Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Problem is Bigger Than That

[trigger warning: explicit descriptions of medical procedures and childbirth. If this will upset you, please visit the otter instead.]

There's been a lot of talk lately about trauma women in labor experience at the hands of medical professionals, a/k/a "birth rape"* The stories are horrific, but, in my opinion, developed after ten long years at the mercy of medical professionals, this ruckus totally misses the point.

The problem isn't that women in labor are uniquely in a position to be victimized by medical professionals. The victims of such medical professionals are not uniquely women in labor. In other words, you don't have to be a woman in labor to be victimized by a medical professional. You simply have to be in a room with certain medical professionals.

Case in point: a friend of mine needed a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) in order to tell if he had Multiple Sclerosis or Lyme Disease. These two diseases can cause similar symptoms and similar MRI results, but have vastly different treatments, so distinguishing between the two is necessary. My friend is a large man, so he needed to have the lumbar puncture done at the hospital by a doctor.

Before the procedure began, the nurse told the doctor that the needle they had was too large, they needed to get another. "Too bad," snapped the doctor. He had a schedule to keep, he had a golf game to get to. Waiting for someone to get the correct needle would take too long, so, before my friend could object, doctor forced the needle into my friend's spine. When I say "forced", I mean forced.

I could hear him scream from down the hall.

Then, to add insult to injury, the doctor refused to draw enough cerebral spinal fluid to allow for
two tests. "We've got enough to test for MS, what more do we need?" he said.

That's right. This doctor tortured a man so as not delay a golf game and didn't even get the damn test done.

My friend still doesn't know what is wrong with him and he's likely to die without knowing, because he's not going back for another lumbar puncture.

That is exactly the same arrogance that leads to this:

The quickest example I can come up with is the time a doula friend of mine heard the OB say while a VBAC mom was pushing (pretty much under his breath, I don’t even think the mom heard this): “It’s the LEAST you can do for your VBAC” and he put one end of the scissors in her vagina and one in her anus and cut her a 4th degree episiotomy. No fetal distress, no reason beyond what I guess was his irritation at not just doing a repeat cesarean?

The problem isn't women and it isn't birth. It's doctors. It's doctors who think that eight years of medical school and a fancy title give them rights over other people's bodies.

I have had many, many tests and procedures performed on me in the last ten years. Every time the test was done by a technician, I received a description of the test beforehand, was told what level of discomfort or pain to expect and invited to speak up if I needed to during the test. The man who gave me my first nerve conduction study had done it to himself twice just to see what his patients would be experiencing. (NCS involves repeated electric shocks to test how the nerves conduct electricity.)

Teh Hubby once took three hours to complete an MRI because the technician allowed him to stop and calm down in between cycles. MRIs should take 40 minutes or so, but she was unfailingly kind the entire time. Not once did she display the slightest irritation.

Every test or procedure performed by a doctor came with exactly the same concern I feel for the potato I slice for dinner. Once, I demanded that a doctor stop a test (that can be stopped at any time, which I know because a technician had allowed me to stop the test the previous time I had it done) and he laughed at me.

What needs to be done is not tell women what they can do to stop abuses during labor. We need to talk to the doctors, before they ever see a patient. We need to remind them that it's not their body, it's not their choice, and they won't have to live with it afterwards. We need to remind them that abuse is abuse is abuse, and we need to start prosecuting accordingly.

For everyone.

*NOT my term. I think it's inappropriate at best to use the word "rape" that way.


  1. Here's my personal horror story involving doctors, since I think it reinforces what you are saying. Several years ago I was in the hospital with a severe colon problem that almost killed me. I had been there a week, was on IV antibiotics, and prohibited from eating or drinking anything. I had gone in through emergency, so I was seeing multiple doctors. After the first week, one of the doctors decided to see if the antibiotics were having any effect, and if I could tolerate any liquid. He had me drink 2 ounces. Within 5 minutes I was doubled over in pain like someone had shoved a knife into my stomach and twisted it. So obviously the answer was no.

    A few days following that incident, a different doctor ordered a test -- I believe it was a type of CAT scan -- that required me to drink 32 ounces of liquid. When the nurse told me, I refused the test, and demanded to see my surgeon, the only doctor that I actually trusted of the group. Instead, the doctor that order the test showed up and told me I had to have it. I refused again. I asked him to explain how I was supposed to drink that much when 2 ounces nearly caused me to pass out from pain. He was unhelpful.

    The last thing that happened was unbelievable. Eight doctors (some of them were young interns) showed up in my room, accompanied by some nurses -- including the doctor who had ordered the test. They demanded that I have the test, warned of dire consequences if I refused, said I was jeopardizing my treatment, etc. Here I am, sick & weak, and these doctors are berating me about a test. I categorically refused to take the test unless my surgeon personally came in and explained why it was necessary, and how I could possibly drink all that liquid when I hadn't been allowed a single drop of water for two weeks (other than the 2 oz). They made me sign several forms, all the while telling me I was making a big mistake. It was pretty intimidating, but the memory of the searing pain I had suffered was even more frightening, so I was able to hold out.

    Finally I was able to see the surgeon, and I told him what happened. He was unaware of the whole thing, said he didn't order such a test, and that there was no way I could drink anything in my condition.

  2. PF - some of the things that happen ARE medical rape.

    here's one that TOTALLY qualifies. it's ILLEGAL in the States now, although not in Canada, *AND* despite the fact that it's illegal, not only is it still done HERE, but it was done to ME. in my case, the anetheseologist that i pissed off, and later filed a complaint against, copied the permission form from another patient and added it to MY records, so that it would be done to me. against my will without my knowledge...

    what it is, is that AFTER a surgery, but before stopping anethesia, OB students come in and perform pelvic exams. often, it's their FIRST TIME doing one on a live woman.

    it used to be COMMON for this to happen in the US - no permission granted, no INFORMED state - just pick a random female surgical patient, go in at the end of surgery, 3-5 OB students take turns "practicing" taking PAP smears and such. [and then don't even fucking run the tests.]

    only reason i found out that it was done to me is because i had a TEAR on the end of my vagina/on my vulva, and at first, freaked because i thought i'd been PIV raped. so the person i was filing my complaint with came back to me with "but you have this permission slip in your file." i demanded to see it. it was a PHOTOCOPY [*NOT* legal] with a DIFFERENT woman's name on it!

    and the woman who *did* give her permission, the inquiry found, ALSO got a pelvic. so it PROVED this fucktard deliberately photocopied her sheet and attached it to my records. [and NOTHING was done, because he was here on exchange from Britain. !!!!!]

    there are lots of other things that ARE "medical" rape. not *EVERYTHING* called by that name actually is, of course, but lots are.

    dear gods and little fishes i'm beginning to *HATE* doctors!

  3. to clarify above - i'm specifically talking about that procedure done, not only without the patient's consent, but without even EVER telling her about it!


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