When Malpractice Starts with a Doctor’s Mouth

A northern Virginia man successfully sued a doctor for defamation and medical malpractice, earlier this month receiving a judgment of $500,000 for the serious – and, frankly, weird – ethical and medical harm he suffered during a colonoscopy.

The case is weird because “defamation” is something plaintiffs who are medically harmed don’t often claim, and also because the proof of both the defamation and the malpractice was recorded by the man’s phone. During the procedure, he was under general anesthetic and dressed only in the standard hospital gown.

As the Washington Post explained,

“Because he was going to be fully anesthetized, the man decided to turn on his cellphone’s audio recorder before the procedure so it would capture the doctor’s post-operation instructions, the suit states. But the man’s phone, in his pants, was placed beneath him under the operating table and inadvertently recorded the audio of the entire procedure, court records show. The doctors’ attorneys argued that the recording was illegal, but the man’s attorneys noted that Virginia is a ‘one-party consent’ state, meaning that only one person involved in a conversation need agree to the recording.”

It was clear that the gastroenterologist, Soloman Shah, who was dismissed from the suit, and the anesthesiologist, Tiffany M. Ingham, mocked and insulted the man while he was incapacitated. Ingham made fun of his stated aversion to needles and made several other disparaging remarks about his character, stating her personal dislike of his manner. She defamed him, the jury decided, by warning a medical assistant not to touch a rash on his genitals because she might get “some syphilis on your arm or something,” and added, “It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right.”

She was guilty of malpractice, the jury determined, by falsifying his chart with the notation that he had hemorrhoids. He did not, but Ingham was recorded as saying, “I’m going to mark ‘hemorrhoids’ even though we don’t see them and probably won’t…”

She and Shah also suggested “misleading and avoiding” the plaintiff after his procedure. Ingham was recorded as saying Shah should pretend to receive an urgent “fake page” and said, “I’ve done the fake page before,” according to the complaint. “Round and round we go. Wheel of annoying patients we go. Where it’ll land, nobody knows.”

Rarely is such disrespect for the people you’re supposed to help so clearly expressed and captured. No surprise that the jury, composed of human beings with the requisite compassion the medical “professionals” lacked, found in favor of the patient.

One of the jurors told The Post that the plaintiff had asked for $1.75 million and that the $500,000 judgment was a compromise between one juror who thought the man deserved nothing and at least one who thought he deserved more.

“We finally came to a conclusion,” the juror said, “that we have to give him something, just to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Ingham seems to have disappeared from the northern Virginia area since the case came to light. Listening to her trash talk on the inadvertently recorded audio is a strange experience. One or two little black humor jokes is one thing. But as the audio rolls on and on, you realize this is one doctor who is alienated from the whole concept of the awe necessary when an anesthesia doctor beholds that a helpless patient’s life is entirely in his or her hands.

You wonder how many doctors are so unhappy with their profession as to take it out on their unconscious patients. Hopefully the number is few, and maybe it’s time for Ingham to think about a different career, when the people she’s talking to may get a chance to talk back.

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