Medicine in a microcosm
September 7, 1999 at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, in a crowded operating room with people watching as he did it, Dr. Allan Zarkin used a scalpel to carve his initials 3 inches high into his patient, Dr. Liana Gedz, a dentist, after delivering her baby girl by Cesarean section. Do you think anyone cried out for help? Do you think anyone called the police? Do you think anyone filed a report? Do you think anyone even told the patient that she had been injured? In hospitals they learn not to and don't. They even fall in line with routines designed to erase institutional memory without knowing what those routines are for.
Where there is no accountability, abuse is guaranteed.
What is the state of patient safety when doctors operate in an environment that leaves them feeling so little inhibition that they judge that they can get away even with violence (carving you initials in someone has to be considered violence)?
The only reason this patient was able to do anything is that this physician signed the deed with his initials and there were witnesses who were not healthcare professionals. Had he restricted himself to injuring her internally he would be suing her for speaking about it. And the state would have no reliable information on the event because people working in medicine report adverse events only 2% of the time and crimes only a small fraction of that (see Cullen).
In checking the New York State summaries of professional misconduct and discipline I find no record of any actions taken regarding Dr. Zarkin. A former patient of his tells me that he voluntarily surrendered his license, which will keep him from practicing medicine for five years, after which time he will be allowed to resume. If there is reason for the authorities to be concerned about his resuming practicing, they won't learn it from anyone in the medical profession.
It was such an open and shut case, and it received so much publicity, that the hospital finally had to report it. If it hadn't been so open and shut and so widely known, it is unlikely that the hospital itself ever would have learned the details.
They reported it to the Department of Health as “grossly inappropriate behavior.” They did not say what he had done. Another example of the extreme reluctance of anyone in healthcare to report, even when the deed has been signed for all the world to see.