Dr. Jack Barto, the pediatrician who molested me as a child and later demeaned and mistreated me as a teenager, has been arrested on 70 counts of child abuse and molestation. Today I called the Attorney General’s hotline for the victims of Dr. Barto and reported my own experience of his abuse. The number is (412) 565-7680. I encourage you to call if you also suffered at the hands of this pedophile.
Around midnight a few nights ago I was scrolling through Facebook when I ran into a BuzzFeed ad with a video—five women speaking about the horrors they’d experienced in medical offices and hospitals where doctors had neglected them, demeaned them, and hurt them.
Have you ever had a time a doctor didn't listen to your pain?
Posted by BuzzFeed FYI on Monday, July 16, 2018
It was not unlike the story of Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, which she released in a video on her New Wave Feminists Facebook page about a week ago.
I’ve never shared this story, but the more I hear about women – and especially our pain – not being believed, the more I feel like conversations like this are necessary. We must start listening to women and putting their health and well-being above all else. #believewomen #birth #pregnancy #medicalcomplications
Posted by New Wave Feminists on Wednesday, July 11, 2018
During the epidural when Destiny was in the hospital for her third child’s birth, the anesthesiologist (who had addressed the room as bros) whispered to the nurse to let him know if she noted any headache. Then, when Destiny told him about the severe nausea and pain she was experiencing, he told her “wow, you have a really strong power of suggestion, don’t you.”
Well, after her daughter was born, Destiny was in agony for three days, during which time her pain was written off by the anesthesiologist. When she was examined by a new anesthesiologist, he found that during the epidural, the first doctor had screwed up and caused some of her spinal fluid to leak.
Look, we gotta talk about this—about the way women are ignored and belittled, especially in doctors’ offices.
Yeah yeah yeah. Here she goes on another feminist rant.
Yeah. Here I go. Because this is important, and it is real.
Listening to these women, I viscerally shot back to doctor visit after doctor visit from when I was a child and adolescent. I had flashbacks of memories I had apparently blocked out years ago.
And I’m choosing to call these accounts of trauma from those five women, from Destiny, and from myself our #MedicalMeToo stories, because that’s what they are.
Now, before I begin, I need to make it clear that I’m not attacking doctors, nurses, or anyone else in the medical profession. I lived with nurses all through college. They’re some of my best friends, and I know that it’s a hard field. And I’ve now found amazing medical professions who treat me with respect and compassion during each appointment.
But it wasn’t always like that for me.
Content warning: childhood abuse, anatomical terms that make my mom squirm, etc.
I remembered small traumatic things, memories I hadn’t revisited in years, like the nurse who tried to take my blood when I was eight, right before I got my tonsils out. She missed the vein and dug around for a seeming eternity in my chubby child arm as she tried to find it again. I was petrified of needles for nearly a decade after that.
Oh, and speaking of my chub. I was probably ten and I went to visit the pediatrician. I never went to well checks, because the doctors just berated me for my weight. This time I went in because I’d been getting bad headaches for quite a while. We thought maybe it was a sinus infection.
I’d never met the women who came into the room. This doctor ignored my concerns completely and started freaking out about my weight. Once again I was shamed and humiliated in the doctor’s office. Yet again I was ignored. She didn’t consider or address my headaches and she blew off my possible sinus infection. Instead she handed me nutritional pamphlets and told me to exercise.
Honestly, I had always hated going to that pediatrics group. There was one female doctor there I liked, a few nurses, a few PAs who treated me decently. But I remember my severe discomfort with the head doctor. I remember hating him from a young age. Every time he examined me, he would unzip my pants and feel around my vulva, even when I was there for tonsillitis or strep throat. He never spoke to me, he didn’t tell me what he was doing to help me not feel scared, he didn’t ask me if he could unzip my pants. I remember him looking away and not meeting my eyes as he fingered my child genitalia. To this day I don’t know why. Maybe he was checking for something legitimate. But I’ve heard rumors there were allegations of abuse against him, and I’d believe it. Just thinking of those visits makes me shudder.
Finally, when I was nineteen, I woke up in the middle of the night with an excruciating earache.
I felt like I couldn’t move, the pain was so intense. I tried to call for my mom, twice, but she didn’t come. Somehow I made it across the hall to her room. My father was there alone; my mother was at her 1:00am weekly adoration hour. I could barely speak, I was in so much pain.
Earaches weren’t common for me. I didn’t have them as a child. This was perhaps the second ear infection I’d experienced in my life.
My father was uncharacteristically kind. He gave me some of my grandmother’s old Vicodin and sent me to bed. I was knocked out cold.
The next morning at 11:00am my younger brother drove me to the pediatrician. My mom was going to meet me there; it was located right next to my father’s podiatry office where she worked as his receptionist and office manager.
I remember just feeling so out of it. My ear hurt—God it hurt. I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since the night before and was probably dehydrated. I felt cloudy and in pain.
The doctor first sent in a PA student, who asked me sweetly if she could examine me. I’d always been uncomfortable with the constant hovering presence of students in those exam rooms, because I was so self-conscious about my weight (and the doctors there always made such a huge deal out of it). But I didn’t have the energy to fight her, so she did an examination on me, complete with climbing onto the exam table, sitting up, laying down, back up, and off the table to my chair. Then the real PA came in to examine me. She repeated the whole process. I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, to repeat a lengthy examination on a patient who had come in for excruciating ear pain. Someone did, clearly. It certainly wasn’t me.
By the end of the second examination, the room started spinning.
I was nauseated and turned white (which is impressive, as I’m already Copy Paper White. So maybe it was more like gray).
This had only happened to me once before—in Mass on a Sunday about a year previously, when I was on my period and hadn’t taken ibuprofen soon enough. I get bad pain on my period. Bad. I’ve nearly passed out twice now, and I’ve puked from the pain at least once.
Anyway. The PA and my mom were really freaked out. I was woozy and so out of it. I wasn’t responding well. The PA went and got me a Gatorade but I couldn’t really drink it.
At this point I just remember an overwhelming flurry of activity. The tiny room was suddenly filled with nurses and PAs. Someone pricked my finger to check my blood sugar, someone else wrapped that awful cuff around my arm for blood pressure. Suddenly the male pediatrician I so loathed appeared. The PA had called him in against my wishes. He immediately snarled that I needed to be on the table with my knees elevated (since I kept almost passing out). So they moved me there, but the pain in my ear hit a maximum, I’m assuming from the abrupt pressure change.
Now I want to note here that I had followed all orders. Even at this point, when I was in more pain than I’ve ever experienced and was barely conscious, I was compliant. But by that point my mother could tell how much agony I was in and told them they had to let me sit up. The doctor didn’t like that one bit.
As I sat in the chair with my head against the wall, the doctor brought in another student and shoved a flashlight tool into my ear so she could look at the infection. I sat there, stunned, as he yanked my throbbing eat around to show her the swelling.
Finally my father arrived—for once, a relief. The doctor turned to him petulantly and informed him that I had refused to cooperate (which was not true). He then sat beside me and angrily chafed my wrists as he began on the same stale diatribe about my weight.
Apparently, he had decided, I was experiencing low blood sugar, which meant I had hypoglycemia, which obviously proved I was prediabetic (please note that I was still sitting there, barely able to hold my head up, covered in sweat and—still—experiencing excruciating pain). He continued to inform us that we needed to regulate my diet and how I needed to exercise.
No comment on my ear infection or agonizing pain. None.
He then turned back to me and started demanding answers from me. I don’t even know what he was asking at this point, but I remember my own internal resolution: this man was a bastard and I wasn’t going to waste the painful energy it took to answer him any longer. So I sat there, in pain, woozily yet smugly ignoring him.
Finally he turned to my mother and demanded to know “if I could even hear him.”
I remember how I retorted through gritted teeth: “I can hear you. Just. Fine.”
As you can imagine, he was rather pompously offended by that. So he turned to my father, informed him they’d done all they could, and they’d have to call an ambulance.
“Good,” I told him firmly. “Now I want everyone except my family to leave this room. Immediately.
That was the last time I stepped foot into that pediatrics practice. I’m sure the pediatrician was glad to be rid of me. It was my first time in an ambulance, my first trip to the ER. By this point I’d overcome my phobia of needles; the paramedic noted that my lack of flinching when the he stuck me, which led to a weird evangelism moment. I told him I just prayed my way through it and united it to the Cross, or something, and he told me he hadn’t been to church in a few years. I never saw him after that, so I have no idea of he considered trying it out again.
The ER was lovely. They pumped my full of fluids, did a pregnancy test (I was rather irate; seeing as I insisted I’d never been on a date, it was illogical to me that they’d do a pregnancy test—now I know better), and concluded that I have a unique reaction to extreme pain: I pass out. There’s a real term for it, honest—not that I remember what it is.
Point is, the reason I nearly passed out was basically that I had a really hellishly painful ear infection.
And instead of listening to me and treating me with respect, the doctor had me examined by a student, then reexamined. The up and down and all around aggravated my ear worse, making my pain worse, making me more likely to pass out.
But the doctor ignored me. He preferred to chastise me for my weight.
My mom was mortified when I told her later, quite smugly, that I’d stopped responding to the pediatrician on purpose that day. “He was really concerned about you!” She told me.
“He was really a jerk!” I informed her.
You know, I’ve found that I have another strange reaction to pain—but this one is for emotional pain and trauma. I don’t pass out—I just laugh. A lot. I make a big joke out of it and tell it to all my friends. I’m a storyteller, that’s pretty obvious. And I keep telling my story until something in me breaks and I realize it’s pain I’m feeling, not mirth.
I remember telling this story to friends in college.
They laughed along with me until one of them asked me how old I had been when it all happened. “Nineteen,” I told her.
“What? Wait. You were nineteen and you acted like that?”
Yep. I was nineteen and I decided to ignore the doctor who ignored me, who treated me like an object to be shoved around and used, in the midst of my pain, as a teaching tool for his student. I was nineteen and he treated me like that. Honestly, I think that should be the shocker here. I was a nineteen-year-old women and I was treated like that by a professional who was supposed to care for me.
Something’s gotta give, America. Something’s gotta give.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/senoranderson/2245216631