Stop Disparaging Patients! Do Your Ethics Need a Refresher Course?!Appalled. Enraged. Ashamed. These are the emotions I experienced when learning of the recent treatment of a Houston woman undergoing surgery, who had hidden a tape recorder in her hair extensions. You can listen to the audio clip here.

Healthcare professionals clearly disparaged and defamed this patient while under anesthesia. It sickened me. I watched Ethel Easter and her husband talk about the audio tape, seeming like perfectly lovely people. How can we ever convince them not all doctors and nurses are this way, in fact, most of us are not? How can we recover the faith and trust, which has been damaged or lost, after such a violation has taken place?

As nurses, if we don’t know, we need to know, how excruciatingly painful a hiatal hernia is. I would have had the same response if a doctor told me I had to live in agony for another two months. To express her inability to do so, does not make her unreasonable. Furthermore, an unreasonable patient does not give license to slander, ridicule and malign a patient while helpless and exposed under anesthesia.

Being an Advocate for Someone in Need of Protection

It has been ten years since I worked an oncology unit. We had an excellent charge nurse who has always been the smartest, most efficient RN I’ve ever known, with a passion for cancer patients. It was no secret the unit manager didn’t like her. One particular night, a grievous error occurred when a $12,000 bag of chemo was left in a medication bin, which no one had signed for. The expired chemo was discovered the next morning, promptly reported by the charge nurse. This mistake was not her fault, but the manager was determined to make her the fall guy.

When the manager arrived, I learned she was questioning the night nurses in her office. I knocked on the door. The manager stated she did not need to speak with me, her suspicions for the charge nurse being to blame for the error had been confirmed. All nurses in the room were considered to be both professional allies and personal friends of the charge nurse. I informed the manager that the nurses present, who were not objecting to her suspicions, were cowardly, apparently worried about their own jobs, rather than being concerned with the truth.

Furthermore, the charge nurse wasn’t present to defend herself, they had all reached a guilty verdict without the facts. Not realizing I’d left the door cracked, none of us knew the charge nurse, who I barely knew at the time, was standing outside the door listening. We have remained in touch after all these years, and to this day, she is still astonished that I stood alone, on her behalf, when friends and colleagues failed to do so. For me, it was simply the right thing to do, there was nothing courageous about it. Being an advocate for someone in need of protection is what we do as nurses.

I have never worked the operating room, but I have worked endoscopy for a prominent medical center in the Knoxville, TN area, where patients received anesthesia from the nurse anesthetist or conscious sedation by me. Never, and I mean never, did anyone disparage a patient. I worked with the utmost professional doctors and nurses who never would have behaved in such a despicable, dishonorable way. What if this patient had been your mother, your grandmother, your sister, your child?

What has happened to honor? Integrity? Honesty?

We may not take the Hippocratic Oath when we become nurses, but many of us are familiar with the Nightingale Pledge. This pledge states: I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession. If your pinning ceremony didn’t incorporate this pledge, you’re still aware of the duty to be a patient advocate above all else- it’s what we do, it’s who we are!

Was there no one in the OR to stand up for Ethel Easter?

I wish one person had been willing to say: you are all behaving and speaking unprofessionally about this patient! Are we so afraid of losing our own jobs, or of being disliked, that we fail to speak up for what is right, what is decent, not just as healthcare professionals, but as human beings?!

I apologize to Ms. Easter and her husband. I’m ashamed of fellow doctors, nurses and anesthetists who would treat you in the manner. I’m sickened the healthcare profession has fallen so far from grace. I pray that others, like myself, who are just as upset over what happened to you, will raise the bar and elevate the standards of our profession- even if they must stand alone to do so!