The Fall of Hippocrates
Medical error or murder?
De val van Hippocrates (The Fall of Hippocrates) is all about guilt. As an adolescent, Erik Liefco, the main character, took his eleven-year-old brother on climbing trip in the Swiss mountains. His brother had a fatal accident, falling into a ravine during the descent. Erik has never forgiven himself, and has become a doctor in order to save lives. But life has not been particularly kind to him.
He has a resident post in a hospital, but no opportunity to become a specialist. His girlfriend is quite justified in urging him to give up medicine and go with her to London where she can take up a lucrative job.
Just as in the television hospital series, such as E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy, Lievers provides a quick-fire account of how a hospital functions: the pressures of work, the emergency cases, the mutual rivalry, and also the seemingly casual sex. Liefco inhabits this world and has become an alcoholic. Several patients die, but it is not always his fault. Naturally he makes mistakes now and again, but then there are difficult diagnoses involved, or errors in transferring a patient’s dossier, poor advice, or simple bad luck. His superiors give him the benefit of the doubt, after all, his extensive medical expertise and commitment are major points in his favour. However, his illegal blood test after jabbing himself with an aids patient’s needle, and unsafe sex are certainly unethical. In retrospect, the patients’s deaths are no coincidence but deliberate actions, according to the prosecutors who accuse Liefco of multiple murder.
De val van Hippocrates is based on a notorious case in the Netherlands in which a nurse was erroneously accused of the murder of several patients, and imprisoned for six years before being acquitted. What turned out to be nonsense in the case of the nurse was, for Erik, an unfortunate, more complex combination of frustrated ambition, confusion, and the occasional slip up. It is a splendid basis for a novel and Lievers has elaborated on it with great subtlety.