The night I escaped from the Baptist, there was the additional shock of discovering how thoroughly Dr. Basilico had misrepresented what happened during the previous six days in his Discharge Summary. As noted in the Chronology page for Wednesday, I actually had to correct this document, with my one good hand, while riding strapped to a gurney in an ambulance.
My husband and I made a strategic decision at Spaulding Rehab to let people blame me for what had happened, and play along with the story, while subtly indicating that whatever they had heard was not the whole story, until after I had actually received the elbow surgery I needed. The folks at Spaulding Rehab, on the whole, took this well. I had several humiliating interviews with senior staffers there, but they all tried to help me, despite what they had been told were my past transgressions.
As soon as we had worked through the entire list of people Spaulding could recommend (we certainly didnt want to accidentally offend anyone there), we immediately called Dr. Bailey*, whom Dr. Schweitzer* had suggested might be able to perform my surgery, and whom Dr. Schweitzer had expected me to be allowed to contact before being thrown out of the Baptist. He, actually, in the nicest possible way, bounced me back to Dr. Schweitzer. He called Schweitzer himself, and encouraged him to make me another offer.
It took less than half an hour to arrange from the time we first spoke to Dr. Bailey, and I was very psyched, because I had liked Schweitzer from the first, and only turned him down because going with him the first time would have meant having surgery and a long recovery at the Baptist, which I was by then too frightened to do. But because it was already Friday, the surgery itself could not be scheduled until the following Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, a full two weeks after the accident.
The surgery itself was pleasant and uneventful, but the prognosis was mixed. On the up side, contrary to Dr. Karlsons plans, Dr. Schweitzer had found a piece of bone still attached to my triceps, and was able to re-attach the muscle without advancing my triceps, so recovering full flexion should be possible. On the down side, the damage and loss of bone was even worse than it had looked from the outside, and the long wait and overall seriousness of the joint injury didnt bode well for recovering full extension in that arm. My rehab was made far more painful and arduous by the Baptist-caused delay in my surgery.
And it was already painful enough, let me tell you.
I was discharged from Spaulding exactly a month after the accident, and spent another two months bedridden at home. In the first few months I was home, even after almost three weeks of intensive rehab at Spaulding, I fell at least once a week. Imagine what would have happened to me if I had been sent home three weeks earlier, as Dr. Karlson had wanted.
By December, when my husband was able to help me up the steps in our house to the computer, we sent in our first letter of complaint to the management of the Baptist about part of the vicious and abusive treatment I had received while I was hospitalized (see Fascinating Documents.) I received no response at all.
Sending another letter a few weeks later netted the response of a form letter over the signature of a Dr. Alan Robbins, the president of the hospital, but nothing else. After I sent a third letter, I began receiving snotty and accusatory phone calls from a woman calling herself the "Patient Advocate." This is the woman, you may remember from reading the Chronology section, whom I was not permitted to see while I was an inpatient. To adequately describe how offensive and snide her behavior on the phone was is beyond my capacity as a head-injured person.
I was not really planning to sue the hospital at this time: what I really wanted was an explanation, an apology, some assurances that other women would not be treated that way, and our money back. None of these things was forthcoming, and Marcie Malays snottiness increased with every phone call.
Youd think that a simple review of my medical records, which showed that I was discharged without either of the surgeries that I came there to get, that I had been refused emergency surgery while I was already an inpatient by both senior surgeons in the Hand and Upper Extremity Service, all without an AMA form, would be enough to alert her that something ugly had happened, but at this time, of course, I still did not know about The Iron Triangle.
I was so head-injured and tanked on pain medication during this period that what had transpired while I was a patient at the Baptist seemed like an ugly and undifferentiated cloud that just hovered over me and caused me persistent and inexplicable bouts of despair and fear. In the Spring of 1999, though, I tapered off and then stopped taking opiate pain medication, and subsequently, developed a brutal case of PTSD. As the full depth of the hatred, rage, abuse, and inhumanity that had been rained down on me began to clarify in my mind, and I began to see how much danger I was in while I was there, any sense of security or sense that I understood how the world works disappeared completely.
This, in case you are interested, is why traumatized people often become addicted to opiates like heroin, and why they simply cannot stop. As soon as they stop taking drugs, in addition to having withdrawal symptoms, they re-experience the abusive treatment or victimization gave them the PTSD, and from which the drugs they were taking had insulated them. In order to stay clean, they have to hang out with and tolerate all of the feelings that were being suppressed.
When a person takes opiate drugs, the awfulness of their traumatic memories are suppressed, and when you stop, they come back, full force. I found out when my therapist went to a conference the reason I could remember the abuse events from my hospitalization at the Baptist with such stunning clarity: trauma memories are stored differently than other kinds of memories. They bypass the normal brain storage system, which in my case was very impaired by the head injury, and are hardwired directly into the part of the brain which stores feelings, sensations and instincts. Your logical, left-brain system cannot reach them. I was horrified to discover that even when I tried to forget them, I couldnt. They are like a computer program thats stored permanently in your brain, and when they are triggered by an event or conversation thats similar to the abuse experience, they start playing again. Its horrible to relive these things over and over again, while having no control over when they come and go. Many people, facing this situation, become addicted to opiates. Fortunately, I had an intact personality before the doctors at the Baptist got their dreadful little mitts on me, so I was able to tolerate the feelings. But I have a whole new understanding into the nature of addiction now.
Since it was clear to me that no one at the Baptist was taking responsibility for what had been done to me, I decided to start making some formal complaints to see if some other bodies could help. I would take some kind of action and then wait to see what happened. If nothing happened, Id do the next thing.
There doesnt seem to be a system for dealing with doctors who deliberately harm patients using the medical system, as opposed to sexually abusing them or harming them by accident. Many of the lawyers and administrators I spoke to told me, "This stuff happens all the time, but the system isnt set up to deal with it. Theres nothing you can do." This web site, as well as the lawsuit, is part of my response to the holes that exist in the current physician and hospital oversight system.
For example, there arent actually any laws on the books prohibiting doctors from lying in patients medical records. And, to give another chilling example, I learned one day that any civil legal breaches that occur in hospitals must be handled within the medical malpractice system.
And so, I believe, Dr. Karlson had taken out his anger with me by 1) trying to have my bladder catheter removed, 2) trying to have me sent home without surgery and when it was unsafe for me to be outside a hospital environment, and 3) slandering me to the other orthopedists at the Baptist in a (successful) attempt to persuade them not to help me. If something Dr. Karlson had done resulted in my death, my family would have had to sue him for medical malpractice if they wanted to collect money damages. In order to get the case through a medical malpractice tribunal, the attorney my husband would have hired would have had to pay for an expert witness to testify that whatever Dr. Karlson had done to cause my death, even if it was deliberately and calculatedly inimical to my health, and regardless of whether medical care was involved or not, was a breach of sound medical practice. Thats the extent to which rogue and abusive physicians are protected under our current legal system.
So, here are some of the things I tried to do to bring some accountability to the doctors and staff at NEBH, and to ensure that the perpetrators experienced some consequences from their actions:
Almost as soon as I could leave the house, I had my husband drive me over to the Baptist and pulled a copy of my medical records before, I hoped, anyone had a chance to alter them.
After the hospital ignored the polite letters I'd sent them about what Dr. Karlson had done, I filed a formal complaint against him with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. They screened and then accepted my complaint, and I was asked to wait to hear back from them.
I filed a formal complaint about Rev. Larsens abusive behavior with the American Psychological Association and the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Psychologists. (see Fascinating Documents)
After Dr. Basilico ignored the polite letter I sent him in the winter of 1998, (LR) I eventually filed a complaint with the Board of Registration in Medicine. (see Fascinating Documents) They screened and then accepted my complaint, and I was asked to wait to hear back from them.
As 1999 wore on, and my rehabilitation continued, I found my PTSD symptoms getting worse and worse. Many nights, I couldnt sleep at all, I was so filled with fear and despair. My sense of personal safety was completely destroyed, and I found myself afraid that strangers on the street would attack me. My doctors appointments were agonizing. And the nightmares I had about being abused at the Baptist (see Nightmares) consumed almost all of the time I actually was able to sleep.
After I had the plate removed from my elbow at Newton-Wellesley, and felt safe from any further efforts on Dr. Karlsons part to harm me (according to BORIM records, he had admitting privileges at Newton-Wellesley at this time), I filed a criminal complaint against him for assault and battery over the X-ray room incident. (see Fascinating Documents.) I had learned a lot more about the nature and extent of my injuries since the time I sent the first letter to the Baptist, and had realized that what he did that day could have killed me. The ancient and grizzled Clerk of the Court dismissed my criminal complaint after a long hearing because, he said, he couldn't believe that something like this could happen at the Baptist. Also, I was not permitted to present further evidence about Dr. Karlson's subsequent attempts to harm me.
After waiting a year and getting no response from the hospital or the perpetrators, I decided to file a lawsuit.
In the fall of 1999, I collected up my authorized medical records (I had to hire an attorney to obtain these) and contacted an attorney who was willing to sue the perpetrators for medical malpractice, which was my only civil option. I insisted on limiting the defendants to people who had actually abused me, and, out of a sense of gender loyalty, also refused to sue the abusive case manager, a decision I now regret. There were other tempting targets, for example, Dr. Scheller (Dr. Karlsons boss), and Dr. Alan Curtis. Since Dr. Curtis had not responded to the letter I sent him asking for a referral out, technically, he was still my orthopedist while I was a patient at the Baptist, and we could have sued him for negligence, and, over the CYA** visit he made to me, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. But I was determined to limit the suit to people who had actually abused me, so he got off the hook.
I sued Dr. Basilico, Dr. Karlson, Rev. Larsen, and the New England Baptist Hospital over the PTSD symptoms I had developed after my stay there, which I did not have when I arrived. I sued them for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, failure to obtain informed consent (see Fascinating Documents), and patient rights violations. I also sued Dr. Karlson for civil assault and battery over the incident in the X-ray room. I wanted to sue Dr. Karlson for slander, and Dr. Basilico for libel and civil kidnapping as well, but people advised me that this would confuse the folks at the medical malpractice tribunal.
We got the case through the tribunal primarily based on what Dr. Karlson had done, and depositions in the case took place in the winter of 2000/2001. In order to proceed with the case, however, even though I was not seeking to be compensated for my physical injuries, the defendants lawyers insisted on the defendants having access to all of my medical records, even those from doctors I had not seen since the accident, or those whom I had not seen until after I had left the Baptist. This would give the defendants unlimited access to the names and phone numbers of my current treating physicians, and compromise my medical privacy in a way I found particularly terrifying.
When the arguments were heard before the judge, he did something very unusual: he ruled that my abusers could have access to my subsequent medical records, but he also put all of the defendants, including the hospital staff, under a restraining order. This "No-Contact" order forbids them to contact any of my current or subsequent treating physicians under any circumstances. (see Fascinating Documents) I had to be satisfied with that, even though it seemed to me to be a pretty flimsy document upon which to rest your personal safety.
After asking for advice I decided to attend the defendants depositions, mostly so that I could see that the defendants werent supernatural beings with unearthly powers, but just powerful, arrogant, selfish men who had taken advantage of me at a time when I was completely vulnerable. Even two years later, after multiple readings of my medical records and other documents, I still had a sliver of hope, faint and unacknowledged even to myself, that everything that had happened to me was some kind of huge mix-up.
But after I sat through the depositions, I realized that this was not the case. I discovered something that I really didnt want to know, but which I suppose is a good thing to know, when its true: I had pegged these guys correctly the first time I saw them, and even with a bad head injury and while on opiates, I had read them quite well. They were just as vicious, arrogant, and hate-filled during the depositions as they had been when I was a helpless, bedridden, multiple-trauma patient. This left me grimmed out for a few days -- what good is it to have the right instincts when you cant save yourself even when you know? It was chilling to see how correctly I had assessed their characters. Rev. Larsen even made a snide remark about my personal appearance right in front of me.
But I got the feeling, especially after the deposition of Dr. Karlson, that I should feel lucky that I wasn't hurt more badly. I got the feeling that my attorneys had seen clients who were exposed to a lot less negligence than this coming into their offices in wheelchairs. I felt lucky that I didn't end up dead or on a ventilator after what these guys did.
After the first round of depositions, the hospitals attorney demanded a list of all of my current treating physicians before litigation could continue. And as any battered woman will tell you, if your abusers are at all determined, a restraining order isnt worth the paper its printed on. Even though my family practice doctor, when my husband and I told him the whole story, felt that the defendants wouldnt risk a contempt citation, their medical licenses, or a jail term just to slander me further, I didnt feel safe releasing the names.
Let me be very plain about this: it was clear to me, my husband, my friends, and my attorneys that doctors and staff at NEBH had made repeated attempts to prevent me from getting the medical care I needed by calling doctors at other hospitals and urging them not to treat me. It was apparent to us that doctors and staff at NEBH, including the defendants, had made phone calls to Newton-Wellsley, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital attempting to prevent me from obtaining the medical care I needed by slandering me to folks at those hospitals.
A story about one of those incidents had already convinced the judge to issue a restraining order against the defendants (see Fascinating Documents.) The defendants already had access to all of my medical records related to the accident. Given that I was not suing for any physical damages related to the medical malpractice I experienced while a patient at NEBH, there was no legitimate reason that I could see for the defendants to have the names and phone numbers of, for example, my gynecologist, my dentist, or any of the other medical doctors I had seen in the time since I had been thrown out of NEBH without surgery. And we were moving into the part of the litigation where people like Dr. Rivkin*, Dr. Schweitzer*, and Dr. Brodsky* would have to testify about what happened. I didnt like the idea of exposing them to the wrath of the perpetrators, especially after everything they had done for me. So we tried to settle the case.
I asked for only a few things. I wanted money and an apology from Dr. Basilico (a multiple of what he had charged us for the "medical care" he had provided while I was at the Baptist). I wanted Dr. Karlson subjected to some form of hospital discipline and supervision, I wanted Rev. Larsen to take an ethics course (they weren't required when he was in training), and also a course in recognizing and responding to domestic violence. From the hospital, I wanted an upgrade to and promulgation of their patient rights policy (see Patient Rights at the Baptist), an apology, and our money back. All told, this would have added up to less than $100,000.
The defendants refused, though I understand Dr. Basilicos attorney (in a strange twist, the same attorney who defended Dr. Gilbert Mudge, Reggie Lewis cardiologist when he died) did suggest to my attorney, informally, that we might find Dr. Basilico more sympathetic to my cause if we should drop our charges against Dr. Basilico, and concentrate on Dr. Karlson's negligence at the trial.
I refused this deal, because it seemed unethical: why should Dr. Karlson take the fall for what had all the earmarks of a group effort? In January of 2001, unwilling to reveal the names of all of my doctors to the defendants, or expose the people who had taken me in after I fled from the Baptist to the vagaries of the perpetrators, it seemed to me, demonstrated predilection for revenge, I dropped the suit.
Without a settlement, there was no confidentiality agreement, and I was free to tell anyone I wanted what happened to me. This is what I have done, and this is what I am doing now.
In general, I am doing better psychologically and spiritually now. With the addition of some Zoloft and some hideously expensive EMDR sessions with a competent therapist, my nightmares about being abused at the Baptist are mostly gone. An ongoing Buddhist Metta meditation practice has helped me recover some of my previous feelings of compassion and trust towards people in general.
But a terrible legacy lingers. My doctors
visits, which I still need to deal with the sequelae from the
accident, range from uncomfortable to terrifying. I am frightened
of gentlemen who have treated me with nothing but kindness for
14 years. I have utterly lost my religious faith. I frighten
easily now, and am especially frightened if male strangers, or
anyone who is angry, or touches my body. I overreact to blame or
criticism, and my resting heart rate still hovers around 100
beats per minute. And I am still very grimmed out about the way
I was victimized and then blamed by the doctors and staff at
NEBH, when my only crime was politely refusing to allow an abusive
man to operate on me. Unlike the doctors and staff at the Baptist,
I consciously choose every day to deal with my anger and resentment
in constructive, ethical ways, like working through the legal
and state administrative systems, and putting up this web site
to warn others. For resources that may help you if you have been
subjected to malicious, negligent, or abusive medical treatment,
see the Save Yourself page.
I have read on-line that other innocent women have been treated abusively at the Baptist before, and their complaints have also gone unheard. Another woman I met on-line who was also abused at the Baptist has chosen to deal with her feelings by putting up her own web site, the New England Registry of Abusive Physicians (WWW. ABUSIVEDOCTORS.ORG) Visit her web site for more information on how to report abusive physicians to state, local, and corporate oversight bodies.