'I need vodka so that I don’t shake', says Belgian doctor who drank before fatal op

A Belgian anaesthetist admitted she drank vodka before assisting at a caesarean in which a woman died, a French court heard on Tuesday.

Investigating judges quoted Helga Wauters as saying during a recent hearing: "The night of the incident, I drank half a 50cl (500 ml) bottle of a mixture of vodka and water. I was not drunk, I was at 70 per cent of my capacities."

"I need vodka so that I don’t shake."

Wauters, 45, was called to duty on Sept 26 when a 28-year-old British woman went into labour in Orthez, a town in France.

She told judges she gave the woman an epidural and went to drink "a glass of rose" with some friends.

Smelling of alcohol

But the labour did not go as planned and it became clear the woman would need a caesarean.

The medical team called the anaesthetist, who arrived on foot at the clinic smelling of alcohol.

While preparing the anaesthetic, the woman’s behaviour was reported as "weird" by her colleagues, the court heard.

“I was in a daze, overwhelmed, my perception was certainly changed,” Wauters said.

Baby survived

While trying to ventilate the patient in the operating room, Wauters inserted a tube into her oesophagus instead of her windpipe.

Emergency services were called. They arrived to find "a patient in cardiac arrest, cyanotic (blue) and people present who were doing nothing", according to witnesses quoted by the court.

The patient was taken to a hospital in Pau where she died four days later. The baby survived.

'Alcohol problem'

When the anaesthetist reported to police a day later, she had 2.4g of alcohol per litre of blood, nearly five times the legal limit in France.

She admitted to suffering "a pathological alcohol problem". 

At her home, investigators found 17 empty bottles of vodka.

Wauters has been an anaesthetist since 1994, and had been employed at a clinic near the Orthez hospital for two weeks when the incident took place.

She has been in custody since being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Source: AFP