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This patient remembers and still resents how she was treated by her anesthesiologist

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:03pm

Chicago Tribune

December 17, 2008

Judith Graham

            The thing I remember best about my second birth (excluding the baby who came into my life) is the anesthesiologist who stood at my side talking over my body to my husband as if I wasn’t there.  He was a schmoozer, the kind of guy who wanted everyone to know when he walked into a room that he was somebody.  The doctor soon found out my husband had gone to a prestigious college and started asking whether they had friends in common. The subtext was clear: “Hey, we’re pretty impressive guys, aren’t we?”  I remember gritting my teeth and thinking, “If only you’d shut up I could focus on something really important.” Which was having that baby I was trying to push out.

          Why didn’t I say something like: “It’s terribly rude of you to be talking this way, as if I were a piece of furniture like the hospital bed”? Why didn’t I cuss or hiss “you two, be quiet now!”?  I thought about this on Tuesday after reading Angela Rozas’ column about Catherine Skol, a former police officer who filed a lawsuit against a doctor who she claims berated her, denied her pain relief and talked on his cell phone while she was giving birth.  Skol and her husband were afraid to complain at the time because they needed the physician’s help and he’d scared them into thinking complications were likely, Rozas wrote.

          I remembered addressing the anesthesiologist in my mind, saying something along the lines of: “You have no idea what it’s like for a woman to be in this kind of situation, do you? You just don’t get it, do you?”  Eventually the doctor administered the epidural, he left the room, and I had the baby, a perfectly healthy little girl.  That wasn’t the end of the story.

          Four days later, after developing a high fever and staying in the hospital sick as a dog, I learned that I had a staph infection at the epidural site. I will never know how I got it.  Did that anesthesiologist practice less than optimal hygiene before he inserted the needle? Was he too busy schmoozing? Or was it simply bad luck?  Two weeks after I returned home, the chief of anesthesiology for the hospital called me at home to inquire about my recovery. “They’re worried,” I remember thinking. But I had a new baby and a 16-month-old, and a lawsuit was the last thing on my mind.

          To this day, I occasionally replay the scene in my head, that male chitchat between my husband and my doctor. “Enough already,” I imagine saying. “This is about my body, my baby, and you’re here to help me. So shape up and get to it!”  There’s not going to be a next time: I’m past my childbearing years. But still I’m rehearsing, mentally.  My husband remains mortified about his role in the interaction.  He wishes he’d cut it off but he didn’t know how back then.  His natural friendliness and sense of politeness ruled against rebuffing the doctor’s queries.

          I wonder how many of you have gone through something similar, if not during childbirth then during other medical encounters. If you’re willing to share your stories, I’d be happy to include them here.


This article is reprinted with permission of the author

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