Worried patient secretly records surgery; here’s what she heard

Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 9:10 PM

A hiatal hernia had caused her to suffer more than a hundred abdominal attacks within twenty-four hours, her stomach was bruised, and she found blood in her urine.

Worried patient secretly records surgery; here’s what she heard

Latest summer, Ethel Easter wanted nothing more than to look a doctor. A hiatal hernia had caused her to suffer more than a hundred abdominal attacks within twenty-four hours, her stomach was bruised, and she found blood in her urine. The pain was excruciating, so Easter prayed that a surgery could be scheduled as soon as possible.

The Dr who'd be operating on her at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston didn't share her urgency.

He told the 44-year-old Easter that she'd have to wait two months, and Easter burst into tears.

“I can’t do this for two months,” she cried. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Well, who do you think you are?” Easter recalled the Dr abruptly yelling back at her. “You’re gonna wait love everybody else.”

Shaken, Easter later went to look her family doctor, who told her that the surgeon had taken notes on their meeting and raised “red flags” about her attitude - “as if I was the problem,” Easter said in a phone interview with The WA Post on Wednesday.

The Harris Health System, to which Easter’s hospital belongs, said in an email statement that confidentiality laws prevented it from commenting on specific cases without the patient’s “written authorization.”

From the start, Easter was troubled that she didn’t believe her own surgeon, but she was in too much pain to cancel the operation. Then she'd an idea: She'd go through with the surgery - it was ultimately scheduled about a mo later, for August - but she'd sneak a recorder into the operating room so that her family could know what happened to her in case things went wrong. She'd a “bad feeling,” after all.


The audio recorder was the size of a USB drive. At the time, Easter had braided extensions in her hair. When she was changing into her hospital gown, she keep her hair up in a ponytail and stuck the recorder inside.

“I was fearful,” Easter said. “I didn’t know if I was going to arrive out of the surgery, so I just wanted my family to know if something went on.”

The surreptitious recording, parts of which she shared with The Post, became the most traumatic portion of the experience.

It began with the surgeon asking Easter about what happens to her when she takes penicillin. “When I was a baby, they said I swelled up,” Easter can be heard responding in the recording.

An anesthesiologist then arrived, and Easter grew quiet as she was instructed to just “keep breathing. You’re doing perfect.”

After Easter was sedated, the surgeon recounted their dispute to the other doctors. “She’s a handful,” he said in the recording. “She had some choice words for us in the clinic when we didn’t book her case in two weeks.”

“She said, ‘I’m going to call a lawyer and file a complaint,’ ” he recalled with a laugh. (Easter said she never mentioned a lawyer.)

“That doesn’t seem love the thing to declare to the person who’s going to do your surgery,” another male voice retorted.

Jokes about stomach button

The comments afterward became personal. The surgeon and the anesthesiologist repeatedly referred to her stomach button in jest. “Did you look her stomach button?” one Dr said, followed by peals of laughter.

At another point in the procedure, the anesthesiologist appeared to refer to Easter as “always the queen,” to which the surgeon responded, “I perceive sorry for her husband.”

The surgeon also used the name “Precious” several times in a manner that Easter interpreted as racial.

“Precious, yes, this is Precious over here, saying hi to Precious over there,” he can be heard saying in the recording, though it's unclear whom he's addressing. Moments later, he asked: “What do her eyes see like? You know the eyes are the windows to the soul.”

After the doctors concurred that there had been many “teaching moments” that day, the anesthesiologist asked, “Do you wish me to touch her?”

“I can touch her,” the surgeon is heard saying.

“That’s a Bill Cosby suggestion,” someone interjected. “Everybody’s got things on phones these days. Everybody’s got a camera.”

“Do you've photos?” the surgeon asked a couple times. “[indiscernible] thought about it, but I didn’t do it.”

While much of the exact dialogue is challenging to discern from the recording, Easter was distressed by what she believed to be its subject matter. She thought “Precious” might be an allusion to the two thousand nine film of the same name, chronicling the life of an illiterate African American teenager who suffers childhood abuse.

“He called me Precious, an African American obese woman who was raped by her father,” Easter told The Post. She also thought the comments about “touching” and Bill Cosby were suggestive, and according to her, the surgeon said: “I thought about touching her. I could take pictures.”

“To think that I’m lying there,” Easter said, “and they’re talking about touching me inappropriately. Sexually.”

What bothered Easter the most were moments in the recording when, in her view, the doctors acted flippant about her health and well-being. She was disturbed that the surgeon talked on his cellphone at one point during the surgery, and even more so that he seemed unbothered by her penicillin allergy.

He said in the recording that swelling and rashes weren't severe sufficient reactions to preclude Easter from receiving Ancef, an antibiotic injection that causes side effects in a tiny percentage of penicillin-allergic patients. The surgeon suggested first giving Easter a tiny dose as a trial.

This would prove an unfortunate decision. At the finish of the recording, a groggy Easter can be heard telling a Dr that she was “itchy.” Shortly after the surgery, Easter said, her arms swelled up and started getting rashes, though her hernia was successfully repaired. Her husband brought her back to the hospital - this time to the emergency room, where she was treated for an allergic reaction.

For several days, Easter said, she'd trouble breathing.

Angered by what she heard

These symptoms prompted Easter to hear to the recording. She was angered by what she found.

“He jeopardized my life,” Easter said. “It’s just by the grace of God that I’m even lively right now. It was an unnecessary risk that he took with me.”

Latest fall, Easter sent the hospital a letter with her complaints with the recording attached. Stacey Mitchell, the administrative director of risk management and patient safety for the Harris Health System, responded by thanking her for providing them a duplicate of the recording “to better analyze your concerns.”

“With regards to the recording, as I explained in my prior correspondence, we reminded the OR staff and physicians to be mindful of their comments at all times,” Mitchell said in a letter dated December. “After carefully listening to the recording that you provided, Harris Health doesn't believe further action is warranted at this time.”

Mitchell also well-known that the doctors in the recording are employees of the Univ of TX Health Science Middle at Houston, not of the Harris Health System. The UT Health system likewise told ABC News that it couldn't comment on the case because of patient confidentiality laws.

Easter hasn't decided whether to begin valid action against the doctors and hospital. She said currently she just wants to “let everybody know what was going on - create people alert of what was happening.”

The experienced has changed Easter emotionally and psychologically, she said, and she presently struggles with “trust issues.”

“Even my husband has said that I’m not the same person he married,” Easter said.

What did she hope would arrive out of making the recording public?

“If I'd it my way,” Easter said, “I’d love them to arrive forward and apologize. Arrive forward and say, ‘We took an oath, and we violated it.’ This is for all the workers and the doctors: Don’t do this. Just treat people the way they'd love their mother, their sister, their wives to be treated.”

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