An essay published on Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine detailed the shocking practice of doctors abusing patients who are anesthetized into unconsciousness.
The anonymous author described a class session in medical humanities in which he was talking to young doctors about the power of forgiveness. One student, named David for the essay — titled “Our Family Secrets” — raised his hand and said that he had seen something unforgivable in the course of his clinical residency.
“I was scrubbed into a vaginal hysterectomy,” said David. “The patient was under general anesthesia. My attending was prepping the patient’s vagina. He picked up a clamp holding sterile cotton balls and dipped them into Betadine. While he was cleansing and scrubbing her labia and inner thighs, he looked at me and said, ‘I bet she’s enjoying this.’ My attending winked at me and laughed.”
The experience disgusted him, the student said.
“Man, I was just standing there trying to learn. The guy was a dirtball. It still pisses me off,” he said.
The instructor responded with a shocking story of his own, in which an attending physician saved a Latino woman’s life as she was hemorrhaging from a violent birth. The doctor jammed his fist into the unconscious woman’s birth canal until the bleeding stopped, then he said, “Atta girl. That’s what I like. A nice, tight uterus.”
“But then something happened that I’ll never forget. Dr. Canby raises his right hand into the air. He starts to sing ‘La Cucaracha.’ He sings, ‘La Cucaracha, la cucaracha, dada, dada, dada-daaa.’ It looks like he is dancing with her. He stomps his feet, twists his body, and waves his right arm above his head. All the while, he holds her, his whole hand still inside her vagina,” the author said. “He starts laughing. He keeps dancing. And then he looks at me. I begin to sway to his beat. My feet shuffle. I hum and laugh along with him. Moments later, the anesthesiologist yells, ‘Knock it off, assholes!’ And we stop.”
The incidents echo a case in Virginia in which a patient accidentally recorded his physicians during a surgical procedure and heard them mocking him, casting aspersions on his masculinity and knowingly including a false diagnosis on his surgical paperwork.
A jury awarded the victim $500,000, but the story has stoked concerns about what happens to surgical patients when they are at their most vulnerable.
In a piece accompanying the Annals of Internal Medicine article, the publication’s editors said that, while the stories are scandalous and shocking, the stories should be heard in order to call attention to the issue of physicians violating their duty to patients.
“We all agreed that the piece was disgusting and scandalous and could damage the profession’s reputation,” they explained. “Some believed that this was reason not to publish the story. Others believed that it was precisely why we should publish it.”
Dr. Christine Laine, Editor in Chief of Annals, told CBS News, “It’s important to acknowledge that these kinds of things happen, even if they happen rarely, because that’s too often. And we should always be prepared so that the next time we find ourselves in these situations, we can hopefully be more like the anesthesiologist in the story and cut the behavior immediately.”