Olivia Goldsmith Update

It’s been a little more than a month since Olivia Goldsmith passed on, and comments and send-offs still roll in, responses to my visceral reaction from the news. This suggests to me that the Goldsmith death is an issue that’s resonated with a lot of people, both in Goldsmith’s premature loss and the potential dangers inherent within plastic surgery (to say nothing of discussion over why it’s considered a necessity). Unfortunately, as someone passes on, the circumstances that led up to the death sometimes get ignored or left by the wayside. In an effort to look into what’s been happening, here’s what I’ve been able to determine:

This week, a second patient died at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, which was Goldsmith’s clinic. Manhattan Eye had already been under investigation by state officials. This time around, it appears that Manhattan Eye was more careful with confidentiality (probably because the woman wasn’t a bestselling author and, accordingly, journalists weren’t nearly as hungry to dig up the dirt), but the cause of the second death, which occurred on Monday, has turned out to be the same: anesthesia-related. Manhattan Eye claims that it was following “all hospital protocol and procedures.”

The Post broke the news this morning. The second victim, like Goldsmith, was only 54. All that is known about her was that she was the wife of a cardiologist.

Some additional details about Manhattan Eye: Lenox Hill Hospital owns Manhattan Eye. Manhattan Eye, however, does not have an intensive care unit. It experienced a 20% increase in cosmetic surgery in 2002 over the previous year.

The plastic surgery division is headed by Sherrell Aston, considered the top facelift doctor in New York. Aston has performed work on Tipper Gore and Anna Wintour. He’s also a full professor of surgery at NYU. Aston is the husband of Muffie Potter Aston, prominent Manhattan socialite (who also chairs the New York City Ballet Committee). Muffie’s pretty ascetic about her diet. As she says herself, “My attitude toward food is not obsession, but it’s not far off. I am religious about what I eat. I start the day with a bowl of sliced cantaloupe, three apricots and three prunes; then I go to the gym. Being three pounds overweight drives me to distraction.” (The happy couple can be found pictured here.) They have a son, Matt, who opened up a bistro called Calliope in 2001 (thanks to family cash). Their other son is Jay, a money manager and ladies’ man known to date people like Soshanna Lonstein.

I raise these biographical tidbits up to convey exactly where the Astons stand in New York society. They are extremely affluent, extremely elite, and we might also infer that they are extremely protected, particularly from any criticism of surgical procedure.

But according to the New York State Department of Health, Aston has paid out three malpractice settlement payments in the past ten years: one on 5-27-01 for a “below average” amount, another on 12-03-96 for a “below average” amount, and a third on 4-9-96 for an “average” amount. It should also be noted that the NYS DOH indicates that “Below average means the doctor has made a payment that is less (in amount) than New York doctors in his or her field and in the same geographical area.” Since Manhattan Eye is the top-rated surgical clinic in its area, we might infer that “below average” might be a veritable bonanza compared against the average cosmetic surgery clinic. Furthermore, since Aston is loaded with cash, it is likely that he retains an ace deal-cutting attorney.

The most investigative piece on the matter has been Ralph Gardner, Jr.’s piece for New York Magazine. However, Gardner seemed to pay more attention to Goldsmith’s life and mental health, rather than investigating the procedures undertaken. He did note that Goldsmith had come close towards getting discounted or comp surgery when she was researching her book, Flavor of the Month. He also noted that Larry Ashmead, Goldsmith’s editor, recalled that Goldsmith wore a long blonde wig for her cover photo in The First Wives’ Club, and that Ashmead forced Goldsmith to retire it.

Gardner also consulted with an unnamed plastic surgeon who suggested that Goldsmith may have withheld the fact that she was on antidepressants, and that this may have affected her pulmonary system. But the question I have here is whether Manhattan Eye had the duty to determine whether or not the patient was on any other medications before undergoing procedure. If two patients have died because it’s not current Manhattan Eye procedure to check for factors which might affect a patient during anesthetic procedure, then this may suggest a major screw-up.

The surgeons for both the cardiologist’s wife and Goldsmith have not been revealed by hospital representatives. However, the Gardner article revealed that Dr. Norman Pastorek was the doctor responsible for Goldsmith’s surgery.

This cached message board notes that Pastorek was trained by Dr. Eugene Tardy, a prominent cosmetic surgon in Chicago. Pastorek (and Manhattan Eye) is also involved with NYU. In fact, NYU offers a fellowship program with Manhattan Eye.

However, as Rush and Molloy pointed out, the person who carried out anesthetic procedure was never identified in Gardner’s piece. And according to the New York State Department of Health, Pastorek has not had any malpractice actions since becoming an M.D. in 1969.

As of last week, Goldsmith’s attorney, Steven Mintz, has not yet proceeded with legal action. And a search through the New York State Unified Court System revealed no recent actions filed by Mintz’s firm.

The Sydney Morning Herald used Goldsmith’s death to play up the increasing allure of plastic surgery, noting the recent desperation of a 51-year old British schoolteacher who submitted herself to $120,000 worth of televised plastic surgery. The surgery did little to alter her features, but it had arisen from jealousy directed toward’s her sister’s looks. And even Good Housekeeping was forced to save face, justifying their support for a lucrative beauty industry by tying in an article related to the Goldsmith death recommending “10 Ways to Cut 10 Years.”

But the larger issue here, beyond whether Goldsmith was emotionally troubled or not, is why two women had to die during an anesthetic procedure in an exclusive plastic surgeon clinic. Why did one of them die while the hospital was under investigation? Why has there been no independent unbiased statement issued to the public? And while I can understand why Gardner would dig up dirt on Goldsmith’s character to write a good story, this still doesn’t excuse why he wouldn’t be similarly penetrating about the safetys or hazards of anesthetic procedure.

If there is danger within current Manhattan Eye procedure, then the public needs to know about it, so that these problems can be exposed and rectified, and nobody else has to die.

[UPDATE: I did a defendant search for “Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat” on the New York Unified Court System site and was able to turn up three active cases. Case No. 24786/1999 is a complex medical malpractice case. Case No. 8382/1999 is another complex medical mal case. Case No. 8898/2001 is yet another complex medical mal case. Gordon & Silber represents Manhattan Eye.]

Olivia Goldsmith — Gone

Olivia Goldsmith has passed away. And I’m angry. This did not have to happen. Goldsmith was only 54. Fifty-four. One of the first female partners at Booz Allen Hamilton. And then a not-too-shabby fiction career. But the circumstances of her death were this: she was about to undergo plastic surgery. But she felt (or was it her editors or her agent?) that she had to live up to some pinnacle of perfection. She needed a flawless face, a mug devoid of wrinkles for the photographers, an image devoid of any signs that, hey, she was 54. The great irony was that she had skewered this kind of thinking in her novel, The First Wives Club. But to hell with the merits of her writing, to hell with the fact that she had no problem savaging mid-lifers in her books. No, the important thing was the plastic surgery. There was the real world and the world within her fiction. And for Goldsmith, the real world was far crueler.

Just as she was about to go under, she had a violent reaction to the anesthesia, which incapacitated her. And now she’s dead.

All because of an image, all because of a stinkin’ author photo, all because we still judge books by their back covers rather than their innards, and all because civilization cannot stop pestering, whether deliberately or subconsiously, the older, the fatter, the more wrinkled, the more infirm, the non-Caucasian, and anybody else who doesn’t fall into the harsh physical virtues dictated by Vanity Fair and People. Olivia Goldsmith’s death isn’t just a terribly premature end for a writer who was fun. It also shows that ideals have spiraled completely out of control. Or perhaps it just confirms them.

Goldsmith’s death did not have to happen. And yet it did. And the publishing industry, with concerns of gloss and glamour, won’t stop perpetuating these shameful conditions. It will continue defaulting to the purty lil gals (Nell Freudenberger) or the hot young things (Zoe Trope), rather than the magic of the offerings. This is nothing less than a goddam tragedy. Because we lose authors like Goldsmith in the process.

[UPDATE: There’s been some speculation on this entry. And I feel it’s important to clarify the following: (1) Lest the reader waltz into grassy knoll territory, I didn’t intend to suggest that the publishing industry was the smoking gun, but that there may be extant environmental factors within that contributed to Goldsmith’s decision — a decision, it should be noted, that she alone made. Goldsmith was an author who sold well. And, as such, she had a profile to maintain. Said factors can be seen on book covers that dwell upon anatomical merits over ability, responded to in high kitsch by Susan Orlean on the cover of The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. These elements, which pressure women to look and remain young and beautiful, can be observed during a casual stroll in the Western world. (2) No one knows enough about Goldsmith’s motivations to make a final judgment call as to cause. This was idle speculation, but I’ll let it stand unmodified for the record.]