This essay should be read as an addition to “A Death in the Hospital.” It contains new information that deepens the reader’s understanding of the case.
The Hon. Sherry Klein-Heitler (who had the gall to tell me, “you have a weak case, Mrs. Speken”) threatened to dismiss the case if we didn’t accept the settlement and gag order. We decided to accept neither. Now, because of the internet, this atrocity is in front of the whole world. Our freedom of speech is more important to us than any amount of money.
As I stood up to try speak to her in the courtroom, Judge Klein-Heitler said nothing when my lawyer came up from the other side of the table and slammed me on the back to shut me up. She threatened that she was going to close the case immediately and we would be financially ruined by a libel suit from the hospital. I was terrified when she said, “Think of your two daughters, Mrs. Speken.”
The reader of this document will learn exactly why Judge Klein-Heitler would never permit the atrocity of Seth’s death to go before a jury.
But first, a question has come up as to where my husband and I were during the 66+ hours of illegal restraining that led to Seth’s death. I will discuss this first before proceeding to a detailed analysis of how the restraints killed our son.
From around the age of 16, until his death, Seth suffered from Inflammatory Bowel Disease. While his condition showed some improvement, it never left him and he was often totally incapacitated. He was out a significant number of days during Hunter College High School, but was able to finish and go on to college.
As time went on, Seth was also troubled by periodic attacks of anxiety. He attempted to obtain help from counseling and biofeedback, but found little relief. The only medication that helped was the xanax my husband prescribed for him. He took it responsibly for around 2 years prior to his death, and was able to attend his college classes without panic symptoms.
As time went on Seth was troubled by his dependence on the medication. He consulted a locally well-known psychiatrist who supported my husband’s treatment approach and recommended Seth take the antidepressant elavil as well.
In the month prior to his death, Seth became increasingly depressed. He consulted with another psychiatrist during this time.
I was to learn after studying the chart that Seth told the medical trainee just prior to his death, that he thought he had withdrawn himself too abruptly from xanax, and this precipitated the seizure that brought him to the hospital.
Whatever the cause of the seizure, my husband gave both Drs. Hewitt (the director of the emergency room) and Sagman (the neurologist who saw him on the unit) a report that Seth was physiologically dependent on the xanax he had been prescribing.
So the question is: Where were my husband and I during the 66+ hours Seth was being restrained and mistreated?
It must first be understood that my husband considered Columbia Presbyterian Hospital to be one of the world’s greatest hospitals, staffed by many of the world’s greatest physicians. My husband was very upset about what happened, but at the same time was relieved and grateful that our son was at Columbia Presbyterian Hosiptal. We had no reason to doubt or be fearful of the hospital.
When my husband received his medical training, there was (as he later explained to me), layer upon layer of supervisors who insured that patients would be treated correctly and safely. My husband, who had received his training 30 years before, had not worked in a teaching hospital for many years and was unaware of the breakdown in the standards of medical trainee supervision that had occurred.
So it was with this lack of information that we entrusted our precious son to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in the City of New York.
My husband had not understood why Seth had entered a medical crisis and had to be transferred to the ICU. When he went to the hospital, the “Director of the ICU” (in fact a second year resident named Tom Bertsch, who looked older than his years), reassured my husband that Seth was going to be “all right.”
My husband visited Seth in the ICU several times and was told by one of the housestaff that they were “pleased with his progress.”
On these visits, Seth was always covered with a sheet and a blanket from head to toe. His eyes were closed and my husband assumed that Seth was sleeping deeply, as he would have were he to have been appropriately sedated as the correct treatment called for. My husband did not attempt to touch the blankets or speak with Seth, out of fear of disturbing and awakening him.
In fact, this was wrong. Throughout the 66+ hours of inhuman treatment, Seth was having multiple periods of extreme agitation and hallucinations that we were totally unaware of. Throughout this time the illegal restraints were covered up by sheets and blankets. The deposition of Mary Bongiovi, M.D. (a third year psychiatric resident) describes how she had to pull back the blanket to see the restraints the nurses were obviously trying to hide.
It is of interest that this same Dr. Bongiovi makes the almost unbelievable statement that the hospital had no obligation to tell us our son was being restrained.
So where were my husband and I during these fatal 66+ hours? We weren’t at his bedside constantly because we were the victims of deception and a misplaced sense of trust.