Woman sues ex-lover, claims harm from dental anesthetic he gave her Defense says nitrous oxide didn't cause her problems

July 24, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Among teen-agers, nitrous oxide is a drug of choice for those who fill balloons with the gas and get high by inhaling it at all-night parties or rock concerts.

But in a lawsuit being tried in Baltimore County, a 51-year-old Pikesville woman says she became addicted to the gas in a dentist's office and says it caused her memory loss.

Ellen S. Franklin said in Baltimore County Circuit Court this week that she inhaled the gas repeatedly for 10 years -- supplied in the office of her former lover, an Owings Mills dentist. Claiming he failed to warn her the gas can cause brain damage, she is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

10 years of drug use

Franklin testified before an all-male jury that the dentist, Dr. Jules M. Sidle, encouraged her to inhale the gas -- routinely used as an anesthetic in dental offices -- for more than 10 years recreationally.

"I was addicted," Franklin said on the stand, adding that Sidle "was putting thoughts into my head while I was under the influence." She also described two "gray outs" where "it got very, very dark" while she inhaled the gas.

Lawyers for Sidle said her suit is unfounded, sparked by revenge against her former lover.

They suggested any memory loss Franklin suffers might be attributable to her age, menopause, general anesthesia administered during several surgeries, or the drug Prozac, which she takes for depression.

Brain damage suspected

But a neurologist who examined Franklin at her lawyer's request and sent her for tests said he believes her memory problems "are being caused by brain damage as a result of reduced oxygen to the brain."

"I think the brain injury occurred as a result of inappropriate use of nitrous oxide as a recreational drug used without proper medical supervision," said Dr. Ignacio Rodriguez, who described Franklin's medical case as "a very unusual situation."

He suggested the brain damage could have been caused during the near-blackouts described by Franklin, who works in sales and marketing jobs at the Owings Mills Mall.

Revenge called motivation

Sidle, 57, who recently moved to Jacksonville, Fla., acknowledged on the witness stand that he gave Franklin the gas and inhaled it himself about a half-dozen times.

Noting that the machine that supplies nitrous oxide in his dental office was "fail-safe" because it supplements the gas with oxygen, the dentist said he "saw nothing wrong" with administering it for recreational use.

Sidle said he heard nothing from Franklin about her memory loss until he received a copy of her lawsuit against him. He said Franklin sued him for revenge over his breaking off their longtime affair and called her "a woman who likes to retaliate."

Sidle's lawyers also brought an oral surgeon, Dr. Thomas J. Meakem, who testified "it would have been impossible" for Franklin to suffer hypoxia, which causes oxygen deficiency and brain damage, from taking nitrous oxygen in a dentist's office.

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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