A Belgian anaesthetist has admitted she drank vodka before assisting at a Caesarean in which a woman of British origin died in France last month, a French court heard Tuesday.
The 45-year-old doctor, who has been in custody since being charged with involuntary manslaughter for her role in the woman's death, appeared in court in the southwestern French city of Pau.
"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 percent of my capacities," investigating judges quoted Helga Wauters as saying during a recent hearing.
"I need vodka so that I don't shake." On September 26, Wauters was called to duty when the 28-year-old went into labour in the town of Orthez near Pau.
She told judges she gave the woman an epidural and went to drink "a glass of rose" with some friends. However 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 and smelled 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.
Things quickly took a dramatic turn in the operating room. While trying to ventilate the patient, Wauters inserted a tube into her oesophagus instead of her windpipe. Emergency services were called and found "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. When the anaesthetist reported to police a day later she had 2.4 grammes 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 in a clinic near the Orthez hospital for two weeks when the incident took place.