Waking before dawn, I scurry into the study. Sitting in front of the computer, I wiggle the mouse, bringing the screen to life. Hesitantly, I call up the site for the major local newspaper. Since being notified by my attorneys one week prior that a reporter was hunting me down for comment, I am on heightened alert. Every day spent awaiting a story that could potentially decimate my life.
The home page of the website flashes on the screen. Reading the headlines, terror engulfs me. “Anesthesiologist defends practices that defy guidelines.” It’s me! That doctor is me! I can barely read the words. My heart bounds within my chest and my hands shake violently. The story is biased, one-sided, and inaccurate. Worse, it is on display for the world to see.
The clock moves forward as my world spins. I can’t go to work. In the darkness, I sit on the stairs and phone my surgeon. So unsteady are my fingers, it takes several attempts to locate Dr. X in my contacts list. The phone rings and goes to her voicemail.
“Hi X, this is Kate. Call me immediately.”
Time relentlessly marches forward, and I am forced to prepare to face the world. In the bathroom, I attempt to put in my contact lenses. Rattled, it takes every ounce of focus to bring the lens to my eye. From the other room, my phone rings, and I rush to answer it.
“Kate, what’s wrong?” asks Dr. X.
My mouth goes dry, and the air in my lungs disappears. I am incoherent.
“The paper. They wrote about the lawsuit and me. It’s awful. They make me look like a monster. Our patients — they might see it. X, I can’t bring you into this. I will call the office and get someone else to do your anesthesia today. I can’t allow you or your practice to be tainted.”
“Listen here, Kate. I don’t give a shit about what some reporter writes. You are a great anesthesiologist. I don’t want someone else to do my cases today. You’re my girl, and if anybody says anything, they will have to answer to me. If a patient has a problem with you, we’ll cancel their case.”
I should be grateful for X’s faith in me, but her directive is a noose around my already constricting throat.
On my drive into work, I call my dad. I try to speak, but cannot. Somehow, I manage to tell him about the story. He tells me he’ll call me back.
Five minutes later, my father returns the call.
“I just read the article,” he says flatly.
“Dad, what am I going to do?”
“Did you say those things?” he asks. “Those things they quote, did you say that?”
Speeding down the road, oblivious to the motorists on the freeway, I answer.
“Yeah, I did. I said those things in my deposition. But they took my words out of context. They twisted them around. I would never say anything as cruel as they portray. That article makes me look like a stupid, heartless, reckless bitch.”
I can hear my father inhale. He pauses on the line, and then he says the words that shatter me.
“Yeah, honey, you’re right. They do.”
Kate O’Reilley is an anesthesiologist who blogs at katevsworld.