This was a case of a doctor being too friendly with his patient—and getting grossly carried away with his surgical skills. Back in 1999, Dr. Allan Zarkin, a Manhattan obstetrician, performed a Caesarian section to deliver the first child of his patient, Dr. Liana Gedz, a dentist. Gedz had every reason to trust her physician. Zarkin had coached Gedz through 7 months of prenatal care, and a strong doctor-patient relationship developed into a strong friendship. It was the kind of bond that led Gedz to invite Zarkin to spend summer nights with her and her husband at their country home in East Northport, Long Island.
But Zarkin was so proud of the successful Caesarian section he performed on Gedz that after delivering her baby girl, he decided to brand his patient’s belly. Forgetting that human beings are not pumpkins, and with stunned nurses watching, Zarkin used his scalpel to carve his initials, “AZ,” which measured several centimeters high, on the stomach of Gedz. He said that he believed the Caesarian section was a work of art worthy of signing, sort of like a professional athlete signing a game ball. The incident created a buzz and hospital staff paraded in and out of Gedz’s recovery room to look under her bandages, but no one would tell her why. Finally, she demanded that someone bring her a mirror so that she could see for herself what the attraction was all about.
Gedz held the mirror up to her stomach and saw the initials that were carved into her abdomen. “I feel like a branded animal,” Gedz lamented in a news conference. “It was supposed to be one of the most exciting times in my life, but it was a nightmare. I now have to decide whether to have major plastic surgery or live with this branding for the rest of my life.”
Beth Israel Hospital immediately suspended Zarkin; he later resigned. In addition to his work at Beth Israel, Zarkin worked at a practice in Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, whose partners acted quickly after hearing about the carving and fired him.
Astoundingly, after being dismissed from his former practice and resigning from the hospital, Zarkin was hired by an abortion clinic in Queens to perform abortions and general gynecological care, including prenatal exams. He was fired as soon as the clinic learned about the carving incident and resulting lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the carving left a scar and Getz initiated a $5.5 million civil lawsuit against Beth Israel Hospital, Zarkin, and his Murray Hill practice, charging that “severe, permanent and devastating personal injuries” were “caused by the carelessness, negligence and medical malpractice of the defendants.” In court papers, Gedz said that the carving had deprived her of intimacy with her husband. She said that she was embarrassed to undress in front of her husband because another man’s initials are carved into her stomach.
Subsequently, Zarkin was investigated by the State Health Department and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The prosecutor and assistant district attorney reported that Zarkin had been the subject of several previous complaints about erratic behavior. Further investigation uncovered numerous examples of inappropriate behavior and lewd comments, but none of those rose to the level of criminal conduct.
Zarkin’s defense strategy was that he suffered from a degenerative brain condition called Pick’s disease. Pick’s disease is a rare and permanent form of dementia that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease, except that it tends to affect only certain areas of the brain. His lawyer argued that the disease causes deterioration of the brain’s frontal lobe, resulting in impaired judgment, which explained Zarkin’s bizarre behavior. “He suffers from a brain disorder that affects what he says and what he does,” his lawyer said. The defense asked the court to dismiss the case, saying that Zarkin’s actions “were caused by medical incapacity/cerebral dysfunction and not the result of any negligent, willful or intentional conduct.” The prosecution countered and said they did not agree with the defense lawyers’ contention that Zarkin is suffering from Pick’s disease or that an illness caused his actions.
Zarkin was forced to accept a plea bargain with the consent of Gedz and her family. Zarkin was found guilty of second-degree assault. The lawyer representing Gedz said his client did not want Zarkin to go to prison and opposed his criminal prosecution. Zarkin had been facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge he faced, first-degree assault. Zarkin, who was 62 years old at the time, did not go to jail. He was barred from applying for a medical license for 5 years. Zarkin settled the $5.5 million civil lawsuit against him for $1.75 million.
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