Last week I found myself in an intimidating situation that required me to put all my skills of resilience in to practice. I was in the hands of a professional person who should be there to care for others. I was in a hugely vulnerable position, yet instead of receiving care, I felt myself being belittled, bullied and threatened. The person dishing out this particularly cruel treatment was a senior doctor in a private clinic, where I am a patient. A few years ago I would probably have put up with his behaviour, or brushed it off as being just something I mis-read – but not this time. Not now. Not ever again.
So I thought I’d share my story here on Lovefraud.
As you already know, I had a health scare that was resolved a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I was given the all-clear at the time, the doctor said it would make sense to arrange for a biopsy to double-check and to put my mind at rest; purely, he reassured me, because of my family medical history (mum had died of breast cancer at the age of 44). The straight forward needle-biopsy would be done under local anesthetic and would take less than half an hour. So last Thursday, I trotted off to the clinic expecting a purely routine, simple procedure that would prove beyond doubt that I have a clean bill of health.
I felt chirpy, relaxed, and perfectly ready for whatever they wanted to do – a marked difference from my previous visit where I was uptight, frightened and full of dread. They’re a great bunch of people there, and I chatted away happily to the receptionists and also to the technician who came in to explain the details of what was going to happen.
All fine, all good, all dandy – everything made perfect sense (although I felt a little unnerved by the technician’s statement that nobody can be sure that the lump is not cancerous until the tests are completed in the laboratory) and I went in to the doctor’s surgery feeling calm and prepared.
Just When You Least Expect It
I am making a point of telling you this, because I am keen to make it clear why I felt so totally blindsided by what happened next. The friendly technician (Thomas), thank goodness, was still in the room when the doctor arrived. The very moment he walked in, though, the atmosphere changed. The smile went from Thomas’ face, and I felt him tighten up as the doctor criticized everything he had done to prepare me. The cleaning and sterilization wasn’t correct, the anesthetic wasn’t the right one… even the fact that Thomas had allowed me to keep my shoes on was wrong!
Bear in mind I’m lying half naked on a table, my arm above my head with my breast covered in yellow iodine – and here was this so-called professional (who hadn’t even had the courtesy to greet me or even give me a smile) throwing disapproving comments to the friendly technician who had done everything he could to put me at ease. It was a hugely uncomfortable atmosphere, and I felt myself stiffening. I was in a physically vulnerable situation, but there was no way I was going to let myself be bullied by this rude man.
So I started chit-chatting to break the tension. The doctor was sitting next to me but still would not look at me – although I was looking straight up in to his eyes. Can you guess what I saw? The familiar empty, cold and emotionless expression that sent a shiver of recognition down my spine.
I knew how important it was to get this biopsy over and done with, so I kept on looking at the doctor and kept asking questions. He asked me to point out the lump because he was having difficulty finding it on the ultrasound. When I moved my hand towards the area he huffed, rolled his eyes and told me off for accidentally touching a part of my skin. “Now look what she’s done” he spat at Thomas “we’re going to have to sterilize all over again!”
It carried on like that for a good few minutes more. I asked what he could see on the screen and said to him that I’d been told that there was nothing to worry about
“Well, Madame” he sneered, pushing the scanner just a little harder than necessary in to my breast “it doesn’t look like ‘nothing’ to me – you have lots of cysts, but this… this is something quite different!”
He seemed to take pleasure brandishing his power, and deliberately making me nervous. It was working on Thomas, but it wasn’t going to work on me. I kept my focus strong and refused to look away from his eyes – still keeping my expression relaxed and my breathing regular as he picked up a huge needle and brought it close to my breast.
“And now, Madame” he said, fixing me with cold eyes and a straight face “you have to shut your mouth and shut your eyes”
Taking a deep breath and maintaining eye contact, I calmly said no. “I can give you silence” I said “but I am not closing my eyes”
“Well you have to” he replied, a little taken aback by what he probably saw as insolence “I have to work in silence and it annoys me if a patient watches what I am doing. I must instruct you now to close your eyes and keep your mouth shut while I do my work. I need you to do this or I cannot do my work”
“And I need someone who can reassure me and put me at ease” I replied, still staying calm, still smiling, and still fixing him with my gaze “this is my body, and I would like to watch what is happening”
With that, his mask slipped. Blinking furiously, he threw down his instruments, stood up, huffed and puffed and spat out the words “I won’t work in this way Madame, you’ve ruined it. You’ve messed it up, this is your problem. I am leaving – good day Madame!”
And with that he flounced out of the room, slamming the door behind him like a petulant teenager, leaving Thomas and I open-mouthed in the silence that remained.
So that was the end of my biopsy. I sat up, covering myself as best I could and looked to Thomas for some kind of explanation. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but still the whispering questions had already threatened to surface “Is this my fault? Could I have handled this differently?” – but those questions were instantly silenced when I saw Thomas’s face. He was mortified.
“I am so sorry Madame” he said, reaching out to touch my shoulder “this is nothing to do with you. He is a very difficult man and we have had many problems with him. He’s the same with all of us, it’s very bad”
“But this is not right!” I replied, tears of frustration pricking in my eyes and uncontrollable shakes by now beginning to show in my hands “It’s not right that he’s allowed to do this! Why is he in this job? How can he be allowed to treat people this way? It’s totally unacceptable!”
And then came the response I have now become accustomed to hearing
“But he’s our boss. We know it’s wrong, but what can we do?”
Standing Up For What Is Right
This monster works in a clinic that specializes in detecting and treating breast cancer. My heart sank, imagining how many people – staff as well as numerous vulnerable patients – this so-called professional is bullying and criticizing every day of his life. How many people leave the clinic feeling a little less confident, a little more worthless, and in some cases physically abused. People who go there expecting help and support in their darkest moments, and end up feeling belittled and humiliated! But because this man is an educated, revered professional, nobody is standing up to him – so he gets away with it!
I understand that I am the first person this man has actually walked out on. Good, so he’ll remember me. Because I’m also the first person who is going to stand up, speak out, and make certain this man is held accountable for his actions.
The experience shook me enormously. For the next couple of days I found myself bursting in to tears for no apparent reason. But you know what? I’m now back on track and taking the first steps towards dealing with the authorities who are responsible for this man. I’ll let you know how I get on.
In the meantime, my biopsy has been rescheduled with another doctor for Friday 13th April – lucky for some, and super-lucky for me. Well, at least that’s what I’m choosing to think in any case!