Lessons from a cruel hoax . . .

Posted: June 1, 2015 in Medical School
Tags: , , ,
Moody Awori

Hon. Moody Awori, left (former Vice President of Kenya) with President Uhuru Kenyatta

At 5am a few days ago, I was awoken with a text with awful “news”: “Just heard Uncle Moody passed away yesterday.” I was in shock; not Uncle Moody, not the uncle who stepped into my dad’s shoes when he passed away when I was 11, not the uncle who spoke at his funeral and captured the essence of who my dad was in his compassionately eloquent style, not the Uncle who rose to the Vice Presidency of Kenya and became everyone’s “Uncle Moody.” As I grappled with the news, an inconsistency emerged. Although, the news of his death was being widely circulated in Kenyan social media, no one could get a confirmation of his death from the immediate family. And that’s when the real headline broke . . . it was a hoax. Someone hacked into the Twitter account of a local paper and posted the news of Uncle Moody’s “death.” This person even went so far as to hack the accounts of prominent politicians and post condolence messages on their behalf. Soon, the family confirmed he was in fact alive and well and I experienced extraordinary relief that carried me through the whole day  . . .

The whole bizarre episode got me thinking. Why was my relief so great? Of course, Uncle Moody is a close uncle who stepped into my dad’ shoes alongside my uncle Hanny (short for Hannington!) when my father passed away. But this is also someone I barely see in person these days because he lives in Kenya and I live in the US and my Kenya trips can be as long as 3 years apart. How then could the news of his “death” and the subsequent relief that it was not true have such a pronounced effect?  I have always assumed that “closeness” (proximity) is strongly related to “closeness” (intimacy) but that is only part of the story. I think we underestimate the scope of our influence in others’ lives. Right now, there is someone’s universe that is being grounded by the fact that you’re still here, even if this person is far away and you haven’t said a word in years. I think this is more than touchy feely wishful thinking. Do we really have an accurate grasp on what our life means to others?

This paradigm shift in what closeness means also made me consider those moments on the wards when we are trying to track down family for certain patients and it has proved elusive. It is tempting to focus on immediate family in the area when, in reality, the most significant relationship the patient has may be dressed very differently than our typical next of kin paradigms capture. According to a recent article in  JAMA, (The Journal of the American Medical Association), almost 1 in 10 patients specify someone other than immediate family members as their next of kin. Is it really worth it to hunt down that aunty in Alaska? Could be the one thing the patient truly wanted.

And what about the hoax? Will we ever know who thought it could somehow be funny or provocative to fake the news of Uncle Moody’s death? I don’t know. In an age where double-edged social media can create instant panic, truth may be elusive, but must still be sought out.

Social media helped create the lie, but social media also helped to correct it.

  1. So true JB. Situations like this remind us of the importance of others in our lives even if they are miles away or we don’t see them often. I like how you linked this situation back to patients in medicine.

    Liked by 1 person

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