I have been wanting to share this story for many years but have kept silent from fear of being stigmatized, labeled, thought to be "crazy"; I could go on and on. But I have decided that it is an important tale to tell. If my experience helps one parent prevent one child from being abused by a doctor or other misguided, sick individual in a "helping" profession, then my sharing is worthwhile. Several months ago I wrote a letter to the doctor who acted quite inappropriately and maliciously when doing an exam 30 years ago when I was 16. I wrote to him because I hoped that at his older age he might have some decency to admit and realize the harm of his actions. I also wrote to free myself of the burden of shame that I have carried for 30 years. Here is the letter, with names obviously omitted.
December 30, 2009
I will assume you most likely don’t remember me, though I remember you quite well. It’s been about 30 years since I was a patient; I visited when I was about 16, after gaining 20 pounds in a brief period of time. My doctor, Dr.*****, was up in ****, CA and I was living in****, CA where I was a straight A honor student at ****High School.
I was a scared teenage girl, who had visited several doctors for a multitude of allergies and apparent immune system related ailments. From the age of 8, when my family moved to CA from NY, I suffered a variety of symptoms from a highly disturbing croup type cough to more disabling neurological symptoms related to leg weakness and difficulty walking. All of this I disclose in the remote case you might remember the scenario. I was referred to you by either Dr. **** or Dr. ****, both doctors whom I had seen for treatment.
After listening to my mom tell of my prior medical history, you told her ( as I sat listening) that I was obese and that all I had to do was eat “ ½ of what I was eating.” My mom told you that I was terrified to eat because I had gained so much weight in such a short period of time. When she told you that all I ate in a day was a sandwich, your curt reply was, “Then only have her eat ½ a sandwich a day.”
Now if poor bedside manner wasn’t enough, and I know that there are probably brilliant physicians with equally poor relating skills, you went on to ask my mom to leave the room so you could examine me. I was terrified and still remember wondering what in the world you were going to “examine”. I knew enough that the thyroid gland, which is supposedly why I was there, was not under a dressing gown . I remember lying on the examining table while you did a breast exam. You told me that there was “nothing wrong with me” and that I was just a “hysterical young girl.” You continued your breast exam as you mockingly called me hysterical as I stared at the lights in the ceiling. The next thing I remember the nurse was taking my blood pressure and you were telling my mom that I am just a hysterical young girl and that I should not be taking the thyroid pills. Your advice was to come back after being off the pills for a period of time. I did not tell my mother why, but I told her that I was “NEVER GOING BACK.” We ended up making another trip up north to see Dr. *****, who determined that I did indeed need to be on thyroid medication after all.
In the years that followed, I slowly became healthy as I graduated high school at the top of my class. Still overweight but not “obese”, I began struggling with my fear of eating. I would intermittently starve myself, losing weight in a very unhealthy way, and I was terrified to ever eat more than ½ of anything. When I ate the whole of something, I often purged, fearing gaining weight more than anything else. I managed to stop the unhealthy practice of purging during my pregnancies, in my 20’s, but when I wasn’t pregnant, I was starving, binging or purging. I didn’t want my children to be raised by someone tormented by an eating disorder, so I sought help. With the help of several therapists and an excellent psychiatrist, I finally stopped my unhealthy destructive habits about 15 years ago. I am in normal and healthy weight range and finally no longer terrified to eat a “whole” of something. I work out regularly and work to combat any self limiting thoughts that threaten my health and well-being.
I am now a healthy, vibrant, stable 45 year old woman with a B.A. in Psychology, a Masters in Clinical Psychology, and an elementary teaching credential. I have worked hard to raise 2 wonderful children, one at MIT grad school, the other finishing up her B.A. at a CSU. I have managed to restore my metabolism to a functional level after years of battling my weight. I exercise 3-4 times a week and eat a reasonably healthy diet. From all of the years of purging, however, I have required a great amount of dental work and my smile has suffered from the embarrassment of showing my weakened teeth.
So, why, you might be thinking, have I decided to confront you now? Here are some of the reasons:
1) I wanted to contact you several years ago (15 years ago) and take legal action, but was advised against it by my therapist who indicated that any court proceeding wouldn’t be easy for me and would likely result in “me” defending my sanity. I am sure also that the statute of limitations had long passed as well.
2) I am finally free of the obsession that plagued my life, although I am somewhat bothered by what appears to be a dramatic link between the words you said and the action I feared: “eating a whole” and gaining weight. I am wondering how many other young women who were treated by you developed eating disorders from your recommendations.
3) I am hoping that my words elicit a response where you can justify your actions. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there was a rationale for calling me a “hysterical young girl” and doing a breast exam without my mother in the room. Somehow I don’t believe that there is a justification for your actions; perhaps you were a younger cocky doctor at the height of your success and thought nothing of victimizing an innocent young girl. You knew I was way too scared to report what you had said and done; and from my history, you knew that you could make me out to be an “unstable teenager.”
4) I see that your professional life has been quite successful; in fact, I saw your name as an advising editor/physician for Shape magazine several years ago and have read several of the studies you worked on. I can’t help but wonder if I am the only victim of your indiscretions.
5) I am aware that you are advancing in age and I would appreciate the opportunity to have some closure about this experience. If you have the courage to reply, I would love to hear your comments and response.
You can reach me through email, ******@yahoo.com or by mail:*****or by phone (209) *****.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.
I mailed this letter on the last day of 2009. I mailed it to both the University Medical School office where this doctor works and his beachfront private practice office. Have I heard from him? Of course not. Although it might be a beautiful opportunity for closure if he ever did contact me, I don't expect anything from him. I wrote about the release I felt by sending this letter in another blog post: Forgiveness: A Gift I Give Myself
Please share this story with anyone who might be unaware of the dangers of leaving children unattended in the hands of "professionals". Most of all, listen to your children and be sure they feel safe to tell you anything!