An anesthesiologist stole narcotics from people on the operating table to feed his own drug habit, leaving the patients with dosages so diluted they could feel scalpels slicing into their flesh.
Dr. Frank Ruhl Peterson, 45, could get up to 54 years in prison at his sentencing Feb. 25. He pleaded guilty Thursday to assault and other offenses for his role in 12 operations.
“That’s probably as low as you can get. He took an oath as a doctor to provide medical services, and then to do this to his patients is just indescribable,” Detective Edward Harry said.
The incidents occurred last summer at Hazleton-St. Joseph Medical Center. Hospital officials became suspicious after Peterson’s patients complained. A lab tested two intravenous bags Peterson had administered to patients and found only a trace amount of anesthetic.
“When the doctors began, since the patients were under no anesthetic, they could actually feel the scalpel cutting them, and the operations had to be stopped,” Harry said. Several of those patients were undergoing Caesarean sections.
A woman undergoing spinal surgery suffered pain so severe she “prayed for a happy death,” court papers said.
Peterson was assigned to anesthetize more than 200 patients during the few months he worked at the hospital.
“When I asked him how many of his patients he shortchanged on the drugs, he said, ‘Everybody.’ “When I asked him how many patients he gave proper medications to, he said, ‘None,”’ Harry said.