The death of Puerto Rican doctor Gloria Ortiz González is an unfortunate reminder of the power of social media, cyber bullying, the poor conditions of a public health system affecting both patients and their providers, the level of stress and the need for attention to the emotional well-being of healthcare workers, the Hippocratic Oath, and the doctrine “primum non nocere” (“first do no harm”).
Dr. Ortiz González gained notoriety and grew in infamy after a verbal altercation with patients in the emergency room waiting area of Bayamon Regional Hospital in Puerto Rico was recorded on a mobile phone and uploaded to social networks in August 2014. In the video, which clearly begins in the middle of the discussion and does not show the preceding interactions, a patient who is off camera can be heard instigating the physician to the point that she loses her composure and uses language like:
- “And you’re ignorant, read a goddamn newspaper.”
- “Who pays for “la reforma de la salud” [Puerto Rican Medicaid] in this country? I do with my taxes.”
- “Damn it. I have busted myself studying me in the damn Medical Sciences Campus to have to come here and deal with you.”
- “Bunch of ignorants.”
- “That is why this country is a mess because what you do is listen to Daddy Yankee. Pick up a goddamn book you ignorant. Pick up a goddamn book.”
The life of Dr. Ortiz González took a huge turn after the video went viral. The doctor was suspended from duty and investigated by the Department of Health of Puerto Rico; an investigation which ceased once she resigned. Although she would later be exonerated of any wrongdoing by the Office of the Advocate for the Patient, the degree of personal harassment and devastating cyber bullying on social media were inescapable.
Even the world famous reggaeton singer Daddy Yankee countered in social networks and through the song “Palabras con Sentido” [“Words with Meaning”], the video of which recreates the moment when the doctor’s outburst was recorded in the waiting room. A young doctor who, in a moment of frustration, lashed out at her patients, whom she swore to treat with “warmth, sympathy and understanding.” A doctor who fell victim to persecution and cyber attacks, chasing her out of her home, affecting her mental health, and possibly contributing to her death.
Although Dr. Ortiz González’s behavior in that moment of anger was unacceptable and unprofessional, we must remember that we are all human and the burnout caused by poor working conditions in a crowded health system marred by inefficiencies, poor pay, and little appreciation, have their weight. While I do not excuse her conduct, as a medical student who walked the floors and hallways of that same regional hospital in Puerto Rico, I understand how difficult it can sometimes be to remain composed under so much pressure.
Now, we should reflect on the impact of the news of her death, the emotional footprint carved out by harassment, and the rampant use of social media to perpetuate a persecution by anonymous abusers behind a keyboard. Many people have fallen victim to this cyber hunt. Harassment, both in person and through social networks, can have lifetime effects on the victim’s personality. The power of demoralization is monumental and erodes at the victim’s self-worth. Anxiety, depression, suicides, and murders. When will it all end?
I hope the death of Dr. Gloria Ortiz González has not been in vain and makes us think twice before casting our hatred on social media, considering the irreversible damage that we may cause.
Rest in Peace, Doctora!
Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.
Until next time!