Ethel Easter says she has an audio recording of her doctor speaking disparagingly about her during surgery. (Photo: Facebook)
A woman who says she was body-shamed by doctors and nurses while on the operating table — and that she has an audio file, from a recorder hidden in her weave, to prove it — is speaking out about the “physical, mental, and emotional scars” it has caused her.
“When you are lying there and these people have you uncovered and you trust them and they speak like this, it’s a bad situation,” Ethel Easter, of Houston, tells Yahoo Beauty through tears about her experience at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston, Tex., where she had hernia surgery in August to help correct a severe case of acid reflux. “It’s given me self-esteem issues.”
Easter, a real-estate agent, explains that she was “caught between a rock and a hard place” when she went to meet with a surgeon through the county’s Harris Health System, one of only two qualified doctors who would accept her Affordable Care Act plan. “I was in dire need of medical attention,” she explains, as she had stabbing pains every time she ate and had just endured a grueling round of tests involving an endoscopy and tubes up her nose. The doctor, though, told her she would have to wait two months for a surgery date, which rattled an already fragile Easter.
“I started crying, and he wasn’t comforting,” she says. “It was awful the way he talked to me — ‘You have to wait just like everyone else.’” Although his manner was a “red flag,” Easter says, and, in hindsight, amounted to profiling that was “racial,” she felt she had no option but to book her surgery with him, as he was much more experienced than the other physician.
Easter, with the weave she had when she hid the recorder in her hair. (Photo: Facebook)
Still, she was worried about how he might treat her, which inspired a rather bold and creative move: to hide a mini flash recorder, which measures about two inches and holds up to six hours worth of audio, in her hair. Although Easter’s hair is natural now, she had long braided weaves at the time, and was able to easily hide the recorder inside. She says she pressed “record” as she undressed before surgery.
“I had no idea what would go on,” she explains, but says she feared the worst. “I was afraid that if I didn’t make it [through surgery] nobody would know why, and I wanted them to know it was because he didn’t care about me as a person. Your life is in their hands. I wanted them to know.”
She made it through the surgery, but what she wound up hearing on the recording, she says, was “appalling.” Among some choice samples, some of which can be heard on a recent Fox 26 news report, allegedly included: disparaging remarks about Easter’s bellybutton; negative references to her weight by calling her “Precious,” apparently a reference to the obese protagonist in the Sapphire novel and subsequent film starring Gabourey Sidibe; mention of touching her body coupled with a reference to “Bill Cosby”; complaints about Easter’s frustration about having to wait for a surgery date (“she was a handful”); the surgeon on a cell-phone call; and a discussion about whether or not to administer some penicillin, to which Easter has an allergy. She alleges he did give her penicillin, and that she later wound up in the ER with a severe reaction.
A spokesperson for the Harris Health System did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Beauty, but did decline to comment to Fox 26, citing patient confidentiality laws. Easter says the hospital wrote to her directly, noting that her complaint had been reviewed and that the staff’s conduct had been unprofessional.
Although Easter has no immediate plans to file a lawsuit, she has teamed up with a local equal-justice activist, Quanell X, who is currently acting as her “counsel.” He tells Yahoo Beauty, “I’m appalled and shocked that you have professional doctors conducting themselves that way in an operating room… These things you hear him say about her should be said about no one.” He adds, “We should be concerned about what’s going on in these operating rooms when people are unconscious and have no one there to advocate for them.”
Although coming forward has been difficult for Easter, as well as her husband, who has been “very disturbed” by the situation, she believes it’s important. “What I want people to realize is what’s going on behind closed doors,” she says, noting that she has not received an apology from the hospital or the surgeon. “We expect professional care from them, but this is what goes on. It’s appalling. The whole tape is appalling.”