AM: I received a call from a county office looking to speak with Darlisa.
  5. 9-2-2015 12:07 PM: Darlisa's grandmother called.
  6. 9-7-2015: First wrong-number call I've received in years other than calls for Darlisa. Think of it: of the millions of people placing billions of calls, for years all were for a single person. Also noteworthy: the nursing home calls persisted until I put my foot down; had they heeded my first, second, or third (etc.) request to stop calling me, I wouldn't have been pestered month after month after month after month.
  7. In 2017, this nightmare began again with repeated calls from a school district in Muskegon Township: sometimes really annoying (e.g., three calls in about two minutes on 12-1-2017), and sometimes alarmingly inappropriate, such as when a teacher or counselor left a message on my answering machine sounding exasperated with my son, in his office “right now” (or words to that effect), describing what he did—evidently a fight with another student. I don't have a son, or daughter (darn!), but since they seemingly need Summer School lessons in dialing a phone, it would be advisable not to divulge to strangers what should be confidential information.
  8. 1-15-2018 @ 5:17 PM: JC Penney called, looking for Darlisa.
  9. Update to the UPDATE: OK, I accept the fact that the electrician's verbal threats were not extortion because ALL speech in the United States is protected by the Constitution that expressly prohibits the government from restricting it in any way (“Congress shall make no law”), but when he cocked his hammer back as if he were about to throw a tomahawk through my skull, that strikes me as a threat worth prosecuting. Ditto for the kicking, chasing, crushing …
  10. Another day, another threat: While working in the ER with a deputy sheriff inches away, a patient threatened to come back and kill me with a shotgun unless I took his neck brace off. I received many death threats working as an ER doctor, all but one of which struck me as patients just blowing off steam, with me not worrying about them for a second. But this threat and this man were different. He terrified me and a veteran ER nurse who was feminine but as tough as a Marine drill sergeant. Yet the deputy sheriff did nothing. When I said I wanted to prosecute the patient for that deadly threat, he just chuckled. We knew, as that deputy presumably did, that another disgruntled patient had previously returned to the ER and fired a shot into it while driving by.
  11. U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, when asked about fundraising allegations, threatened a reporter by saying he would throw him “off this f-----g balcony,” adding that the reporter was “not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy.
    Comment: Will Grimm be prosecuted for that threat? It was caught on tape, but he's a big shot. In America, prosecutors love to pick on little guys and let rich and/or powerful people get away with crimes others would be hammered for. This proves that prosecutors believe less in the rule of law than they believe in acting like schoolyard bullies: picking on the weak and not going after the strong.

    If you drove carelessly and killed someone in another car as a result, you would be prosecuted and likely go to jail. Laura Bush, then Laura Welch, killed her former boyfriend, Mike Douglas, when she ran a stop sign on a clear, dry evening at a level intersection of straight roads in the middle of nowhere—a location where stop signs are easily visible long before they are approached. At that time in 1963, there was no marginal development to distract her as she rushed to a drive-in theater, striking Douglas, who was driving another car.

    Laura wasn't imprisoned, prosecuted, or even fined; you could spit on the sidewalk and receive a harsher penalty than she received, which was nothing.
  12. As the stress of the nursing home calls melted into the stress of dealing with Sears that seems hell-bent on repelling customers with atrocious customer service, my nightmarish objective tinnitus recurred, making restful sleep little more than a dream. The straw that broke the camel's back … These episodes amounted to emotional hijacks: hijacking attention from what I wanted to focus on to nitwits and the endless problems they caused.
  13. The nursing home was ultimately annoyed that I was annoyed by their pestering me, but the right of self-defense includes the right to defend against any intrusion upon my rights. In fact, it is perfectly legal to kill someone if that is necessary to protect your (or another) life, and if someone punches you (literally or figuratively), you have the right to punch back.
  14. An excerpt from Want to Save Your Life?: “The way we work in the modern world is a mode psychologists call hyper-arousal. We describe it as feeling stressed-out, overwhelmed, burned out, lost or exhausted.” During those nursing home/Sears weeks, my girlfriend noted that I was speaking much faster and more loudly than normal. Hyper-arousal is a good way to describe what I felt. When the phone rang once when I was next to it, I jumped out of my chair.
  15. Even Mild Stress Can Make It Difficult to Control Your Emotions based on Cognitive emotion regulation fails the stress test
  16. The Two Biggest Distractions – And What to Do About Them
    Excerpt: “Much harder to ignore than these random sensory inputs are emotional distractions. If one of those emails you've been working through happens to trigger a strong reaction – annoyance or anger, anxiety or even fearfulness – that distraction will instantly become the focus of your thoughts, no matter what you're trying to focus on.”
  17. The worst word in business: 'Busy'
    Excerpt: “ … people with crowded schedules tend to have less bandwidth — the ability "to reason, to focus, to learn new ideas, to make creative leaps and to resist our immediate impulses," says Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan in TIME.”
  18. More incompetence: On September 12, 2013, I received a whopping past-due invoice for money I never owed. I called the company and they finally admitted their “mistake” they attributed to convoluted accounting practices. If businesses could get away with doing that, they would have an incentive to have sloppy accounting practices that accrue in their favor. The federal government absolutely hammers physicians who submit false claims, and I suppose prosecutors would not give a pass to other businesses that mail fraudulent invoices.
  19. Many solve civil justice problems on their own, rarely involving attorneys, says study
  20. Dog calls 911, saves owner's life
  21. Cat called 911 to help ill owner, police say
    Comment: Dogs and cats can dial a phone correctly … but nursing home workers cannot? Yikes!
  22. Take a Break
    Excerpt: “Random moments of “unproductive” time don’t just make you healthier, happier and more resilient. They help you work smarter, too.”
  23. Time estimation and total subjective time
  24. Subjective time estimation and age
  25. Subjective expectations of the acceleration of time with aging
  26. Assessment of time perception: the effect of aging
  27. Structured time and subjective acceleration of time
  28. On the perception of time
  29. Subjective acceleration of time: death anxiety and sex differences
  30. Perceptions of aging and their relation with age, death depression, and sex
  31. Time Does Fly As We Grow Older
  32. Happiness, time consciousness, and subjective life expectancy
  33. Against All Odds: Male Holocaust Survivors Have a Longer Life-Expectancy
    Excerpt: “ … one possible explanation for these findings might be the "Posttraumatic Growth" phenomenon …”
  34. Pulling an All-Nighter Can Bring On Euphoria and Risky Behavior
    Excerpt: “A sleepless night can make us cranky and moody. But a lesser known side effect of sleep deprivation is short-term euphoria, which can potentially lead to poor judgment and addictive behavior, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.”
  35. Sleep Experts Warn Santa Claus of Health Risks of Flying All Night
  36. Brain Responds Same to Acute and Chronic Sleep Loss, Research Finds
  37. Stress May Lead to False Confessions
  38. “A skillful prosecutor can often put people in jail who are not guilty of a crime.”
    Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Chief Prosecuting Attorney and Professor (on 48 Hours, speaking of his cousin Michael Skakel, who was convicted of murdering Martha Moxley even though he was certainly NOT guilty beyond a reasonable doubt). Skakel went to the slammer and Casey Anthony went free? Proof that the American legal system is more of a crapshoot than justice.
  39. Extraneous factors in judicial decisions
    Comment: Casey Anthony, O. J. Simpson, and a long list of other cases prove that justice is just a crapshoot. All too often, the guilty go free while innocent people are convicted and rot in prison or are executed.
  40. RIAA Will Drop Cases If You Point Out That An IP Address Isn't A Person
  41. Quality problems in America's nursing homes tied to turnover
    Comment: And staff too stupid to correctly use a phone!
  42. “This is the problem with bureaucrats: you give them a rule and they will apply it to the nth degree—it's just crazy.”
    Judge Alex Ferrer, on Outnumbered 3-5-2015
  43. Bill O'Reilly: Media Matters and the Corrupt Press on the Run
  44. The Soros slander machine: Media Matters
    Excerpt: “What's worse is when the lie is shamefully repeated, without any efforts to seek comment or clarification, by other news organizations … Media Matters had claimed in its story that it sought comment from me, which, like everything else in the story, was untrue. … That's the way Media Matters, a group that describes itself as a press watchdog, operates – distortion, lies, misinformation, disinformation, reckless disregard for the truth, defamation, character assassination.”
    Comment: Yup.
  45. The Western Center for Journalism: George Soros Evil
  46. Soros Donates $1 Million to Media Matters
  47. Fox News pushes claim Media Matters is 'criminal enterprise'
    Comment: I'm no longer a Fox News fan because they waste our time complaining about problems instead of proposing solutions, but their imperfect reverence for the truth is a light-year ahead of Media Matters.

    One of their many nutty distortions that manifests their contempt for the truth:

    Media Matters claimed that I thought Native Americans “should have been grateful for their subjugation by whites.” That's absurd and unconscionably careless. I am part Native American, so to suggest that I or my ancestors should be grateful for their subjugation is pure lunacy. Every ethical historian acknowledges that subjugation was one of the most abominable acts in history, and I strongly condemned it in writing (in one of my books and websites) long before I learned of my Native American ancestry.

    Me, happy about the subjugation of Native Americans? Hardly! You could spend the rest of your life searching but not finding someone who is more irate about that issue than me. In my humble opinion, I did a better job than anyone, ever, of illustrating the unfairness of that subjugation, which really irks me.

    I'm an ardent fan of fairness (something that should be obvious to people who read everything I wrote), and that subjugation was not fair, period. It was inexcusable, and sweeping it under the rug is also inexcusable, so I don't. I stuck my neck out and addressed a historical injustice that most people prefer to forget about.

    Frankly, on this issue, I am further left than most folks in the far Left, yet the sages at Media Matters painted a picture of me as being further Right than Attila the Hun. Thus if you don't believe Bill O'Reilly when he complains of outrageous smears by Media Matters, believe me. Or judge for yourself. Read my opinion of Native American subjugation and ask yourself if you think I am happy about it, or support it in any way. Absolutely not!

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

Comments (1)

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Comment #341 by Nurse with a brain
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August 6 2013 11:52:36 AM

Great Article!

I would say that you probably have written one of the most interesting blog articles on the web. There is no one who writes like you! You combine intelligent insights with down-to-earth old-fashioned humor. I have had experiences with more than one nursing home that all seemly had a common denominator of unhappy staff who had nowhere else to work due to past employment history, or lack of skill to work anywhere else. It is a well-known fact that these people are typically not the top of the class who work at these places. Some even have criminal records due to past drug use in hospitals. However, even a primate could be taught how to dial a phone correctly. Animal studies have revealed that crows can remember numbers seen in sequence -- so what are these people's excuse?

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