An anonymous essay published in the medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine has created some controversy. The essay exposes the dark side of medicine and how some doctors treat female patients.
The essay “Our Family Secret,” is written by a doctor who describes two instances where physicians acted out with heavy undertones of misogyny, racism and sexual assault.
The idea for the essay came while a doctor was teaching a medical humanities course to senior medical students. During a lull he asked the class, “Do any of you have someone to forgive from your clinical experiences? Did anything ever happen that you need to forgive or perhaps still can’t forgive?”
At first there were crickets until one student spoke up
“Something unforgiveable happened to me.” “What happened?” I asked him. “I was scrubbed into a vaginal hysterectomy. The patient was under general anesthesia. My attending was prepping the patient’s vagina. He picked up a clamp holding sterile cotton balls and dipped them into Betadine. While he was cleansing and scrubbing her labia and inner thighs, he looked at me and said, ‘I bet she’s enjoying this.’ My attending winked at me and laughed.”
The anonymous author also recounts an incident of his own.
The journal debated whether or not to publish the essay, but decided it was important. They published a separate editorial.
This issue includes an On Being a Doctor essay, titled “Our Family Secrets,” that we think, and hope, will make readers’ stomachs churn… It is our hope that the essay will gnaw on the consciences of readers who may recall an instance of their own repugnant behavior. The story is an opportunity to see what this behavior looks like to others and starkly shows that it is anything but funny. After finishing it, readers guilty of previous offense will hopefully think twice before acting in a manner that demeans patients and makes trainees and colleagues squirm. Again, if the essay squelches such behavior even once, then it was well worth publishing.