Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To the Emergency Room Physician that Assaulted Me

I am writing this letter because I hope it will help me heal.  I don’t really expect you to care about how your actions have affected me.  If you were the type of person that cared about things like that, you would not have assaulted me in the first place.  I used to be a social worker and I worked in a batterers’ intervention program, so I know, personally and professionally, how unlikely it is for abusers to actually change their behavior.  I wish you would at least take a moment to think about how much damage your abusive behavior has caused, I wish you would change, but I don’t expect you to.

You saw me in the emergency room a little over a year ago.  It was November 23, 2012.  I came to the ER because I’d cut myself on both forearms with an exacto knife.  I suffer from major depression and PTSD, which I explained to ER staff.

I had about 50 cuts on each forearm.  My arms were swollen and sore.  Here is a picture for you, in case you’ve forgotten how they looked.  This was taken the next day.

You put seven staples in my arms, with no anesthetic, no pain meds of any kind.  I asked for lidocaine before you started, complained of pain during the procedure, and requested pain medication repeatedly afterward, only to be ignored by you and by other staff people.  I didn’t try to refuse treatment because, while I understand I should have had the right to do so, I was afraid that right would not have been respected.  None of my other rights were being respected, after all.

The nurse had previously threatened to have me put in restraints when I said I didn’t want to put on a hospital gown.  There was no reason to put on a gown, you could have easily treated my arms with me fully dressed.  Threatening to put someone in restraints when they have a history of being tied down and raped is unbelievably horrible, but that’s what the nurse threatened to do to me, just because I wanted to keep my clothes on.  So I figured if I tried to refuse to allow you to staple my arms with no pain medication, I’d find myself in restraints while you did it anyway.  

I knew how emotionally upsetting being restrained would be.  “Upsetting” really doesn’t describe how it would feel.  It would remind me of what my father did to me when I was a child.  I would probably have a flashback.  I would be terrified.  And I figured no one in the ER would help me if that happened, since they weren’t helping me so far.  So I felt I had no choice but to allow you to staple my arms.

That’s not really consent, though.  If you threaten to hurt someone if they don’t comply, and so they comply, that isn’t consent.  You stapled my arms without my consent.  It hurt.  It was an assault.  You assaulted me right there in the emergency room and no one did anything about it.

Do you have any idea how that has affected me?  I bet you don’t.  But I’m going to tell you.

See, being assaulted can affect someone for a very long time.  It’s been more than two years since you assaulted me and I still have nightmares about it frequently.  Before you assaulted me, I was having nightmares about my father abusing me as a child a few times a month.  After you assaulted me, I began having nightmares much more often.  Sometimes the nightmares are about being in a hospital and sometimes they are about my father assaulting me, but I have them several times a week now instead of several times a month.

I have flashbacks, too.  I have flashbacks of you stapling my arms, only it goes on and on, and I can’t make it stop.  It’s terrifying and it feels like it’s happening now.  My arms hurt, even though I can see there are no wounds on them now.

Since you assaulted me, I have found it very difficult to seek any type of medical care.  I don’t trust doctors anymore.  Oh, I realize there are many good doctors out there, many compassionate, caring physicians.  I know most are not assholes like you.  But after being assaulted by a doctor, I find myself afraid that it might happen again.  So I don’t always get medical care now, even when I need it, because I am so afraid.  That’s your fault.  Before you assaulted me, I was never afraid of seeking medical care.

About six months after you assaulted me, I accidentally cut my finger while chopping an onion.  I am pretty sure it needed a couple stitches.  It bled for 15 hours.  I was too scared to go to the ER, though.  I was afraid they would refuse to give me anything for pain when they stitched the cut and I was afraid they would think I cut myself on purpose and insist on admitting me to a crappy psych ward involuntarily.  So I just bandaged it up tightly and stayed home.

When I had a mammogram that found something abnormal in one breast, I delayed having it biopsied for a while because I was afraid of going to the hospital.  I was afraid I’d be in a lot of pain after the surgery and that they wouldn’t give me pain medication.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe going to an emergency room again.  I hate to allow you to have so much power over me, but the truth is, you are in a position of power and you should use that power wisely and carefully.  You should take care not to do harm.  You certainly shouldn’t be assaulting patients that come to you for care.

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