There is an unspoken contract of trust between patients and doctors, but an anonymous essay on sexual assault exposes medicine’s dark underbelly and may shake that steady belief of those undergoing anesthesia. It’s an unfortunate and tragic occurrence that is very likely not isolated to just the two described instances by an unknown doctor and professor at a medical school.
The author remains nameless after the editors at Annals of Internal Medicine published the piece, and chose to protect both the doctor and his patients by issuing the essay under anonymity. Called “Our Family Secrets”, the unnamed doctor and professor recalls the horrific instances when both he and one of his students tossed aside the Hippocratic Oath every doctor takes before practicing medicine.
The anonymous professor speaks about a class where he approached the idea of forgiveness, of others and themselves, for doing or saying unforgivable things to patients vulnerable and unaware under the effects of anesthesia. It is a matter that can go by unreported and never to be spoken again by those participating, as it did for the two highly controversial incidents.
The first was a short description of one of his medical students, who was shadowing a licensed doctor while performing a vaginal hysterectomy. While scrubbing and cleansing the woman’s inner thigh and labia under general anesthesia, as per procedure, the student called “David” recalls how the attending said “I bet she’s enjoying this.”, unprofessionally winking and then laughing.
At that moment, the student went along and laughed as well in order to diffuse a tense situation, but the incident seems to have went by unreported and, subsequently, never forgiven.
When the question turned on the professor himself, the essay describes how the anonymous author told his own story, which is highly more graphic and revolting. While a student in his third year and assisting in delivering a baby, the author speaks about the moment when the mother, a Hispanic woman, needed general anesthesia due to a medical condition that caused her to bleed profusely.
The attending doctor, Dr. Canby, then performed an “internal bimanual uterine massage” which implies inserting his hand into the vagina to massage the uterus and stop the bleeding. The procedure was successful and likely saved the woman’s life, but it did not stop there.
The doctor then lifted his other hand above his head, singing “La Cucaracha”, dancing, twisting his body and stomping his feet to the song. All the while, the left hand remained with the anesthetized woman’s vagina to make it appear as if he was dancing with her.
The author remorsefully recounts on how he joined in with the song until the anesthesiologist within the room demanded that they cut it off. The point of the paper was to both expose these disturbingly misogynistic and disrespectful behavior that led to full on sexual assault within an operating room to an unconscious person.
The patient turned into a victim while directly in the doctor’s hands, with onlookers either joining in or saying nothing in response in regards to incidents that were anything but funny. The editors of the publication claimed that the choice to release the essay to the public was not easy, but necessary.
It may lead to the practice of medicine taking a strong hit into its reputation, but it will also expose terrible truths of the profession, and, hopefully, encourage those taking part to either cease or report others who take advantage of patients who placed their trust in them as trained professionals.
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