Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Joke That Led To Suicide…

By now practically everyone in the world has heard about the prank phone call made by two Australian disc jockeys on a nurse at King Edward VII Hospital. They pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles inquiring about Kate Middleton’s condition. The nurse answering the phone mistakenly put the call through and another nurse gave out some rather benign information. The nurse who put the call through, Jacintha Saldanha, ended up committing suicide a day later. A tragic ending to what was supposed to be a few harmless laughs.

I don’t know how to feel and think about this prank. When I first heard it I felt is was all in good fun. Who could it hurt? These types of prank calls are played by radio stations all the time. I have heard some where they practically aggravate the person into literally having a stroke or heart attack. I even find most of those funny. This joke was much shorter and certainly not meant to upset anyone. It was just for laughs and frankly I didn’t even find it funny. After I had heard it I didn’t think any more about it. However, the media would not let it go. The story went viral in every type of public media. The humiliation of a simple mistake was not confined to the hospital or a few thousand listeners of the radio show. It was worldwide. Apparently, the pressure of such a humiliation was devastating and too much for the Jacintha to bear. So, at 46 years of age and with two teenagers, she chose to end her life.

The disc jockeys are distraught over this outcome, which no one could have predicted. They didn’t even expect their call to get past security screening. Their accents were terrible. But a hospital is a very busy and stressful place and somehow the call got through. No damage was done. No secrets revealed. Just one nurse was pushed over the edge and driven to take her own life.

If I had been in charge of the radio station and the prank was proposed, I would have more than likely approved it. Even now, as I sit here thinking about it, I am not sure the prank was the only reason why Jacintha ended her life. It can’t be. There has to be more to her story. There has to have been some mental condition like depression or some serious personal issues weighing on her. I can’t imagine how else this would make sense. I suppose the humiliation caused by the prank might have contributed to her stress and pushed her over the edge, but surely the prank itself was not the underlying cause? 

Nevertheless, an investigation is being done, the disc jockeys were given a leave of absence, the London Hospital is instructing staff how to screen calls more diligently and going over protocol, maybe telephone pranks will be outlawed in many places…but is this really the answer? I don’t think so. 

We have so many people suffering a mental illness of some kind who aren’t getting help. All these mass shootings at schools, movie theaters etc are done by people who slipped through the cracks. They showed signs of being disturbed, of being loners, or whatever you want to label them. The facts about them only come out after some tragic event. Why weren’t they helped before they took other lives or their own? I imagine that soon facts will come out in this case too, that show this nurse was suffering from some condition or situation that made her especially vulnerable and fragile at this particular time. I don’t think the DJs are to blame, or the radio station is to blame, or even the media is to blame.

I think that everyone wants to be able to blame someone for this tragedy, but no reasonable person can conclude that if not for that prank, Jacintha would be okay because she was obviously suffering from something. Maybe co-workers noticed something about her behavior, maybe her family did, maybe someone knows the root cause of her problems and hasn’t revealed it yet. I don’t know, but I find it hard to belief that a simple prank drove her to this abysmal end. Isn’t that what they should be investigating?  What was going on with her or in her personal life that made her take this drastic step? And, how did everyone around her miss the signs? And what can we do to be more aware, spot signs of trouble in those around us and what actions can we take to help them before something happens? That’s what would be more productive and a better use of everyone’s time. That’s what might turn this tragic outcome into something a little more positive. That’s what I think.


  1. the RJ's must be charged with the crime of abatement to commit suicide & must be strictly dealt with. its high time that the so called fourth pillar of democracy 'media' acknowledges its responsibilities. in my opinion the embarrassing affect of the prank was very much foreseeable. these crocodile tears are not going to bring the poor soul back in this mortal world. they should be imprisoned in addition to be banned from serving in the industry for life time. even these RJ's must pay for the prank..........the poor girl paid with her life. damn....i m utterly disgusted.

  2. Like many of us, as a kid, I was teased - for being skinny ("You could take a shower and not get wet!"), for having slightly crooked teeth, kinda like Jackie O's ("Fang! Fang! Fang! Are you a vampire?"), for being ugly (although I wasn't) and for having the last name Drake ("Drakes cakes - show us your cakes" "Drakes Ring-Ding, Donna is a ding-a-ling!") I wasn't particularly devastated by the teasing- I never took it to heart, it didn't really hurt, although that was probably the intent. But it COULD have caused GREAT pain, had I been troubled or felt incomplete in some way unanticipated by the perps. I could have cried instead of laughed, I could have thought it reflected on ME instead of knowing, on some precocious level, that it said something only about THEM. I think that's the problem with pranks - the motivation. They're intended to embarrass and/or humiliate. Sometimes the victim doesn't deserve it. Sometimes they can't even handle it.