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Fri, 17 Mar 2023 10:00

How do you fix a word that’s broken? A word we need when we bump into someone on the street, or break someone’s heart. In our increasingly disconnected secular world, “sorry” has been stretched and twisted, and in some cases weaponized. But it’s also one of the only ways we have to piece together a sense of shared values and beliefs. Through today's sea of sorry-not-sorries, empty apologies, and just straight up non-apologies, we wonder in this episode from 2018 what it looks like to make amends.


Reported and Produced by - Annie McEwenwith help from - Simon Adler

CITATIONS:The program at Stanford that Leilani went through (and now works for) ( was a joint creation between Stanford and Lee Taft.

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Yeah, wait, wait, you're listening. All right. Okay. All right. You're listening to Radio Lab. Radio. From WNYC. Six. Three. Why? Here we go. I'm Chad Abumran. I'm Robert Crowlitch. This is Radio Lab and today we are... Sorry, really? Sorry. Yeah, exactly. For more on that, here is producer Annie McEwan. Hello. Hi. How did you get into all this? Good question. As you know, I'm not one of you. I am a Canadian. There's so many of you at Radio Lab. That's right. We are invading. And I moved to the States a few years ago and you know when you go to a new place and you're able to turn around and look back at the old place and you kind of see it with clarity. The clarity of distance. That's right. That's right. And there was this one moment that happened about a month after I got to America that just... I don't know. Something about it just really threw me. What? What is it? Well, let me set it up for you. So it's May 18th, 2016. The doors be open. Planouf les pas. In the Canadian House of Commons, the Speaker of the House. Order. Allah. Calls the session into order. The clarity of the deputé, la unwrapped deputé. In the House that day, they're going to vote on a bill. So the Speaker rings his electric bell, let's everyone know it's time to vote. And as is Canadian tradition, these two people, known as whips, walk up the aisle and then they do his kind of bow and then the voting can be given. But for this particular vote, the liberal whip gets the front and he turns it was right and he does not see the conservative whip. Gordon Brown. He's like, where is this man? And he turns the look behind and he sees that Gordon Brown has tried his very best to make his way to the front of the house, but he is stuck. And he is stuck because there is a clump of MPs that are standing in his way. Purposefully are just accidentally. So I think it's debated, but I would say very confidently that it was extremely purposeful. They're pretending they don't see him and they're using their little their butts like shuffling their butts and you can see he's like dodging this way and then scurrying that way and they're like, no, no, no, no. They didn't want this to come to a vote. It's kind of complicated, but this vote basically we have like three minutes to pass it. Oh, we have a deadline. We have a deadline. So you're just watching the scene and like, oh god, this is ridiculous and I sort of hate everything. And then you see sort of up from the front of the room this figure stands tall, dressed in a three-piece suit, exceedingly handsome, very nice hair. This figure strides towards this clump. His three-piece suit flapping open the cowlick of his hair, moving in the breeze of his own motion. Who is the person? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. So just in strides over, like, come on, clip playing games, let's get this show on the road. He pushes his way through this collection of people and in this moment, I am cheering for Trudeau. Yes, you are making government happen. Get the vote done. So Trudeau grabs Gordon Brown by the arm, pulls him through this clump. But in doing so, he elbows this woman he doesn't see behind him in the boob. Yeah. She goes out. She does. She does her face contorts with some pain. She grabs her chest and she has to leave and sit in the lobby and collect herself. She walks out. She walks out. And Trudeau sees none of this. And as he's striding up the aisle with little Gordon in tow, there is chaos erupting in the house. Trudeau turns around and he learns. You've just elbowed this woman in the chest and you can see he's got this mortified look on his face. He buttons a three piece suit. He strides after her, calls out something like, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't see you. I didn't see you. She is, she's gone though. At this point, one of the other members shows back at him. How could you elbow a woman? That's pathetic. You're pathetic. No portal girl so well. Like it gets really ridiculous. Wow. Oh yeah, the house speaker is like, it's... Members, order, order, order. Got it. Everyone sit down. Order, order, order, members will restrain themselves. Members will restrain themselves. So we sit down. Order. See the Prime Minister rising on this serious matter. And then Trudeau stands up and he's like, Mr. Speaker, I admit I came in physical contact with a number of members as I extended my arm in, including someone behind me who I did not see. He apologizes again. If anyone feels that they were impacted by my actions, I completely apologize. It's not my intention to hurt anyone. And so do I. It is my intention to forget. He sits down his whole side of the room stands up, gives him a standing ovation. But for the opposition, the people on the other side of the aisle, this is not good enough. I witnessed as he stood across the floor with anger, fears in his eyes and face. Member after member rise from their seats to scold him. I will add my testimony. These are the conservatives thinking with glee. They're not all conservatives, but yes. I saw the Prime Minister, I would use the word charge across the floor with intent. People are clutching their pearls with delight. Justin is not the perfect man that we all thought he was. This was deeply traumatic. So many kisses of him making an unsafe place for women to work. This act made us feel unsafe and we are deeply troubled by the conduct of the Prime Minister of this country. Eventually. I was the member in question. The woman who is elbowed Ruth Ellen Brasso, she returns and she speaks. I was elbowed in the chest by the Prime Minister and then I had to leave. It was very overwhelming. I just wanted to clarify and make sure it's clear to all the members in the house that that did happen. At which point Trudeau again stands up and says what I think is a pretty nice apology. I want to take the opportunity now that the member is okay to return to the house right now to be able to express directly to her my apologies for my behavior unreservedly. He says what he did, he says it was wrong and he says I'm very sorry. Thank you Mr. Speaker. So we got the idea now. He said it three times. Well you'd think so, right? So is it something that can be cured by a simple apology? But that was in the case. That night at a press conference. And indeed I'm going to apologize again for an incident in the house this evening that might. He does it again. And for that I truly regret. And at this point the media is going crazy about it. We have a dust stop at the House of Commerce today at all. Justin Trudeau's Day of Atonement. Referring to the incident as... Elbow Gate. Elbow Gate. The Elbow Incident. Trudeau got on social media. He added a apologetic tweet just in case. But even then we're still not done. Because the next day back in the House, House of Commons. Mr. Speaker, I'd like to take a moment to apologize. He apologizes again. I apologize for crossing the floor and attempt to have the member take his seat. And again. I'd like to apologize directly to the member for Betsy and Mescinoji. And again. Apologize to my colleagues. And again. I am apologizing. And again. I regret it deeply. I made a mistake. And again. I asked for a Canadian's understanding and forgiveness. And I think at this point when I was learning about this, I was just like, oh, OK. That is enough. I just feel, I just feel like it's this posturing. And keep in mind, for Canada, it's not just about this elbow thing. So every month Trudeau is apologizing to one group or another that has been harmed in the past by Canada. And I should say that I actually think these apologies are very helpful. And I think it's very important. But you get to this point where they just start to pile up. And so I guess when I'm seeing Elbowgate, I'm not just seeing Elbowgate. I'm thinking about all of this. And then I come here to America, where we have this president. Donald Trump is my guest tonight. He is refusing to apologize for anything. Oh, yeah. Is there anybody you'd like to apologize to? No. No. Let's apologize. And it's funny because I feel really weird saying this. But in that moment, in that tiny, tiny moment, the contrast was refreshing. What? Kind of like, well, at least I know where he stands. That's so funny because as you're telling this story about Canada and the apologies, I'm like, oh my god, we haven't apologized in this country for some really wrong stuff. Well, I mean, I should be clear that I'm not down with just not apologizing for stuff. But then again, we had one, two minute glasses of wine. And we are so sorry. Like, so many of the apologies you hear these days are just like, nothing says sorry, like free pizza. Sorry, not sorry. Like, I'm sorry if you felt hurt. I'm sorry if I offended you. Like, they're not real. Yeah. And I guess I just found myself thinking like, this is hard. I have to apologize. I was like, is broken. I'm so sorry. Yeah. And I guess I just found myself getting into this whole thing about like, trying to figure out, first of all, how did it get broken? How did we break it? And what can we do to get it back? So that's what I'm going to dig into right after this break. 3, 2, 1. Hey, I'm Chad. I'm Robert. I'm Annie. This is Radio Lab. And today, emphatically, we're going to look at apologies. Yes, we're going to apologize a lot. We'll ask ourselves, why do we apologize so much? Why don't we? If we need to, why do we need to? To, to, oh god, I'm so sorry that I'm so tongue-to-mouthed. For god, your train of thought. No, I didn't forget my train of thought. I just want to say how sorry I am to ruin the opening of the show. You are forgiven. Okay. Go ahead and do the rest of it. Thank you. Okay. So, start. Yeah. Well, maybe it might be worth our time to back up a little bit to, you know, where that notion of, I'm sorry, and apologies, come from, and what they are because. Right. Take me back. Right. So the, when on my first stops was this guy, Nick Smith? I'm Nick Smith. I'm the chair of the philosophy department at the University of New Hampshire. He's an expert in the history and philosophy of contrition. So, we've got these ancient traditions. Usually grounded in some kind of religious practice. Pretty much all the world religions have some kind of repentance. Repent. Tzuva. Repentance. Return to God. Return to Allah. Immediately, promise Allah. Never again. Not only contrite us. In forsake us. In repent. Run away from it. Word. Hmph. If there could be, I wouldn't have really woken up to them. If there was a Scriptures or something and error, some of them are behind this. Mawanda.. Dream.ereal. There are some own misunderstandings and not many comparisons and other acts. TIMIFU of the traditions of prayer within God. Remember the yourselves and the fact that sometimes it came over a law that comes over a sober place, and will become ex waters the land and the belief that after centuries perhaps never puises. You see, if there had been lying crimes and art like a traditions of cl obstacle, and temples of value that fall with great stepping-lines, the control of religions and religions. And exists in glaubdom of its church but armed in all naturalzech. He's become surrounded with a way of lived wisdom. We have. of it because you're talking about your soul and the afterlife. And you're standing before the gods and not just the person you injured, right? This is soul crafting. As we enter modern secular industrialized living, and as we try to find a way to do something like repentance in secular terms, we end up with this weird modern soup of apology. So Nick says over time, as we started letting go of these like explicitly religious rules around apology, sorry sort of started to shift and diffuse. In that context, you started thinking, all right, so what in modern life do we mean? All right, what's a good apology? What do we mean by apologies? This is gonna be super complicated. Like when we've been hurt by someone, what is it we actually want? And as I was looking around for stories about the role of apologies in our lives today, I found a moment that feels to me like, I don't know, like almost sort of inflection point in our reckoning with the meaning of, I'm sorry. And it starts oddly enough. Oh, and here she is. Should I pick up? Yes, you should pick up. With this guy. Hello. Hello. Hello. Are you there? Yep, I'm here. Hello, are you there? Yeah. I'm here. Hello. Hi there. Can you hear me? Governor DeCoccus? Hello. Hi. Hi. Great. Yeah. Wait, is it like Michael DeCoccus? That's who that is? It is, yes. What? Mike DeCoccus, a president for the 90s. For like the thing is, I actually didn't know who Mike DeCoccus was before doing this story. No. Yeah, I had no idea. In your defense, you are Canadian. No, I was like, I was like, Oh, Olympia DeCoccus. Oh, my God. That's what I was most excited about. She's a great actress. She is a great actress. I need to lie down. Anyhow. That's okay. Let me give you a tiny little background on what's... I was actually calling him about something that had happened like a couple years before he ran for president. That was a long time ago. And it's not that I'm losing my memory. Of course not. That was a long time ago. And you've had a pretty eventful life, so I wasn't sure whether or not this was the most memorable moment. It was. It was. Yeah, this might have been the second most. Yeah. So back in 1986, he was governor of Massachusetts. And he had a bill sitting on his desk waiting to be signed. Do you remember this? I do indeed. So it was the day before Christmas, it was 24th of December. So the bill itself, it had a lot to do with a state senator and a Bill Salton stall. Did you know him personally? Did I know Bill Salton's job president? Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We worked closely together. Bill was a very progressive Republican. One of the most decent people had ever met or worked with in politics. And I can tell you, he was suffering terribly. He and his wife and family. Yeah. Yeah. I never really knew exactly what happened. I mean, I would just sort of pick up snippets and try to imagine what. Imagine what happened. This is Abigail Salton's doll, Senator Bill Salton's doll's youngest daughter. You know, we weren't a family that talked about the circumstances in detail. But let's see, I was 12. Her older sister Claire, I just had a birthday. Yes, she had just turned 16. She was quite athletic. Long hair, blue eyes. And she had asked permission to bike down to its hole with her boyfriend. And it was going to be a long ride, like 70-some miles. But for Claire, that really wasn't that big of an ask. She used to bicycle to school, you know, like 10 miles. And stop at the beach and when it was really cold and swim with her friend and then go to school. She sounds cool. Yeah. She was adventurous. And she did love to bike. And I am not sure where they started. I am thinking maybe somewhere near Boston. They took off bike for a couple of hours. The bike ride, I'm sure, was exciting and in adventure. But they had got turned onto a wrong road. And I mean, she got locked. And my understanding of what happened. They were biking down the road on the shoulder. There were two cars that were maybe playing chicken, maybe racing. I'm not really sure. But the cars, one of them, swirled into the breakdown lane and just took out my sister. And she died. It was awful. It was awful. Do you remember where you were when you heard about your sister's death? Yeah. I was at a friend's house and then my father called and told me what happened. Oh wow. That's how I found out. Wow, over the phone, wow. Yeah, over the phone. Yeah. To lose a daughter, you know, on the prime of life, 16 years of age and one of those circumstances was just, you know, so tragic. You can imagine Bill obviously was devastated. Eventually, Sulton Self-Hot, who the driver was, this 19-year-old guy. And they probably could have taken him to court and won easily. But my memory is that my family did not press charges. My father said that he didn't see a reason to ruin two lives. But what he did at some level, was just for this guy to reach out to the family. The person who caused her death to say that they were sorry. But he never contacted them. So I never knew what that person thought. And at some point, my father told me that he thought that that was because of the law. That's right. The driver is afraid of the legal implications of an apology. This is Lee. Lee Taft. He's a lawyer and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. And he says that at that point, pretty much across the entire US. The general rule of law was that if I run a red light and I get out of my car and I say, any, I am so sorry, it was entirely my fault. I was not paying attention. I was talking on my cell phone. You can use my apology to establish that I've caused the accident. So your humane and empathic reflexes might steer you towards, you know, saying you're sorry. Right. Saying, I, you know, I was my fault. I wasn't looking or I was wiping my kids' nose or something. Again, Nick Smith. But the takeaway is, wait, don't do that. Because if you, in that moment, apologize, you're conceding that you deserve the blame. In other words, in the eyes of the court, apology is an admission. And Selt and Selt thought maybe the driver of the car isn't apologizing because he's afraid that we'd use it against him in court. So we figured let's rectify this situation. Let's just change the law, which brings us back. The bill was, was in response to that and to that bill sitting on Governor DeCoccus's desk. It was designed to make it possible for people to apologize without implicating them as guilty parties. Meaning after the accident, you get out of your car and you say, I'm so sorry, that sorry cannot be used against you in court. And it certainly made sense to me and I think made sense just about everybody. And I don't think it had much difficulty in getting through. It was unanimous close to it. And so December 24th, 1986. Massachusetts passed the first apology legislation. Creating for the first time this little window that allowed two people to just be people. And say I'm sorry. Without any legal consequence. Do you have any sense of whether or not that measure had any effect? Do you hear of it coming up? I honestly don't know. I don't know. I mean, I don't know. You know, the person even after the law was passed did not apologize. So it didn't accomplish that specific goal. I actually found and reached out to the driver. And through his son, he declined to comment for the story. So it didn't work. They never got their apology. Well, I mean, for Abigail and her family, no. But when I dug into the history of this a bit, what became clear was that this little drop of legislation created some ripples that are still spreading today. Because in its wake. Other states start to pass legislation. All right. We're going to talk about this apology legislation. So there's a little bit of lag time. But in the late 90s. Texas passes statute. Similar to Massachusetts. The I'm sorry, Bill. Then in the early 2000s, you see a big burst. Arizona, California, Colorado. This is Jennifer Robinalt, professor of law and psychology at the University of Illinois. According to her, one after another, states started passing these kinds of rules. Colorado does. Oregon does. South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee. Of course, there were slight variations from state to state, but by 2012. 36 of the states had passed one of these laws, making it okay to say, I'm sorry. But now you know that you're saying it without having to pay the consequences. Do you feel like that makes it less real to say sorry? Yes, that's not apologizing. No, wait, wait, if you don't say you're sorry because you feel like then I'm going to sue you. And so you say nothing. But isn't it better to have the sorry at least come out, even if the sorry is a little bit less of a sorry at that point? Yes, so that's the rub. Right? Because on the one hand, what you want is a mechanism to encourage good apologies. Right? On the other hand, you know, we'll wait a minute. And apology tells us that this person is responsible. And if they are responsible, then you know, perhaps one of the things that comes with that is responsibility to repair the harm. Yeah, this is a, this is a real double edged sword. Because if you're as sophisticated, a fender, you can manipulate this against victims to great effect. Like what are you talking about? Think of it like this. You've suffered a serious injury. Imagine like you, like you lost a child, right? Nick says what happens is that the people responsible for that death, maybe a company by a lawyer, what they do is they show up at your house. They sit down at your table and express something that looks like like a really deep, profound soul moving apology that they really sorry for what happened. And they take responsibility for it and they admit blame. It might feel genuine and honest, but Nick says oftentimes, you know, this is a combination of loyalty and acting. Because once you've expressed enough sympathy, then you, you make an offer and, you know, you lowball. So victims think they're getting something like a heartfelt repentance or something like that from your fender. But in fact, it's a negotiation, right? It's a negotiation dressed up as an apology. But how do you know that? How do you know that that's the line of thinking? I've been in, you know, the rooms, you know, where the strategies are being discussed. You mean the strategies of the apologizers? Yes. And Nick says over time lawyers have realized that by going to people's homes, listening sympathetically and offering an amount, this was way more cost effective. In fact, according to Nick, one of the major supporters behind that ground swell of apology laws in America were lobbyists. You know, lobbyists who advocate for corporate interests, who seek to reduce liability for harm's cost. Really? Yeah. So the sorry got weaponized. Yeah, particularly by corporations. Nick says in the early 90s. All sorts of industries started apologizing as a tactic. Tell me about one company he studied. In eight years, they saved 75 million. You know, if you want to follow the money, it's pretty easy to follow the money here. I'm suddenly, I'm suddenly starting to argue the other side in the head, which is, isn't the fundamental aspect in an apology like you're making yourself smaller or vulnerable to the person you're apologizing to? I think so. So if a company is apologizing without legal repercussions, I hate that the law is involved, but it is. And they're doing it for their own financial benefit. Then they're not actually making themselves vulnerable to the person. And so the apology is robbed of something essential, maybe. Yeah. Yeah. I don't know, though. I mean, I could imagine if you're a corporation, you could say, it's still a human moment. But even then, you don't, even if it seems like you're vulnerable, you never know. I don't know. Like, that is the thing. It all comes down to when they say their sorry, do they mean it? And you usually can't really judge someone's apology until like years later. And actually Nick told me a story that really drives this point home. Okay, so this is a really interesting example. So. So it's 1076. We're in medieval Europe. Henry, the fourth is the Holy Roman Emperor. And Gregory VII is Pope. Two of the most powerful people on the planet. And at some point, the emperor goes behind the Pope's back into points of bishop. And the Pope takes particular issue with disappointment. So what the Pope does is X communicates the emperor. Which means that I mean, he's not really the emperor anymore because the Pope has just said, well, he's not part of the church anymore. So for Henry, this is really bad news. And he's essentially disastrous for his rule. Right. Violence is breaking out. People are demanding. He stepped down. So what the emperor does. Henry. Henry takes a walk across the Alps with his wife and small child. And I don't know who else is in their their entourage. But it's in winter. It's bitterly cold. They march for days and days which turn into weeks and weeks. Through snowy valleys across icy rivers. And because he's been excommunicated, there's certain places he can't go. So they have to make take like the most dangerous, most steep route across the Alps. And then finally, after months of travel, he arrives. And it's some sort of castle he arrives at where the Pope is staying. What? The Pope refuses the emperor entry. It is allegedly snowing and something like a blizzard. So he's standing at the gates of this castle in a blizzard. In a blizzard with his wife and small child. He stands there for three days. Three days. Fasting? And it has said, there's many paintings of this. And he's he said to have taken a penitent posture. Sort of, you know, the bowing position, you know, sometimes dealing. He's wearing, you know, what's called a hair shirt, which is traditionally associated with repentance and supposed to be painful. Of course, hair shirt. Yeah, right. And it said that all his family tank off their shoes in the snow. Cheese. So the Pope is watching this from the castle, from this nice toasty castle. And of course, we have to keep in mind that there are long traditions within Christianity that we must forgive. So after three days of watching this, the Pope lets the emperor and his entourage in. They reconcile Henry's back in. He's back in the church. Apology accepted. Wow, okay. Okay, so then. That's a very good apology I got to say. Well, and a very hard, very serious story. The story is not over. But it is, I mean the hair shirt, the barefoot in the snow, the family, also using his kid. This is, I want to warn against the temptation that judge apologies in the moments they're given because now what happens. Okay, so the emperor races back home. Civil wars are breaking out. The emperor wins these civil wars. Eventually invades Rome and. He drives out this Pope and replaces him with his own guy. So, you know, what do we actually make of the emperor's apology? He did something very dramatic and spectacular to restore his power that he then used to destroy the person he was apologizing to. I wonder what God thought of all this. It's like a brother. Good question. Man, I don't, I feel like I'm never going to trust another apology again. Yeah, I know it. But, so let's take a little break. We're going to take a little break. And when we come back, I don't know. I guess I feel like I've got an apology that despite sort of being at the very center of all this confusing stuff we've been talking about, modern corporate legal secular stuff, I don't know. It does something that I really didn't expect. Okay, we'll be right back. Hey, I'm Chad Abumrod. I'm Robert Krollwich. This is Radio Lab. And we're still, we're still Anna McEwan talking about Sari's. Hopefully rescuing it from the Quagmire in which you left us with that hope thing. Yeah, it's right. I mean, I kind of left this in a dark space and that's how I was. I was in this like muddy state of apologies. What are we doing with this word? But then I stumbled across this one story and things just started to shift. Hey, Annie, I've got a microphone in front of my face. So fun, so lucky. Much better than like an ice cream color or something. Yeah, yeah. This is Lelani Schweitzer. Right, or a shot at Tequila, right? Yeah. So in 2003, Lelani was living in Reno, Nevada. And she had a son named Gabriel. He was born on December 21st. I remember it snowing and like looking out the window of the nursery and......and dreaming of a white Christmas was playing on the radio in there. Just like the one. There was all this Christmas stuff and just thinking like... What has happened here? When Gabriel was born, the doctors had learned that there was something wrong with his brain. But they didn't know what yet. I remember I got to go home pretty quickly. I don't think I stayed there even a day. And then I would go back and see him. Oh, so he had to stay there. Yeah, they knew he had a brain bleed and so they've got to look at those kids. What did you do for Christmas? Do you celebrate Christmas? Did celebrate Christmas? You know what? I hardly remember at all. I can't cry. After a couple weeks, Elani was glad to take him home. And for the first little while, everything was pre-normal. Dipers, long nights. Yeah, pretty normal baby days. And then he ended up where he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when he was four months old. So, so hydrocephalus. What it is is basically it's fluid around the brain. Sometimes it's even called water on the brain. When you hear your kid has hydrocephalus, how do you envision that their future? Well, I remember the neurosurgeon saying he's never going to play football and he's never going to be drafted into the army. Which sounds great. Yeah. Winning, right? So it's not that serious? Well, I mean, not necessarily. But kids with hydrocephalus, they have problems with vision, problems with balance. And they have to get this thing called a shunt, which is a tube that acts like a siphon. So it would drain off the excess fluid in his brain and drain it down into his belly. Wow. And I could feel it like on the side of his neck and he had a little tiny incision on his tummy where they pulled it down. So the shunt, it seemed to do the trick. Gabriel's doctors were so pleased with his progress that we went to have an ultrasound done and the doctor told us that our baby had a serious problem with his brain. We actually started in a commercial with the local hospital. And it was very sweet, sweet commercial. We can help babies before they're born. You see this tiny little baby with a scrap of blonde hair being held by a laughing doctor. They made us feel like we see Leilani talking about her experience. Whatever was going to happen that we would be able to handle it. And the commercial actually ends with Gabriel, a huge smile in his face, kind of kicking up his legs and scooting across the hospital logo. He's our miracle baby. And he's just undeniably a very cute kid. He would let anyone hold him. His arms were always reaching out to people. And so it wasn't unusual for him to get passed around like in the line at the grocery store. What? Seriously? Oh yeah. And because he did actually have problems with vision. He would always put his hand on your face and kind of like turn your face. And I don't know if he was doing that. So if he could see you better or if he just kind of wanted that was just a little like I'll touch you on your cheek and that's right. Like my little sweet blessing. I don't know, but he would he would do that. And and people would recognize him. And people would say, oh, he's the miracle baby. And like, yeah, he is. When did you first notice that there was a problem? So it was Thursday. I remember it was a Thursday. Gabriel was 20 months old. And I had been told that if he started throwing up to take him to the emergency department. And he was throwing up a lot. A lot. He had no fever. He didn't have diarrhea. But he was throwing up a lot. She took him to a nearby hospital. It was actually the first of two hospitals. It will play a role in this in this story. But anyway, when she got him there, they wrapped him up really tightly. And then he went to the next day and everything looked fine. So he ends up being hospitalized, treated for stomach flu, given anti-nazure medication. And eventually, they're sent home. He was still really sleepy. And I had a previously scheduled appointment with the neurosurgeon on Monday afternoon. This was four days later. I walked in and my mom was holding Gabriel. And Dr. Edwards takes a one look at him. And he said, why did no one call me? What was he seeing? He just saw a really sleepy, beautiful little sick baby. He immediately knew that something had gone wrong with the shunt. The fluid was building up in Gabriel's brain. And then it was bad. Lelani needed to get him to a specialist fast. So she put him in a car seat in the back of her car and drove all the way to Stanford. About five hours away. Yeah. And he sounded like a little kitten, kind of like a mowing, like not really crying. But just... And I remember getting stuck on the baby bridge. And just wondering, can the Navy Seals come rescue me? This is a traffic jam you were stuck in? Yeah. Oh, God. Yeah. But they do make it to the hospital. They check in, get a room. Finally, Lelani just allows herself to take a breath. So you were sitting in a chair that was right next to his bed or were you given another... You were okay. Just like an upright chair or one that would... Like one of those turquoise blue, naga hide recliners, you know? Like you're sitting straight or you're laying down. Yeah. Okay. Gabriel's lying in bed. We were on the telemetry unit. So that means they're monitoring his heartbeat and his breathing really closely. So he had the little monitors on him. He falls asleep and so does she. But anytime there would be any change in his breathing or his heart rate or any even little kind of twitch. These alarms on the monitors would just go off. Like a... It would wake him up and it would make me up. The nurse would come in, check him, make sure everything's okay. Leave the room and... Just as they were settling back into sleep. Wuh, wuh, wuh, wuh. And this kept happening over and over and over again. And so the nurse... When I think about her now, I think of like a bird. Like a swallow, one of those really like fast moving birds that's really nimble and quick and can switch directions really fast. Because she was in and out, in and out, in and out so much. And now I know that she was taking care of another really, really sick little girl. And taking care of Gabriel and I at the same time. So she... She said, I'm gonna turn off the sound on the alarms. I'm just gonna turn the sound off in here, which I really appreciated. And I thanked her for that because I really wanted to go to sleep. So I fall asleep and then the next thing I remember is she walks in and she grabs the foot of the recliner with her left hand as she's walking past me and she swings it around. And she says, Liana, you have to get up. And she could see the flat lines on the monitor because it's hard to stop beating. Then Code Blue is on the intercom and he's hooked to machines and he's not squeezing my hand and he doesn't feel warm. And someone takes me out and I'm in the hallway and... I don't know if I thought about this later or if I thought about it in the time. You know how you go back and you... You're sure you remember something in the moment but I don't know that I remember this in the moment. But I remember just kind of this like him saying goodbye to me at that time. Really? Yeah, what do you mean? Well, kind of like this gentle sort of... Like this is up to you now, mom. You know? I mean, you're connected, right? You're really connected. And when part of that connection is gone, you feel that. Lelani says in the wake of Gabriel's death, she did all the regular things you do when someone dies. Like therapy and in her case. So you had a lot of snowboarding? Snowboarding. Yeah. White snow and blue sky was all that really could compute. But she said in those first few days and weeks just following Gabriel's death, she just kept replaying over and over in her mind. What went wrong? What happened at those two hospitals? Yeah. So the first hospital where Gabriel's shunt failure was misdiagnosed as a stomach flu. This is the hospital where... The doctors, the nurses, the parents. The commercial was for this hospital. He's an aromirical baby. Those commercials just stopped. Wow. What? So then, yeah, what happened next? Nothing happened. She just basically heard nothing from them. How did it feel when you were shut out like that? Well, it made me really angry. It made me feel like they were denying that Gabriel even existed or that his life had any importance at all. The fact that he died... That wasn't enough reason for them to talk to me. I just... It still makes me angry, you know? I wouldn't... I would purposefully drive around the hospital. I would not drive past it. So I reached out to this hospital for comment and they actually declined to give one. So I can't be sure. But part of the reason they made out of Reach Out to Lelani is because this hospital is located in Nevada. And Nevada is one of those states that does not have apology legislation. So you're not protected if you apologize. But California does have a law. So under the California law, you can say things like, I'm sorry, I feel bad, but you cannot say I'm sorry it was our fault. We made a mistake. That park can still be used against you in court. And this brings us to the second hospital. So Stanford reached out to me right away. They invited her back to the hospital. I had a lot of questions and I brought all of them. I printed them all out. I had photos of Gabriel. And so two months after Gabriel died, Lelani carrying these photos walked into a Stanford conference room. Do you remember what the expression on her face was? Just the grease-drinking. This is Pam Wells. You know, you just, there's a look about people who are greased-drinking. At the time, Pam was head of nursing at Stanford. And in that day, she, two doctors in a hospital administrator, sat down around a table with Lelani. It was a small table that could have sat maybe eight people. Had you ever met her before? I had never met her before. I didn't really know what my intention was. But I do remember I said, after you tell me everything you need to say to me, I want to say some things to you. And they said, why don't you say what you have to say first? I said, I felt like I hadn't been prepared to take care of a kid who had hydrocephalus. She said, when Gabriel and I arrived at Stanford, there was no one waiting for us there. You should have been someone waiting for us. You had to get checked in. And the neurosurgeon who was on call. He should have seen Gabriel that night. Why did he not come by? And just more generally, I trusted you guys. I just needed to get him here, right? Like, I got him here. Now somebody else is going to make sure everything's okay. And that's not what happened. This was a critical moment for Stanford. It was unusual at that time to meet with families after something had happened. For obvious reasons. I mean, if a doctor or a nurse said anything in that meeting, that even remotely resembled admitting that they screwed up, that could be used against them in court. And so mostly hospitals just avoided these meetings altogether. But right around the time that Gabriel died. Our quality and risk department had been talking to us about taking a different approach. An approach that was actually led by Leigh Taft. And the thinking was, let's be open, let's be transparent. Just forget the law. And so after this moment, after Leigh Lonnie sort of reels off all of her grievances, Pam looks her in the eye and says, We are very, let me rephrase that. We are so sorry this happened and this terrible thing happened. No family should ever go through this kind of loss, and particularly not into these circumstances. And we really want to be able to help you and understand what you need from us in order to help you navigate this devastating event. We're committed to not only answering your questions, but we are fully investigating what happened and want to make sure that we can put some things in place so that this never happens to another child or family. And they went one step further. The situation that led to Gabriel's death was the... Gabriel was on a monitor, the alarms kept going off, the nurse in the room turned the alarm off, not knowing that it turned off all the alarms. The nurse in the room that night, when she went to turn off the alarm next to Gabriel's bed to allow Leigh Lonnie and Gabriel to sleep, she also accidentally turned off the alarm on her pager and at the nurse's station. And so he wasn't being monitored and he really needed to be monitored and subsequently ahead an event. Something in our system contributed to this little boy's death. In other words, we made a mistake. Stanford had just admitted that plainly without dancing around the issue at all. And so what they had just done is give Leigh Lonnie evidence, evidence that she could take to court and use against them if you wanted to. I know she was checking me out. I know she was trying to understand whether she could trust me. There was no question in my mind that that was going through her head. And I was doing whatever I could to communicate that, yes, you can, I'm going to help you. I want to help you. You know, I don't remember a lot of the words, but I remember how I felt. Imagine like you lost a child and the wrong door apologized to you, right? That can be almost like a religious moment. Something really bad has happened to you and the offender is now in a way like humbly and vulnerably kneeling before you. I felt that they listened to me and I felt that they genuinely cared about me and my family and about Gabriel. And I still feel that. Leigh Lonnie accepted their apology and she never filed a suit. And I should say that Stanford did a lot more than just apologize. They reached out to other hospitals who had this monitor and alerted them of the problem. So it would never happen again to another kid. And also the relationship between Pam and Leigh Lonnie, like remained very strong. They still are in touch to this day. And all those things are important, but the thing is since Leigh Lonnie has had this experience, Stanford and a few other hospitals who do this full disclosure thing, what they found time and time again is that people get an explanation and an apology. They are far, far less likely to sue. And therefore those hospitals save money, a lot of money. And I guess you know, you could think about it in sort of self-serving way. Like if it saves money to apologize, you know, what is the motivation behind these apologies? And you imagine the sort of boardroom at Stanford somewhere with these people in suits making decisions about whether or not they want their doctors and nurses to apologize. And the motivation behind that, I guess, makes you feel a little weird. But when I asked Leigh Lonnie about this, she just said like, if money is the driving force, I don't care about it at all. I don't care. I don't care about the motivation. But I would love it if human connection was the motivation, but I know that it's not. And the fact that this is makes good business sense. If that's what drives people, I will get on board. For me, I guess what happened between Leigh Lonnie and the doctors and the nurses at Stanford Hospital. I don't know, like I guess I was working on this apology piece. I kept feeling like I had to choose between these bad apologies I was seeing, or no apology. And either of those are good, or just trying to compare these super corporate apologies to some sort of moment that had deep meaning for the two people involved, these human spaces. And I don't know, I guess with this Pam and Leigh Lonnie apology, it just felt to me like somehow this new thing, this new way forward. It certainly felt that way to Leigh Lonnie. And I think that in the past, several years after that meeting, the check should became a patient liaison for Stanford. Her job is now to sit in that conference room and do for others what Pam did for her. In the 20th and 21st century, you've got humanity sort of staring into the abyss of, maybe this is all meaningless, you know, there is a kind of searching for what are values. Do we have shared values? Are there values other than the competition for money and resources? What do we stand for when it comes time to die? Like what did my life mean? Like what values does it have? This is an important collective process that humanity is going through. And it's like we're reaching back to these traditions of repentance to try to find some shared ground, like some shared even secular ground. And the call to apologize is like no, we have to share these values. These are the things that's going to hold us together. Nice work, Annamy Kuen. Oh, thanks. Do you feel more American now? I don't know. I don't know. It's a good question. Actually, I think I feel like I am beginning to peel back the layers of this incredibly complicated country. And actually speaking of which, during my reporting, I actually stumbled upon this very, very American little moment in history. So apparently during Michael DeCoccus' run for president, there was this very, very negative ad campaign. It's like this guy who got out of prison. Oh, no, this is one of the worst negative ads of all time. Actually, it's one of the first, I think. And I think it ended his campaign effectively. Right. There was a man running for president named George Bush. Right. Lee Atwater was his campaign manager. They put an ad on television. The television ad said, look what's happening in America. People who are criminals are being released on furlough. And then they're doing terrible things in this case. Willie Horton, yeah. He was released and then he actually raped someone after he was released. And this was laid onto the Democratic Democrats. And it was so, sorry, it was so unfair. They blamed Governor DeCoccus for essentially causing the rape of this woman when he didn't even create the program that allowed the guy to get out of prison. That was created before him. And it was also obviously racist. I mean, you know, a black guy attacking a white woman and so on and so forth. I mean, speaks for itself. And so when I was talking to Governor DeCoccus, this actually came up. Atwater was a tough guy and he was an attacker. And he told me that Lee Atwater years later on his deathbed, he decided he wanted to repent for these sins that he felt he had done in his life. And one of those was making this Willie Horton ad. Really? So he actually apologized. What did he say? He said publicly and to my campaign manager that he regretted it. And what did that mean to you? Well, I can't tell you that it made me feel great because, you know, I lost that race and a lot of it had to do with that attack campaign. So I never, I mean, I didn't feel any better. But look, at least he was willing to do that. But what does that mean when you say at least he was willing to do that? It's just sort of like, well, I think at least he was willing to acknowledge that it was racist. And he said so and apologized for it. And that at least deserves some some praise. But came a little late. Yeah. Well, Annie, first of all, we should... I want to apologize to you, Annie. Really? I don't know what I've done, but I've probably done something. Many things. And okay. There you go. Thank you. So we'd like to thank Annie McEwan for both reporting and producing this story with Simon Adler. I'm Chad Abumrod. I'm Robert Kroich. Thanks for listening. Radio Lab was created by Chad Abumrod and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasir are our co-hosts. Dylan Keave is our director of sound design. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachel Q. Sik, Bakedi Foster Keys, W. Harry Fortuna, David Gabel, Maria Pasco, T.R.S, Sindu Nonna Sanban Down, Matt Q.T., Anime Q.N., Alex Nisen, Sour Cari, Anna Rasquitbass, Sarah Sandbach, Aryan Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster, with help from Andrew Vinyales. Our fact checkers are Diane Kelly, Emily Krieger, and Natalie Middleton. Hi, this is Finn calling from Stores, Connecticut. Leadership Support for Radio Lab Science Programming is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. 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