Chronic Pain Patient's Mouth Taped Shut by ICU Nurses

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • The levels of abuse and cruelty human beings are capable of inflicting on one another never ceases to amaze me.  When that abuse comes from the hands of the people we trust to care for us when we're ill and in pain, it sickens me.  When I see others who work in the health care field condone the abuse or blame the patient, it frightens me. 

    Penny Artalejo suffered with chronic neck pain from an accident more than six years ago.  According to her daughter Brittany Bilson, Artalejo often gets nauseated and can't keep her pain medication down.  The pain then leads to anxiety and her mother begins shaking and moaning. 

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    On the night of Dec. 17, Artalejo reportedly took 20 painkillers.  Bilson called 911 and her mother was taken to the emergency room at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, where she was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit.  The daughter said her mother's teeth were chattering and she was shaking and moaning.

    Bilson claims that two nurses in ICU put their hands over Artalejo's mouth and told her to shut up.  But that wasn't the end of it.  After Bilson left, they allegedly used wide hospital tape and taped Artalego's face from the top of her nose to the bottom of her chin, putting thinner tape across her face from cheekbone to cheekbone and across her jawline. 

    Artalejo told her daughter the nurses were laughing as they taped her mouth shut and joked that if they got caught they could be fired.  She said they left the tape on for five to 10 minutes. 

    Although the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center would not release the names of the nurses involved, after investigating the incident, they did fire two nurses, one male and one female. 

    My Thoughts...

    There is absolutely no excuse for treating any patient this way.  Even if she was screaming at the top of her lungs, they had no right to endanger her life by taping her mouth shut.  The woman was nauseated and had possibly overdosed.  Had she vomitted while her mouth was taped, she easily could have choked, aspirated and died. 

    Admittedly the news reports don't tell the whole story.  I still have a lot of questions.

    • Why did the woman take 20 painkillers?  Was she vomitting them up as soon as she took them?  Was she so desperate to stop the pain that she just kept taking more medication?  Or was she trying to commit suicide? 
    • Why couldn't she remove the tape herself?  Was she restrained?  Was she too weak and shaky to help herself?  Was she too drugged from the medication to take the tape off?
    • Why didn't the daughter or someone stay at the hospital with the mother?  Was she not allowed to be with her mother in ICU? 

    Yes, there are many unanswered questions.  The thing is, I can't imagine any answers that would justify treating a patient this way.  I know some patients can be trying, difficult to handle and even abusive to nurses.  But that still doesn't excuse this kind of treatment.  Every hospital should have procedures in place for dealing with difficult patients.  Taping their mouths shut is never the answer.

  • What I found almost as disturbing as the behavior of these two nurses were the comments made by a few others who claimed to work in the health care field on the Huffington Post report of this story.  While most commenters agreed that these actions were inhumane, there were some who actually blamed the patient for being difficult or assumed she was a drug addict and deserved no sympathy.  It's scary to think people like that may be taking care of me in a hospital one day. 

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    What do you think about this story?  Do you think the fact that Artalego was taking medicine for chronic pain had something to do with the way she was treated?  Have you ever experienced abuse or mistreatment from health care workers in a hospital?  We want to know what you think. 

    Note:  Thank you to Merely Me, an expert on HealthCentral's Anxiety site, for alerting me to this story.  You can read her post about the story here:  Anxious Patient “Treated” by Nurses who Taped her Mouth Shut

    Yi, S. (2011, December 21). 2 nurses fired over alleged abuse of patient. KSL TV. Retrieved from

Published On: December 28, 2011