SOL: Blast from the past …

… or, rather, re-traumatization. Walking to my bus stop tonight, I saw a billboard for women’s health services at Methodist Hospital. The ad features two docs — a young black woman and an older ambiguously ethnic man. I started to sniff dismissively: “Methodist. As if I’d ever go there again.” Then I looked at the man. I did a double take. Yes. He’s the reason I’ll never go to Methodist again. He’s the doctor who tried to sterilize me fifteen years ago when I wound up in his care after collapsing in a cold sweat at my job one night with the most horrific pain of my life.

Dr. G wanted me to sign a consent form for “exploratory surgery and hysterectomy.” When I questioned the hysterectomy, he waved it off as “standard procedure.” Standard? When you don’t actually know what’s wrong with me? Standard for exploratory surgery? I refused to sign. He pushed. I refused. He pushed harder. I refused. He sent all the nice male residents in to pressure me: “Dr. G’s the best. If he says you need it, you should sign.” I asked if they’d feel the same if Dr. G wanted them to have vasectomies. Oh … well … that would be … different. I refused.

Dr. G came back with a new consent form. He told me to forget about the hysterectomy. He gave me the new form: “exploratory surgery and oophorectomy.” Never heard of it? I wouldn’t have, either, if I hadn’t just read read a book about how hysterectomies were the most commonly performed unnecessary procedure. An oophorectomy is the removal of your ovaries. Ah, a hysterectomy by any other name … But, even if I hadn’t known what it meant, I wouldn’t have signed. Why on earth would I sign a surgical consent form that listed some surgery I didn’t know anything about? Especially after having been browbeaten for several hours to sign away my womb? I refused.

One thing all the doctors knew for sure was that I was bleeding internally, filling all the available space in my abdomen with blood that was coming from who knew where. After my many refusals to sign a consent, Dr. G came to see me one more time. It was pretty late, maybe 10 at night. I’d entered the ER almost 24 hours earlier and had been admitted to Dr. G’s floor around 8 that morning. I knew my mom was on her way, and I knew I’d be safe once she got there, but she wouldn’t arrive until morning.

“You’re bleeding internally,” Dr. G reminded me. “You haven’t stopped bleeding in all the time you’ve been here. Eventually, you’ll bleed enough that you’ll lose consciousness. Once you’re unconscious, you’ll need emergency surgery … and we won’t need your consent.”

I cried a little when he left, unable to figure out how he could justify what he was doing, how he could think it was ok to threaten to sterilize me against my will. I cried, but I also knew that no doctor who was that interested in cutting me should be allowed anywhere near me with a sharp object. I was determined that the only way I’d lose consciousness that night would be if he came in and clocked me. I had my walkman, and my tape (hey, it was 15 years ago) of Stone Temple Pilots’ Core. I put my headphones on and cranked up the volume.

It did the trick — that and my resolve to keep Dr. G’s hands off me. (To this day, when I hear “Dead and Bloated,” I feel a surge of power.) In the morning, with my mother to fight off the doctors, I slept … and then I arranged to get myself removed from Methodist and into St. Vincent’s where I had the surgery I actually did need — fibroid removal, not hysterectomy.

Once I was home and recuperating, I was encouraged to write a letter to the hospital and the Department of Health about what had happened to me. This encouragement came from a DOH employee … who also happened to be the uncle of a friend. He assured me that writing wouldn’t affect any kind of useful change in the short term. The idea was to get the letter placed in Dr. G’s file. “It’ll sit there,” he told me. “No one will pay it any attention … until the next letter goes into the file. When they see a pattern, that’s when Dr. G will suddenly become a danger, a problem for them to fix.”

And now here’s Dr. G, touted as the jewel in the crown of Methodist’s women’s health department. It was so jarring to see him, to remember the creepy way he leaned in to whisper soothingly to me as he described how I would bleed myself unconscious, how he’d have his way in the end. And how distressing to realize that he probably has had his way with countless other women, all the one’s who’ve signed the paper because they’ve been trained to trust their doctors, to do what they’re told, to think their doctors have their best interests at heart, to think all doctors work within the ‘first, do no harm’ model.

Is my letter still the only one in his file? Is it possible that not one woman other than me has ever questioned his practices?

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8 thoughts on “SOL: Blast from the past …

  1. It’s interesting that, while people always comment on my courage and strength, I never thought I was being particularly brave or strong. I was just doing what seemed to be the only thing to do.

    After my surgery, I saw a possible result of taking the doctor’s advice without question: the young woman who shared my room at St. Vincent’s had a hysterectomy because she had fibroids. Now, I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of her situation, but I do know that she was a 22 year old newly-married woman and that she and her husband had no children. I do know that she had wanted to have children and woke up from her surgery knowing she never would. I know that her husband was so devastated that he couldn’t visit while she was awake because he didn’t want her to see how upset he was. I know that her family sat around her bed unable to think of anything to say or any way to comfort her because they were so sad. I know that she was heartbroken that she would never have a child. And I know that her sadness over her situation affected her ability to recuperate well and quickly from the surgery. She wouldn’t get out of the bed and walk around, wouldn’t eat. She developed several very serious infections and wound up having to stay in the hospital much longer than she should have needed to. Seeing her made me angry and sad, and made me glad I’d fought back against Dr. G and his minions.

    The more I’ve learned about how often and easily this surgery is performed (and on whom …), the more I realize that it was brave to push back against the doctors.

    An added note: The man who was my doctor before I went into the hospital wasn’t affiliated with Methodist. When I called him from the hospital to ask for his help, he basically refused. He was the person who had told me to read the book about how overused the procedure was but, when I told him the doctors were pushing me to agree to a hysterectomy, he just gave me a verbal shrug: “Oh, well, maybe you need one.” Needless to say, he wasn’t the doctor who operated on me in the end. When I went to see him after I was out of the hospital, I asked why he was so unhelpful when I’d called. I pointed out that the doctors had been trying to perform a life-altering surgery that I didn’t need. His response? “Well that could really have ruined your day.” I walked out. His office called a few days later to say maybe we should talk again, that maybe he hadn’t responded appropriately to my situation. Yeah.

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  2. scott

    I knew about the surgery but not dr g. You know I could have been there in less than an hr. And dr g’s career would be over?

    Me (the always out of the loop big brother)

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  3. The thing that upsets me the most in this whole story is thinking about all the other women who signed the consent form Dr. G — or any of the many, many other doctors who are just like him — put in front of them. It’s just really, really awful to think about.

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