Wait, "fortunately"? You just said that you prefer the stupid patients to be yours, but you're glad this one isn't? What? Be consistent, Doc!
I've written before about doctors behaving badly, and boy did they ever. In case you missed that little escapade, a man (identified only as "DB") undergoing a colonoscopy had used a small voice recorder in order to record the verbal instructions he was given before his procedure (in case he forgot them later). He accidentally left it running and ended up recording the entire procedure. While he was asleep his anaesthesiologist made several nasty and very personal remarks towards him, including insinuating that he was gay, saying she wanted to punch him in the face, and calling him a wimp and a retard. She also falsified his medical record in the process (recording that he had haemorrhoids when he did not) just for good measure.
Despite the fact that his procedure went well and there was no real medical malpractice, DB sued her and was awarded $500,000, and rightfully so. Her behaviour was atrocious, unprofessional, and has no business happening in a healthcare setting. Ever.
Well, it happened again. Sort of. This time the patient is 44-year-old Ethel Easter (her real name) from Texas. Her surgeon was recorded making disparaging remarks about her while she was asleep. Sort of. Only this time, Ethel is the bad guy.
Wait, what? He said bad things about her, and SHE is the bad guy?
I'll explain. Again.
First, a little background. According to news reports (including dramatic news coverage with dramatic sound bites and dramatic interviews of dramatic Ethel), Ethel went to see the unnamed surgeon for a hiatal hernia, which she said made her "terminally ill" (no, it didn't). She was told she would have to wait two months for the surgery (totally believable), but because she was having pain after eating, she didn't want to wait and apparently threatened to call a lawyer and lodge a complaint against the surgeon (100% believable, though she denied this - more on this later). According to Ethel, the surgeon yelled at her, "Who do you think you are? You're gonna wait like everybody else" (yeah, sure he did).
Ethel reportedly lost trust in the surgeon and was so shaken by the interaction that she did the right thing and chose another doctor to entrust with her life. Right? RIGHT? HAHAHAHA no, of course she didn't. No, instead she did what any reasonable person would do in this situation - she went ahead with the surgery and hid a voice recorder in her hair because, according to her, "I was afraid that if I didn't make it nobody would know why, and I wanted them to know it was because he didn't care about me as a person."
Wait wait wait. Just . . . wait. Let's pause here a moment so I can make my first completely unbiased (not really) evaluation of Ethel, shall we?
- Hiatal hernias are common, often asymptomatic, and are always treated medically first unless there is a surgical emergency (which hers clearly was not). I'm assuming that her GP treated her with the appropriate H-2 blocker and/or PPI, which failed. They are not fatal unless they strangulate, which is rare.
- She was so uncomfortable with and unnerved by the surgeon and was so worried that she would die under his care that she figured, Hey, I'll just record him.
- The surgeon wrote in her permanent medical record (a legal document, mind), that their interaction raised "red flags" about her attitude. Therefore he was obviously concerned about how she treated him from the start.
Now is this inappropriate talk for an operating theatre? No, not even one iota. This is normal shop talk, and we talk like this all the time. And the rest of the banter on the recording is just that - banter. For example: a female in the room makes a comment about her belly button. Someone calls her "Precious", which she believes (with no verification whatsoever) is a reference to the 2009 movie about an obese black girl but could just as easily be a reference to the One Ring from Lord of the Rings or just an ordinary term of endearment. The surgeon says "I feel sorry for her husband," which I would too (this is really the only thing said that I would consider over the line, but only just). Something is said about touching her, but based on the limited information available, it doesn't sound remotely sexual (which she claims it is, of course).
To top it all off with some nice cherry-flavoured bullshit, Ethel also claims that the doctor "jeopardized my life" by giving her a dose of Ancef. "It’s just by the grace of God that I’m even alive right now. It was an unnecessary risk that he took with me," she said. Ancef is an antibiotic in the beta-lactam class, which includes penicillin (to which Ethel has a mild-moderate allergy, not a serious one). More on that in a bit.
What Ethel happens not to mention in any of her interviews is that the surgery was uncomplicated and apparently a success, because I'm 100% certain that she would have screamed otherwise from the rooftops, and saying that her surgery went well would have definitively undermined her "Oh woe is me" credibility.
Now that we have more details about what was said, I'll give a few more thoughts.
- Did the surgeon actually yell at her? I highly doubt it. I have no doubt he said something like, "You'll just have to wait like everyone else", but I'd bet my life savings he didn't yell. Regardless, is that insensitive or unprofessional? Absolutely not. She was not critically ill and there was no surgical emergency, so the surgeon was simply telling her that she was no different than his other patients and her case would not be more or less important. That's called being fair.
- The surgeon did not put her life at risk by giving her Ancef. There is only a 10% cross-reactivity between cephalosporins and penicillin (if that), and true penicillin allergies are rare. She had a mild reaction to something after the surgery (which could have been any of the medications she was given) which was treated in an emergency room.
- The mild disparaging remarks about her body are par for the course in the OR. I've written about it before, and yes it's true - we absolutely do make comments about your body when you're asleep (most but not all of them innocuous). You know who else does that? EVERYONE. Put microphones on people sitting at a café, and I guarantee with 100% certainty that you will hear much harsher comments made about the people walking by. I'm guilty of that too, as are you. If you deny it, you're lying. Is it unprofessional? Maybe. Are we going to stop? Nope. Are you? Nope.
- Ethel was (and is) looking for a payday. It is perfectly clear that her first interaction with the surgeon didn't go her way, she was angry that she wasn't given priority over the doctor's other patients, and she wanted to catch him in a "Gotcha!" moment. She failed at that but is publicising this episode anyway simply to gather support for a lawsuit. She is dramatising this in a ridiculously histrionic fashion, saying that her hernia was "terminal" (NO IT WAS NOT) and that the mild allergic reaction put her life in jeopardy (NO IT DID NOT).
- She had a successful and uncomplicated surgery, but I'd also be willing to bet that she was hoping for some kind of complication. I admit this is (obviously) pure supposition, but while I'm betting my life savings anyway, I may as well add this one in too.
- If I hadn't already bet my life savings twice already, I would bet it again that she will sue the surgeon, the anaesthesiologist, the hospital system, and/or everyone else in the room.
I doubt it.