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LOS GATOS, Calif. - A California hospital has permanently removed an emergency room doctor from its roster after she was caught on video mocking a man who was likely in withdrawal from his anxiety medication.
Samuel Bardwell, 20, went to El Camino Hospital in Los Gatos June 11 after suffering a panic attack after basketball practice, his father, Donald Bardwell, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Donald Bardwell said his son takes Klonopin to control his anxiety, but had run out of the drug a few days before the incident.
Klonopin, a benzodiazepine, is used to treat anxiety and panic attacks, as well as seizure disorders, according to WebMD. A sudden stop to the medication can cause serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, shaking and stomach or muscle cramps, the website said.
“He had a prescription waiting for him at the pharmacy, but couldn’t pick it up,” Donald Bardwell told the Chronicle. “He’s a student and he works. We didn’t know what the consequences of not taking the meds would be.”
Samuel Bardwell told CBS San Francisco that when he collapsed, he could not speak, was numb and was in pain. Bardwell, who ABC News reported is a newly-enrolled student athlete at West Valley College in Saratoga, was taken by ambulance to the emergency room.
That’s where Dr. Beth Keegstra was assigned to handle his care.
Keegstra kept them waiting for more than three hours, then came into the room with a security guard, the Bardwells told CBS San Francisco.
“I was just, like, ‘Why would there be security when I have done nothing wrong?’” Samuel Bardwell said.
Father and son said that Keegstra accused the athlete of seeking drugs and tried to get him to leave.
“She said, ‘I know why you people are here, you people who come here for drugs,’” Donald Bardwell told the Chronicle. “I said, ‘What do you mean, you people?’”
That’s when he started recording the exchange with his cellphone.
In the video, father and son are heard trying to explain Samuel Bardwell’s anxiety attacks.
“When he has these, he’s throwing up and going in and out of consciousness,” Donald Bardwell tells Keegstra. “I literally saw him go in and out of consciousness.”
“He is completely awake and alert right now,” Keegstra says.
Bardwell tells the doctor that if his son leaves the hospital, he will have another anxiety attack like the first because he was in the same shape as when they arrived.
“I’m sorry sir, you are the least sick of all the people who are here, who are dying,” a visibly angry Keegstra tells Samuel Bardwell.
She grabs his arm and tries to force him to sit up.
“I can’t get up,” Samuel Bardwell says.
“I am literally trying to help you sit up,” Keegstra says.
“You’re helping me?” an incredulous Samuel Bardwell says.
He continues to tell the doctor that he cannot get up, at which point she asks if he wants hospital staff to wheel him home on the gurney.
“That’s not what I said,” Samuel Bardwell says.
Keegstra tells him that he just lifted his head with no problem, so he should be able to put his hands on the rails of the hospital bed and pull himself up.
“I cannot do that,” Samuel Bardwell says. “I could not do it in the ambulance, I cannot do it now.”
“Yes, you can,” Keegstra says.
He tells the doctor that he just tried to inhale and couldn’t.
Keegstra begins laughing.
“He can’t inhale. Wow. He must be dead,” Keegstra tells someone off camera before turning back to her patient.
“Are you dead, sir?” Keegstra asks Samuel Bardwell. “I don’t understand. You are breathing just fine.”
Donald Bardwell steps in, telling her that his son’s breathing is labored, and Keegstra points to his vital signs, which she says show that his blood oxygen levels are normal.
“This is not labored breathing,” she says.
Keegstra and Donald Bardwell bicker back and forth about his son’s care, which the father says consisted of fluids and medication for his son’s pain and anxiety last time an anxiety attack landed him in the emergency room.
“So, you need narcotics, is that what you need?” Keegstra asks Samuel Bardwell.
“Here we go,” he mutters. “I didn’t say narcotics, I just said pain reliever and anxiety medication, because I’m in pain and I have anxiety. I didn’t say nothing about narcotics.”
“And you just told me that this was not an anxiety attack. That this was something completely different,” Keegstra says.
“If I could get up off this bed, I would,” Samuel Bardwell says.
“Yeah, you really should,” Keegstra says. “Because this is ridiculous.”
Keegstra tells the patient that she came in there wanting to help him, but that he kept changing his story. Samuel Bardwell says he told her the same thing the entire time
“No. You have changed your story every (expletive) time,” Keegstra says.
“Whoa,” Samuel Bardwell says.
“Yeah, that’s how (angry) you’ve gotten me, OK?” Keegstra says.
“I didn’t do anything,” he says.
“Yes, you did,” she responds.
The video ends with Keegstra’s angry instructions to a nurse in the room.
“Put and IV in him, give him a liter of fluid and we’ll get him out of here,” Keegstra says. “That’s what he says he needs. He’s obviously a doctor and he knows what he needs.”
Samuel Bardwell told CBS San Francisco that tests ultimately showed he was dehydrated. Besides the fluids, he was also eventually given medication for pain and anxiety.
Donald Bardwell uploaded the video of Keegstra’s rant to Facebook early the next morning.
“This is how they treat black people in Los Gatos emergency room,” he wrote. “SMH (shaking my head). Everyone share this video. For the record, this is my son.”
Bardwell’s friends obliged, and the video soon went viral. As of Tuesday morning, it had been viewed more than five million times and shared more than 120,000 times.
The younger Bardwell said he had a feeling things would go wrong when he spotted Keegstra talking to the security guard before they entered his room.
“I already knew from that point,” Samuel Bardwell told ABC News. “I said, ‘Please, Dad, can you please take out your phone? I need you to take out your phone now ‘cause I have a feeling something is gonna happen.”
Samuel Bardwell said he is considering legal action against Keegstra and the hospital.
Officials at El Camino Hospital responded to the video Thursday, reaffirming the hospital’s commitment to patient care.
“This week, a patient who visited the emergency department at our Los Gatos campus had an interaction with a physician whose demeanor was unprofessional and not the standard we require of all who provide care through El Camino Hospital,” hospital CEO Dan Woods said in the statement. “We have expressed our sincere apologies and are working directly with the patient on this matter. Please know that we take this matter very seriously and the contracted physician involved has been removed from the work schedule, pending further investigation.”
Woods updated the statement Friday to say that the contract company that provides the hospital’s emergency room services, Vituity (formerly California Emergency Physicians), had been asked to remove Keegstra permanently from the hospital’s roster.
Donald Bardwell told the Chronicle that Keegstra treated his son like a drug addict.
“I guess she was so angry and assumed he was a druggie and had drugs in his system,” Bardwell said. “She thought she could talk to us any which way she wanted.”
Commenters on the video were mostly supportive, though some, like Keegstra, accused Samuel Bardwell of seeking narcotics.
Donald Bardwell addressed the “naysayers” in a separate Facebook post, in which he shared a response from someone who told him about benzodiazepine withdrawal.
“It’s very serious and life-threatening, especially when physicians do not recognize it,” the person wrote.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Keegstra has more than 20 years of experience as an emergency physician. In 2015, she started a GoFundMe page to raise money for a mission trip she said was to bring medical treatment to rural villages in Vietnam.
Her LinkedIn bio states that she has been with California Emergency Physicians, which recently changed its name to Vituity, since 1997.
Her employment status with Vituity following her suspension from El Camino Hospital was not immediately known. The Medical Board of California’s website shows that Keegstra, who graduated from medical school in 1987, has a clean record.