Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story


Four hours. That was the amount of time between looking down the barrel of a gun and finding myself free along a silent highway lined by cotton fields. In the time period that seemed eternal, my unique experiences as a doctor created an indescribable bond between myself and my captor. I looked upon the situation just as I looked upon a medical emergency: I took a deep breath, hid my panic, and tried to solve the situation.
In March 2005,...

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Four hours. That was the amount of time between looking down the barrel of a gun and finding myself free along a silent highway lined by cotton fields. In the time period that seemed eternal, my unique experiences as a doctor created an indescribable bond between myself and my captor. I looked upon the situation just as I looked upon a medical emergency: I took a deep breath, hid my panic, and tried to solve the situation.
In March 2005, Dr. Steven Berk was kidnapped in Amarillo, Texas, by a dangerous and enigmatic criminal who entered his home, armed with a shotgun, through an open garage door. Dr. Berk’s experiences and training as a physician, especially his understanding of Sir William Osler’s treatise on aequanimitas, enabled him to keep his family safe, establish rapport with his kidnapper, and bring his captor to justice.
This harrowing story is not just about a kidnapping. It is a story about patients, about physicians, and about what each experience has taught Berk about life and death, mistakes, family, the practice of medicine, and the physician-patient relationship. It is a story about how Berk's profession prepared him for an unpredictable situation and how any doctor must address life’s uncertainties.

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What People Are Saying

Abraham Verghese
This phenomenal memoir evokes Lewis Thomas and Richard Selzer in its insights into medicine, but it is also the suspenseful drama of an encounter with a criminal that could have ended badly. One moment in [Berk's] life is ultimately decided by a lifetime of experience as a dedicated physician and teacher. Truly a harrowing, wonderful and ultimately a redemptive tale.—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
Victoria Sutton
Not only is Dr. Berk a master of writing an interesting case history, his ability to tell a story is strikingly rich, deep, and engaging. I laughed, I cried, and came away thinking this is a story that has to be told. I started reading it and I could not put it down—or I probably would not have been able to fall asleep that night without knowing how it ended for Dr. Berk but also for [the perpetrator].—Victoria Sutton, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor, Texas Tech School of Law
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780896726932
  • Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 634,553
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven L. Berk, M.D., is dean of the Texas Tech School of Medicine and provost of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. As a physician certified in infectious disease and geriatrics, Berk has treated an outstanding diversity of patients in his forty-year medical career.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    Reviewed by Janet J for Readers Favorite

    Anatomy of a Kidnapping; A Doctor's Story is a perfect title for this book, as its author, Steven L. Berk is a physician who responded to the events of March 6, 2005, with the instincts and skills he had honed in his many years of practicing medicine. On that day, an armed man entered his home, took him captive, and forced him into a white van. For two hours, Dr. Berk dealt with a meth-addicted felon with a history of violence who was looking for money to score more drugs.

    Although the defense attorney and others questioned the choices he made during his ordeal at the hands of this psychopath (when Berk might have had opportunities to flee), Berk justifies and explains these choices logically; he evaluated the situation and did what he thought was best for his family and himself under the circumstances. I would never challenge that statement. Certainly the outcome suggests he made many wise choices in dealing with his captor, and that only he could evaluate the terrifying situation in which he found himself and determine the strategies he would use to deal with it.

    This is an engrossing book that details not only the kidnapping of Dr. Berk, but also contains many fascinating anecdotes from his years as a physician that helped to develop his particular method of assessing situations and acting accordingly. "In times of crisis," he writes, "no matter the nature, a physician must do his best to promote calm, rational solutions to any problem. Even when emotions are running high and a situation is getting out of control, a physician must stay impassive and composed, and practice clear judgment."

    Even at the trial, Dr. Beck addressed the man who had held a shotgun to his head and changed his life forever, and said, "Someday I hope you admit to your crimes and ask forgiveness."

    The book also contains excerpts of testimony from the trial and newspaper articles relating to the case, which contain information from other points of view, adding more depth to the story.

    A term Berk often uses is "aequanimitas" which Dr. William Osler defines as: "imperturbability . . . Imperturability means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, and clearness of judgment in moments of great peril, immobility, impassiveness. It is the quality which is most appreciated by the laity though often misunderstood by them."

    The most moving part of the book comes at the end, when in a dream, Dr. Berk is able to make amends for mistakes he has made in his life and learns of treatments and research that benefited others, many of which he had not known. Later, imagining the worst scenario, he writes a touching letter to his son. His address to students at a white coat ceremony, when they begin the study of medicine and take the Hippocratic Oath, is also included and has a powerful message of the need to develop compassion, honesty and respect as they continue in their training.

    Berk explains how his own concept of aequanimitas was strengthened and refined by his kidnapping as he concludes: "Jack Lindsey Jordan taught me a lesson using his temper, his shotgun, his attempt at intimidation. I could not afford to fret over small things or imagined fears again. I would celebrate my life, my experiences, and my contributions at every opportunity. I would fear no evil, large or small. I had become much closer to a life of aequanimitas. Perhaps that is the most important les

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