Melissa Rivers: My mom Joan Rivers' death was a tragic accident but only after multiple medical errors
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/04/2015
Melissa Rivers admits the last "very normal" conversation she had with her mother Joan Rivers was joking about how "getting old sucks" and she had no idea that the following day, her life was about to change forever.
"My phone rang a little before 7. My mom's office number comes up and I'm thinking, 'God, this woman has got to learn to add and subtract by three,' which she was never any good at," Melissa toldMatt Lauer on Monday's Today show broadcast.
"I answered the phone and it was her assistant and she was crying, and she said, 'I don't know what to tell you. Your mother stopped breathing. I don't know what to tell you. We're on our way to the hospital.'"
After that phone call, Melissa and her 14-year-old son Cooper hopped on the next flight to New York, where Joan had undergone a routine throat procedure in August 2014 at the outpatient facility Yorkville Endoscopy.
Once Joan was transported to Mount Sinai Hospital, she had been placed in a medically-induced coma and doctors were dropping her body temperature. Melissa automatically knew the situation was life-threatening because she said "that's the protocol for catastrophic brain injury."
Melissa walked into the hospital only to see "my mom on machines and doctors. I think at that point, it started to dawn on me a little -- the craziness that was starting to ensue."
Details of what happened to Joan, the former host of Fashion Police, then started to emerge in the media -- one of which involved a highly-unprofessional selfie.
"There was a story circulating that during the procedure, the doctors were taking selfies of themselves with my mother while they were working on my [her]," Melissa explained before Lauer asked if that report was true.
"ALLEGEDLY, they weren't taking selfies. They were taking pictures of each other -- working. [My mom was] allegedly [in the pictures]."
Melissa is angry doctors didn't check her mother's vital signs enough. She also pointed that they didn't have a crash cart ready for a high-stress, traumatic situation. Melissa therefore filed a malpractice lawsuit in January against Yorkville Endoscopy and the medical staff responsible for Joan's care.
"Yes, it was a tragic accident. If something happens, and everyone does everything properly, things happen. You live with it. When it's error after error after error after error after behaviors that you cannot even begin to get your head around, you get mad," Melissa explained.
According to Today, an anesthesiologist associated with the case denied any wrongdoing. Yorkville Endoscopy had also released a statement saying that patient safety is their No. 1 priority and they use state-of-the art monitoring devices as well as a fully-equipped crash cart.
Melissa is currently promoting her new memoir The Book of Joan, which is her story about growing up as the comedy legend's only child. Melissa said Joan "had no filter" and would've found every funny anecdote appropriate for the book so selecting content was never a challenge.
Melissa shared a very touching, heartfelt passage with Lauer straight from the book about her last night with Joan in the hospital in September 2014.
"I slept on the cot next to my mother's bed that night with some of the lights still on and the TV blasting, just the way she liked it," Melissa read.
"In the morning, when it was time to remove the ventilator, she was surrounded by those who loved her most and whom she loved most. I lay in the bed and held her for a while. And after a few hours, she was finally gone. I didn't have to tell her I loved her. She knew. She didn't have to tell me she loved me. I knew. [That's a] big gift."
Melissa and Joan were longtime creative partners. In addition to their jobs with Fashion Police, they had also both appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice and Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best reality series. Melissa told Lauer their working relationship was "pretty amazing."
"It doesn't mean that we didn't have creative differences," Melissa admitted.
"Oh, there were some huge fights, but the amazing thing was, there was this chemistry. And we were a team. I was a straight man. She was the funny one. I would set it up. She would hit it out of the park. And if you come across a partnership like that once in your life, as a performer, you're lucky."
Melissa said her mom's passion for and well-chronicled history with plastic surgery definitely affected her as a young girl.
"How could it have not?" Melissa confessed. "I could look back and say a lot of things that she said were destructive. [But] I'm not a serial killer. I seem to be contributing, somewhat, to society. And I hold down a job. So how bad -- how destructive -- could those comments have been?"
But Melissa went on to say that Joan probably had no idea how much of an impact she made on society.
"I think she thought she was disliked... And she was controversial... Not in her wildest dreams did she know that she was that loved," Melissa noted.