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Anatomy of a Kidnapping

A Doctor’s Story

Steven L. Berk, M.D.

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Texas Tech University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii


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p. ix-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Julia Weiser, a Yale graduate and fi rst- year medical student at the University of Texas Southwestern, edited this book. Julia understood what I wanted to convey in my story, especially as it relates to physicians and young doctors. Her detailed questions to me about my kidnapping and experiences in medicine ...

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pp. xiii-xv

I did not know the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, but I knew that the black metal barrel aimed at my forehead by this agitated stranger had the potential to blast my carefully constructed life into fragments. There is no prescription or special behavior appropriate for the victim of violent crime, but as a doctor ...

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1. The Doctor

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pp. 3-25

Keams Canyon is an ancient sandstone valley in northeastern Arizona, a vast expanse of open sky, pine tree-topped cliffs, and countless layers of brown earth. At sunset, the towering walls of the canyon turn unimaginable shades of orange and red. In the midst of this awesome setting ...

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2. Kidnapped

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pp. 26-37

On Sunday, March 6, 2005, at around 7:00 a.m., I walked from my bedroom to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. My first contact with family was our ten- year- old Australian shepherd, Aussie. She always looked rather comical, with her random and irregular splotches of black, brown, merle, and ...

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3. Getting to Amarillo

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pp. 38-56

When I finished my residency at Boston City Hospital in 1979, I never thought my career would take me to Amarillo, Texas. Up to that point, I thought I was on a path to become a missionary doctor. I had wanted to be a physician since junior high school, when I read the work of Thomas ...

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4. The Thin Line

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pp. 57-79

In my career and in my personal life, I have seen death in all its forms: anticipated, sudden, violent, peaceful, sad, and inspiring. I have seen people confront death in every possible manner, and I can recall their expressions of peaceful anticipation, noble courage and defiance, fear, resolve, relief, and even ...

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5. Aeuanimitas

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pp. 80-102

I met Shirley in 1979, shortly after moving to Tennessee from Boston. She was a microbiologist, and I was the only infectious disease physician in eastern Tennessee; so our professional paths crossed frequently. She would call me to ask for my opinion on an unusual culture or to identify an unfamiliar strain ...

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6. The Patient

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pp. 103-115

I get back in the SUV on the passenger’s side. As the gunman drives out of our subdivision and back toward the main streets of Amarillo, I expect him to stop and let me out of the car at any moment. Freedom and safety, I think, are literally around the corner. I notice that the streets are now much more crowded with ...

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7. Mistakes

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pp. 116-141

You know, I’m the last person that would hurt anyone,” he says as we enter Bushland. I stay silent. I suspect that he’s hurt people before. “I was pushed into this by some mistakes,” he tells me. “My wife’s death was my big mistake, and then the drugs, the worst mistake. But there are small ...

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8. Leslie

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pp. 142-147

Meadow, Texas, is a town of 658 people and 213 households. The name is pronounced MED-uh, but only by the local townsfolk, who live scattered on their farms and ranches, isolated one from another by acres of flat land. Perhaps Meadow’s name was more fitting when the town was founded in 1904, when the ...

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9. Shame in Bushland

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pp. 148-162

I had been to Bushland only once before in my life. It was when a close family friend visited us in Amarillo and brought Justin a telescope as a gift. Justin was interested in astronomy at the time, and so we all drove out to a cattle ranch in Bushland to go stargazing and try out the new telescope. It was the perfect place for ...

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10. Amarillo Police

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pp. 163-170

Amarillo police cars are parked along the curb parallel to our home, and eventually the line stretches down the street. They draw attention from our neighbors, who have never seen so many squad cars gathered in a place without a car wreck nearby. The police are creating a traffic jam, taking up ...


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pp. 171-174

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11. Jeremy and Justin

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pp. 175-185

The news of my kidnapping spread quickly and generated intense media coverage. Amarillo is a small city, and as the regional dean of the medical school, I was a fairly well-known figure. Though I’d initially hesitated to call the police, I ultimately decided to be open with the public about my ...

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12. A New Day

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pp. 186-191

I awoke on March 7 with the sun brightly shining through my window. I had no intention of reporting to work. Physician and regional dean, I was about to become better known as the kidnapped doctor who left his garage door open. I would also become a ...

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13. Crime, Drugs, and Guns

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pp. 192-202

I had always supported gun control, and I never thought I would one day become a gun owner. But the kidnapping changed my opinion about this issue. Indeed, the kidnapping made me think very carefully about several subjects that I had not spent much time thinking about before. For three days ...

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14. The Right Prescription

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pp. 203-209

On Tuesday evening, a call from Sergeant James was momentarily frightening. “Jordan appears to have returned to Amarillo and bought a gun at Panhandle Gunslingers,” he told me. I went from frightened to embarrassed. Panhandle Gunslingers is where I bought my gun. An easy ...

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15. Jack Lindsey Jordan

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pp. 210-217

Jack Lindsey Jordan grew up in Seminole, Texas, a small community located in Gaines County. Seminole is and always has been a conservative community with traditional values. Its economy has depended on Texas oil fields since the 1920s. Jack was the son of a successful businessman—a home-builder ...

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16.. The Capture

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pp. 218-224

After he left me in Bushland, Jack headed out Interstate 40 toward New Mexico. Perhaps he assumed that his intimidation tactics had worked, that the understanding doctor would stay silent about the morning’s events. But it still made sense to put as much distance between himself and his ...

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17. The Trial

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pp. 225-234

The State of Texas v. Jack Lindsey Jordan trial began in February of 2007, almost two years after the crime took place. For me it was of little significance, as I had not been physically or emotionally harmed and had not felt any need for revenge or retribution. I had been told that Jordan might plead ...

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18. The Dream

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pp. 235-241

After the trial, we drove back from Amarillo to Lubbock in darkness. The trial had been emotionally draining. Meeting the victims of Jordan’s crime spree and hearing his testimony gave me a better appreciation of the danger that I faced on the day of the kidnapping. At home, the need for sleep ...

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19. Purpose

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pp. 242-245

On March 6, 2005, I was spared to see another day, a crime victim who gave thanks for life itself. My story is unique, but I feel like a brother or sister to many others— those who walked away from a demolished car, whose heart stopped and started again, who survived the loss of a breast or ...


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pp. 247-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780896727557
E-ISBN-10: 0896727556
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896726932
Print-ISBN-10: 0896726932

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 8
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1