health care

It's Not Smart for Cops To Pick Fights With Doctors and Nurses


Emergency Room
Thierry Geoffroy

Yesterday's story about doctors refusing to comply with a court order to pump a suspect's stomach, and a related case about a nurse arrested for the same "offense," reminded me of a friend of mine. He's a physician with a short temper who currently works for a public agency to remain unnamed unless he fails to buy the drinks the next time we see each other. Many, many years ago he worked a rotation in an emergency room in an eastern urban location. One day, he was pulled over for a traffic violation by a local cop who proceeded to display an array of puffing, threatening and abusive behavior of the sort we cover here. After an extended dose of this crap, my buddy turned to the cop, probably with a vein throbbing in his temple, if I know him, and said something to the effect of, "I work at X hospital in the emergency room. God help you if you ever end up there." The encounter abruptly ended on a note of detente.

In this world, there are people it's dangerous to piss off, and that's as true for judges and police officers as it is for anybody else. When I was vice president of a law school (I later dropped out) branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, a prominent civil liberties advocate spoke at one of our functions and suggested that physicians should respond to legislative and judicial intrusions into their autonomy and the privacy of their patients by refusing to treat lawmakers, judges and members of their families. His point was that doctors have much more power than they realize. He was (and is) right, but doctors are generally poorly organized and not especially political, and that battle never came to pass. But physicians, nurses and other medical practitioners certainly have the power to retaliate quietly against those who would abuse them, their colleagues and their staff.

It's dangerous enough for police and government officials to offend lawyers, computer programmers and powerful figures of all sorts — those people have some ability to retaliate, officially or not so much, for mistreatment. But with such people, officials can often shield their names and drag out proceedings. With medical practitioners, however, at some point, it's you, them, delicate body functions and sharp, pointy instruments. If those practitioners associate your face with bad memories…well, accidents happen.

That's why I find it inexplicable when I read passages like this from the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:

Marjorie Depalis-Lachaud was working as a nurse at a Palm Beach Veterans Administration hospital when a man came in with injuries from a car accident. Shortly after, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Noel came in and interviewed the man. Noel suspected the man was driving drunk, and he wanted to get a blood sample to prove it.

At 10:30, he came to the nurses' station and told them he needed them to take a blood sample from the man. Two nurses told him hospital policy stated they could take blood from patients only when told to by a doctor. Depalis-Lachaud says she consulted with a supervisor and told Noel they were "waiting for the doctor to see if he gives an order to get the blood."

Noel didn't like that answer and handcuffed Depalis-Lachaud over what she claims were the protests of pretty much every official at the hospital. He said she was obstructing his investigation. She was never prosecuted.

So…Deputy Noel angered not just a nurse who might treat him should he require emergency medical attention at that hospital, but all of her colleagues. That strikes me, unless the staff at that hospital are all angels, as a risky, risky move.

I'm not an angel. I'm also not a physician, let alone the ER director at the West Palm Beach Veterans Administration Medical Center, so I can present the following conversation as a pure hypothetical that will never occur:

J.D. Tuccille, MD: Deputy, I'd like your full name and badge number please.

Deputy Noel: Sure. You going to file a complaint?

J.D. Tuccille, MD: Probably. But I'm more concerned that my staff will be…unmotivated should you ever enter our facility in need of medical care, after the way you've treated their colleague. And when they accidentally sew a cop's balls into his mouth, it shouldn't be the wrong guy.

No matter how powerful you are, there are people you should not piss off.

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  1. Except for some oath that doctors take. What is it called? The hypocritical something?

    1. In contrast to the common misconception, the original hippocratic oath is not taken by anyone anymore, and not every doctor has to take a modernized version of it.

      1. Guess why they dropped it?

        1. “‘I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion’….

          ” the vast majority of oaths or declarations sworn have been heavily modified and modernized—for example, the oath’s prohibition on abortion predates modern laws.”

    2. Nothing in the Hippocratic oath compels a medical practitioner to provide life saving care. They can simply let an offending cop bleed out in triage.

      1. Like the cops do when they shoot an innocent person.

    3. Except for some oath that doctors take.

      To uphold and defend the Constitution?
      Oops! No, that would be the guy with his testicles transplanted to under his nose.

  2. When has something being not smart ever stopped a cop from doing it?

  3. Since Cops are never held accountable for anything, it never occurred to them that doctors might have licenses and be liable for torturing people. Jail sounds a lot better than losing my medical license and getting sued.

    1. “That headache – it’s nothing. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

      Later –

      “Oh, so it was something, well, a misdiagnosis isn’t malpractice.”

      1. Imagine if we held cops to the same standards that we do doctors.

        1. Imagine if we held cops to the same standards that we do doctors.


        2. That was my thought. If I did this as a PA, and the cop thought far enough ahead to bring me in front of the medical board I am pretty sure I’d be in trouble. Meanwhile, the cop’s internal investigation would result in nothing.

  4. You don’t necessarily have to be an angel to be a better person than any cop in the universe.

  5. Help me understand something. Now cops are increasing their aggression and thuggery on doctors and staff in hospitals or has this usually been the case and only now being reported?

    1. I only know from the rest of my family, who all are some sort of medical professionals, that they never had trouble from cops – it was always a sense of “we are on the same team”.

  6. The tone of this article seems strange. “Always be careful not to piss off the wrong people” doesn’t sound like a libertarian sentiment to me, even it’s sound utilitarian advice.

    I guess somebody could write a similar article about how you should always be very nice to cops, because you never know when they might be in a position to screw you over.

    1. When you deal with feral animals, sometimes it takes a spray bottle full of ammonia to the eyes to get your point across.

      1. And sometimes it takes showing the pile of snakes you took the shovel to.

  7. Coppers can’t be held accountable for their actions when the blood rushes from their brains to their authority boners. Or ever.

    1. Seek medical assistance for authority boners lasting longer than four hours.

  8. If the hospital staff wanted to be dicks, they would have put the “cop” in the psych ward for delusions of grandeur and impersonating a police officer.

    1. Crematory is probably a better place.

  9. I work at a trauma hospital. We get a lot of dirt bags. We get very nice people. They ALL get the same level of care from me including prisoners and police. The best I can provide.

  10. When I was vice president of a law school (I later dropped out) branch of the American Civil Liberties Union

    The placement of the parenthetical gives an incorrect (and rather confusing) impression on the first read.

  11. but doctors are generally poorly organized and not especially political

    True. Here in the state capitol the medical association had a lobbying day, and it was the first time lawmakers had been lobbied personally by the doctors in their districts. I think we ended up doing the bill the docs wanted.

    It was also unusual in that during this lobbying day, the people lobbying had private sector, non-union jobs.

  12. I wouldn’t endorse the idea of medical personnel discriminating on moral grounds against people they think are scumbags.

    If they did so, then the nurse dealing with the alleged drunken driver would have not only given the blood test she would have tattooed “remember your victims” on his scrotum.

    Don’t even start down that slippery slope, if you ask me.

  13. I get where J.D. Is going with this (and I suspect it’s largely tongue-in-cheek rather than fully sincere) but at the end of the day, most medical professionals are good people – better than any Bully with a Badge – so I suspect they will refrain from retaliation by way of withholding or providing subpar care for said Bully. That having been said, I agree that doctors and nurses should stand up for themselves and their rights, as well as the rights of patients in their care, in the face of pressure from police to violate those rights. And if stories like these are any indication, they’re doing an admirable job.

    It’s worth mentioning that my mother, an ER/trauma nurse of many years and of many different hospitals, has occasion to share anecdotes about her inevitable dealings with cops in her capacity. More than once she’s had to tell them to cool it – words to the effect of “this is my ER, not yours” – and good on her for that.

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