WINNIPEG — Dr. Jack Fainman loved delivering babies. The Winnipeg obstetrician estimates that he has delivered more than 5,000 children.
It is ironic then that his career was cut short 14 years ago by a bullet fired from the gun of an anti-abortionist.
That career-ending moment is one of the pivotal points in They Shoot Doctors, Don’t They?, a new book by the retired Winnipeg doctor. The book had its official release on Nov. 16, at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg.
“There was a huge turnout for my book launch,” Fainman says. “It was standing room only.”
He has also been featured in the local media and interviewed by both CBC and CTV.
Although Fainman says that he has always been pro-choice, doing abortions was never a major part of his practice. He estimates that abortions accounted for less than one per cent of his practice. “I was always more interested in helping with births than terminating pregnancies,” he says. “I took a lot of pleasure from delivering babies.”
The shooting happened on a November evening in 1997. Fainman was at home sitting in his living room watching television while waiting for company to come over. Fainman and his wife, Fagie, live in a home that backs onto the Red River with a lot of window along the back of the house.
“I heard a bang – like a gunshot – and felt an excruciating pain in my right shoulder,” he recalls. “I put my hand to the spot and felt blood. I called out to my wife and said I had been shot. She called 911. The police and the ambulance came just ahead of our guests.”
The shooter, he says, was standing about 50 feet away.
Fainman, who was 66 at the time, was in hospital for five days and couldn’t lift his arm for nine months. “The bullet hit the bone and fragmented,” he says. “I still have some pieces of the bullet in my shoulder.”
The day before Fainman was shot, Dr. Hugh Short, a gynecologist in Ancaster, Ont., was similarly wounded. Three years earlier, Vancouver gynecologist Dr. Gary Romalis was also wounded in a shooting. A year later, Dr. Barnet Slepian, a Jewish gynecologist in Buffalo, was shot dead by a sniper. Anti-abortionist James Kopp was eventually arrested, charged and convicted of Slepian’s murder. He is strongly suspected of shooting the three Canadian doctors as well, but since he is serving life in prison with no chance of parole, Canadian authorities are no longer actively investigating the Canadian cases.
While the shooting is the starting point for Fainman’s 164-page book, he is emphatic in stressing that it is not the main focus of the book. “I had been thinking about writing this book for about two years before I started working on it,” he says. “I had been collecting stories for years about my life growing up in poverty in Winnipeg and my medical career. I have had an interesting life. I saw this as a way of leaving a legacy for my children and grandchildren.
”Also, as I am getting older, I am feeling a greater sense of my mortality.”
Not being sure how to begin, Fainman approached his old friend Roland Penner, the former attorney general of Manitoba and a semi-retired law professor. Penner agreed to help and is recognized as the book’s co-author. For two years, Fainman made weekly visits to Penner’s office at the University of Manitoba faculty of law to dictate his memoir, which Penner’s secretary transcribed. Penner edited the manuscript.
Following the account of the shooting, Fainman recounts his life growing up in North Winnipeg, how he decided to go to medical school at the urging of a close friend; his first medical practice in Emo, Ont.; his obstetrics and gynecological training in Chicago and his career in Winnipeg.
“I tried going back to work after I recovered,” he recalls, “but I didn’t have the strength to do it. It wasn’t fair to my patients to continue. I really liked my work. It was an upsetting end to my career.”
Fainman has spent much of his time over the past few years auditing university classes in history, economics and philosophy – areas he didn’t study the first time around at university – as well as Hebrew.
When Kopp was arrested for the Slepian murder, he heard about it first from Romalis.
“Although we don’t know for absolutely sure that Kopp also shot me,” Fainman says, “there is a report that a car with Vermont licence plates crossed into the States from Manitoba the day after I was shot.”