The Retrievals tells an unfathomable story of infertility, vulnerability, and intimate betrayal. Susan Barton is the woman behind this podcast's narration, writing, reporting, and coproduction. She's a writer for This American Life and has written a memoir, Empty, about her health battles.
The Retrievals is not a true crime podcast, although it does involve a criminal case. Susan tells the story less as an investigation and more as a reflection on the treatment of women.
Susan begins the story at the Yale Fertility Clinic. Women visit for various reasons, from experiencing repeated miscarriages to missing fallopian tubes. What each person has in common is that they want to have a baby, and they need help to make it happen. Approaching IVF can be scary, but what happened at the Yale Clinic was unimaginable.
Each patient prepares for the first egg retrieval. What they couldn't prepare for was excruciating pain. There was no explanation about what was happening, though many had theories. Patients didn't feel believed. The Clinic had a reputation to uphold.
As the story unfolds, the podcast reveals the name of a nurse called Donna. She was stealing vials of fentanyl. To hide her theft, she replaced it with another clear liquid: saline. An anesthetist found a loose cap on one of the bottles and uncovered Donna's actions. An investigation followed, and the Department of Justice wrote to approximately 200 patients. They were all potential victims in a federal case.
Susan talks to many patients to understand how they feel towards Donna. Many wrote her letters, and some felt compassion. Susan goes on to provide the details of Donna's sentencing. Donna had pleaded guilty, but failed to acknowledge the pain the patients experienced. A further revelation shocks the patients. How do they feel about her now? Did she intend to cause pain?
The Retrievals tells the story of a failure to listen to women in their most vulnerable moments. Susan navigates this emotional story with sensitivity and respect. It's a fascinating insight into the accountability of a clinic and how a crime could go unnoticed for so long.