Sedated patient records surgery; awarded $500,000 for verbal abuse

Being anesthetized for surgery is scary, but we're supposed to be able to trust our doctors and surgeons.


Tiffany Ingham (Photo provided to Washington Post by Kentucky National Guard)
Tiffany Ingham (Photo provided to Washington Post by Kentucky National Guard)

Credit: George Mathis

Credit: George Mathis

A couple of things I read today made me question the professionalism of medical professionals.

The Washington Post reports a man who secretly made an audio recording of his minor surgery was awarded $500,000 because the medical staff slandered him while he was unconscious.

Perhaps even more surprising -- the Washington Post says nurses often make fun of dying patients .

Every newsroom I've worked in has had practitioners of dark humor, but I've never heard a journalist mock the dying.

The patient in the Washington Post story was not dying, but he was sedated for a colonoscopy in Reston, Virginia. He fired up an audio recording app on his phone before the procedure so he could quickly hit record when the doctors gave him post-op instructions.

During the surgery, the man, who was not identified in the lawsuit, laid on the phone and it recorded audio of the entire procedure.

Anesthesiologist, Tiffany M. Ingham, 42, knew she didn't like her patient as soon as she met him.

As soon as he is unconscious, she said, "After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit."

When a medical assistant points out the man has a rash, Ingham says not to touch it because it is "syphilis" or perhaps "tuberculosis in the penis."

The gastroenterologist who performed the colonoscopy, Soloman Shah, told the medical assistant "As long as it’s not Ebola, you’re okay."

When the medical assistant notes the man reported getting queasy when watching a needle going into his arm, Ingham said, "Well, why are you looking then, retard?"

Ingham noted the patient attended Mary Washington College -- a former all-women’s school -- and questioned whether he was gay.

She again questioned the man's manliness by calling him a "big wimp" and said "People are into their medical problems. They need to have medical problems."

Shah said that a patient's concern for their health is what he calls "Northern Virginia syndrome," though I am pretty sure geography has nothing to do with it.

Ingham added further insult by writing on the patient's medical chart that he had hemorrhoids, even though he didn't.

Before the patient woke up, the doctors planned how to avoid ever talking to him again.

Shah suggested the assistant tell the man he had already spoken to Shah, but was in too much of a stupor from the gas to remember it.

Ingham tells Shah he should have someone send an urgent "fake page" so he can cut the meeting with the patient short.

"I’ve done the fake page before," Ingham said. "Round and round we go. Wheel of annoying patients we go. Where it’ll land, nobody knows."

The Washington Post tried to find Ingham, but she has left the Bethesda, Md., anesthesia practice she worked for at the time. State licensing records indicate she moved to Tavares, Florida, but the practice there said she has moved on.

Shah, 48, was dismissed from the case and did not return the newspaper's phone calls.

Neither Shah or Ingham faced disciplinary action from the Virginia Board of Medicine, according to that organization's online records.

A Fairfax County jury awarded the patient $100,000 for the syphilis and tuberculosis comments, $200,000 for medical malpractice, and $200,000 in punitive damages.

Kathryn E. McGoldrick, a former president of the Academy of Anesthesiology, said abusive comments about patients are "frankly stupid" and should not be made because "we can never be certain that our patients are asleep and wouldn’t have recall."

It's also not very nice.

This incident is not the norm, but it makes me think hospitals should record medical procedures so patients can review them later. But, that brings huge privacy concerns. I can see hackers having a field day with that kind of video.

Maybe we should start by recording what our spouses say about us while we nap on the couch?

What do you think?

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