Observing more senior physicians, students learn that their mentors and supervisors believe in, practice and reward the concealment of errors. They learn how to talk about unanticipated outcomes until a ‘mistake’ morphs into a ‘complication.’ Above all, they learn not to tell the patient anything.
The tale of the Trojan Horse might be apocryphal – no one knows – but it stands out as one of military history’s most famous cautionary tales about yielding to unexamined beliefs. The story goes that the Greeks, frustrated by years of waging an unsuccessful siege on the walled city of Troy, built a massive wooden horse, left it at the city gates as a parting “gift” to their putative victors, and pretended to sail home. Ignoring the naysayers (most famously, the prophet Cassandra and the priest Laocoön, both of whom warned their fellow Trojans that the gift was a trap), Troy’s leaders brought the horse inside the city walls. That night, thirty-odd soldiers who had been concealed inside crept out and opened the gates to the returned Greek army. The Greeks destroyed the city and slaughtered its citizens, thereby ending – and winning – the Trojan War.