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10/09/2020    Martin R. Taubman, DPM, MBA

If Falsely Accused - What Would You Do?

Friday, August 17, 2012 ended the week-long
ordeal of one of the most damaging series of
San Diego County fires in local history. Clouds
of ash blanketed the city leaving an oily, gray
residue on our cars, lawns, and streets for the
most of the week. People were evacuated from
their homes; some homes burned to the ground.
In fact, one of our fellow podiatrist’s home
was lost to the fire and had to be rebuilt.
People died. Lake Cuyamaca and its surroundings
were devastated.

Driving through its prior verdant scenery was
heartbreaking—the trees stood like broken,
blackened skeletons amidst a barren, burned
earth. The canopy of trees which covered miles
of Highway 79 leading to the lake from Route 8
was gone. It was estimated it would take 100
years for the area to return to its previous
pristine grandeur. I’ll never forget it.

However, there was another event that occurred
that fateful Friday, and it will remain etched
into my memory with at least the same vivid
horror (or worse) as the fire and its
aftermath…

It was another busy office Friday. The
reception room was jammed full. As usual, not
only were the regular patients in attendance,
but also those urgent appointments that “just
had to be seen” before the weekend for their
ingrown toenails, sprains, infections, and
fractures. Everyone was a bit on edge, even
though the fire in the county was finally
contained and managed. We were behind schedule,
but the staff was coping well, and the patients
were understanding and cooperative; those with
regular appointments were at least tolerant,
and those we managed to fit-in with at the
last-minute were grateful. It was 11:00 a.m.
and with a little luck we could break for lunch
about 12:30 p.m. So, we were essentially, just
rolling-along.

I walked into Exam Room #1 to meet my new
patient referred from a local clinic. She was a
30-year-old mildly, mentally-handicapped
female already positioned on the exam table
with her feet extended. Her chart indicated
that she had been complaining of longitudinal
arch pain. This should be easy, I thought. Her
older sister who was sitting next to her in a
regular chair, had 2 daughters, an eight-year-
old was who quietly standing next to her, and a
two-year-old was restlessly fidgeting.

I introduced myself, assumed my usual history-
taking position at the foot of the examination
table, seated on my rolling stool in front of
the cabinet which contained my instruments and
supplies. All-of-a-sudden the two-year-old ran
to the cabinet behind me and began opening and
the slamming shut the doors. I mean she was
violently doing this. I said to her mother,
“Your daughter is going to hurt herself,” then
asked, “Would you get her please?” The mother
just sat there and watched. In the meantime
this little girl was escalating her activity to
the point where the cabinet door was literally
bang-bang-banging. I was really worried that
she would slam her fingers in the door and hurt
herself.

I spun around on my stool. The kid’s back was
to me. I tapped her on the shoulder with one
finger and said in a firm voice, “Stop!”
This startled her and she stopped. She also
began not just crying, but wailing. The mother,
who had been essentially in what appeared to me
to be a stupor, suddenly became animated and
yelled at me. She picked up her cell phone, dialed 911 and exclaimed to the emergency operator that I had struck her child and wanted the police sent over immediately.

I couldn’t believe it. Did this really happen?
Instead of thanking me for preventing a
potential serious injury to her child, the
mother had become instantly vindictive. What
would happen next? I had visions of the police
arriving at my office and hauling me away in
handcuffs in front of my patients. It was
Friday, the fires had disrupted the entire
county, and I would probably be in jail for the
entire weekend.

The patient queried her sister, “What did you
do? Call the police? Why?” She said, “The
doctor stopped her and she was gonna get
hurt.” She asked, “Why didn’t you get up and
stop her?”

The 8-year-old said, “Mommy, the doctor didn’t
hurt her. He helped her.” None of this had any
effect on the indignant mother. I collected
myself and said, “I’m sorry but I cannot
continue this visit under these circumstances.
You will all have to leave the office.” I told
the patient, “Go back to your regular doctor
and get permission to see another podiatrist.”
This was appropriate as I had not initiated
treatment at this point.

They left. The patient and eight-year-old
apologetic, and the mother dragging the upset,
crying two-year-old by the arm.

I tried to settle down as much as possible and
continue to treat my patients. I was literally
shaking. The patients had heard the commotion
and every patient that had been in the
reception room informed me that the mother had
no control over the two-year-old. The child had
been jumping up and down on the chairs and
running wildly about the room. Although this
was a confirmation to me that the mother was
not effective in controlling her daughter, it
did nothing to assuage my fears of what was yet
to happen.

My office is on 4th floor of a medical
building. It’s on a corner, has a large parking
lot and a pharmacy on the ground floor.
About 20 minutes had passed and I was a nervous
wreck. I sent my nurse down to see what was
happening. She returned and reported that the
police were there and were in conversation with
the mother, the patient, and the eight-year-old
daughter. I supposed that the mother would
decide to press charges, and literally expected
that I would be arrested any moment.
Another 15 minutes passed. Nothing…

I sent my secretary down to have a look. She
came back up and informed us that everyone was
gone. No patient, no mother, no children, no
police. The pharmacist, who had been watching
the scene, explained that the police had
individually taken the sister, mother, and 8-
year-old each aside and questioned them
independently. While the police were there the
mother allowed the two-year-old to run out into
the street. I felt relieved, but still wasn’t
certain of the aftermath.

Later that afternoon, I described the incident
while treating a police officer; a regular,
paraplegic patient of mine who had been shot in
the neck while intervening in a domestic
disturbance. I expressed my surprise that I
hadn’t been arrested. He explained that the
police are trained to carefully assess a
situation, and they had most-likely made the
determination no harm had been done after
speaking individually to the family members and
observing the mother’s poor parenting skills.
He said that he was sure there were more
pressing situations for them to contend with
given the fire situation and the fact that
Fridays are extremely busy days for law
enforcement. Nothing ever came of it.

Interestingly, the patient returned to the
office two months later, alone. She apologized
to me for her sister’s behavior and thanked me
for stopping her niece before she actually
injured herself. I’ve thought about what
happened. Should I have not tapped the little
girl on the shoulder and firmly said, “Stop!?”
What if she did hurt herself? Would I have been
sued? Tough questions to answer. What would you
have done?

Martin R. Taubman, DPM, MBA, San Diego, CA

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