healthcare

#metoo - witnessing sexual harassment in the medical workplace

#metoo - witnessing sexual harassment in the medical workplace

The Truth must be uncovered to heal the wound. In this blog post, I recalled my experiences with sexual harassment in the medical workplace, inspired by a medical colleague who walked away from the healthcare system years ago (Dr. Lissa Rankin).

Paradigm

Apart from some traumatic events that were quite raw or graphic in nature, there were a few other pivotal moments in my years of medical training that I remember vividly. One of those moments was a lecture on Ethics and Philosophy in my second year of med school which was considered extremely boring by my peers, and to be honest, I thought it was pretty dull too. It was about the role of science in medicine.

*yawn*

Until an unfamiliar word was mentioned. Although I consider myself having a large vocabulary, I had never heard it before. As the Ethics professor spoke on the topic he used the word paradigm.

I believe the context was something like this: "Science as we know it has its rules, regulations, and guidelines to ensure that what is discovered matches the idea of science itself, which is that the truth only exists when we can prove it, using those rules, regulations, and guidelines. When we are not able to prove something, or when we can prove it but it doesn't match the rules, it, therefore, can't be proven. That is the paradigm of science. If we think about the fact that paradigms can change, it is foreseeable that science as we know it, will someday become obsolete, or at least challenged to a large extent."

par·a·digm

(păr′ə-dīm′, -dĭm′)

n.

1. One that serves as a pattern or model.

2. A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical categories: the paradigm of an irregularverb.

3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

This woke me up in a second. What if everything we were taught could change when the rules changed? I couldn't wrap my head around it but this concept of changing paradigms stayed with me over the years. Later, when I was working in science, doing research, reading and writing articles, and people around me were arguing the relevance of their research or trying to convince (or destroy) others with their point of view, it helped me to see the bigger picture. It gave me the perspective and the ability to see science (and 'truth' for a lot of colleagues) for what it was: a temporary set of rules we were working in agreement with until it changed. It made life as a Ph.D. researcher a whole lot easier.

At this moment in history, we live in a world of environmental, economic, political and humanitarian crisis. We see old systems fail. Global warming due to the excessive and disproportionate use of fossil fuels requires investment in sustainable energy sources. The financial system is still trying to overcome the inflation of loans and credits leaving people and organizations bankrupt. Politics is heavily influenced by money and power and lost the connection with the people and core values entirely. While globalization happened and planes can fly us everywhere, we face the largest refugee crisis on the planet. The call for a paradigm change is everywhere. The old systems are dying and we need new structures to be able to continue the evolution of humanity. Today I read about this word 'paradigm' every other day, it seems. We need a new paradigm and it's already happening.

This is also the case in healthcare. People are getting older, but not always healthier or enjoying more quality of life. We have the technology to 'fix' a lot of diseases but it doesn't heal people. We are so disconnected from nature and from our own bodies that we do the wrong things, the things that make us sick, and we forgot how to heal ourselves. Healthcare professionals are trying the best they can, with limited resources, with ever more patients to treat, with less budget from the insurance companies or governments, and the ideological drive of 'helping people' or 'healing others' is worn out, leading to massive amounts of care providers with burnout, mental illness like depression, PTSD, anxiety, addictions and even suicide. We need to acknowledge that the current healthcare system is failing, in order to find other ways. The paradigm needs to shift.

There are many layers of human existence that we are just beginning to understand. Intuition, energy fields, energy systems in the body. Research in the field of quantum physics is showing us that the concepts of energy and matter, consciousness, and manifestation are connected. Concepts the ancient Eastern doctors, yogis, and shamans of the world already knew about thousands of years ago. Ideas and techniques that were abandoned and destroyed, because the patriarchal societal structures of ancient Greece, and later the Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam, were threatened by the innate power these concepts provided to every human being. Submission was forced upon the people, in order to control them for the sake of money and power. And it made humanity ill, in many ways. We need the old ways of healing so desperately. Knowledge of herbs, energy healing, meditation, shamanic journeying, the body-mind connection, spiritual healing, the power of intention and manifestation ('magic'). Not with the purpose of going back in time, in this day and age it's needed for progress and evolution. Western medicine has brought us so many technological and biological progress if we are able to connect that to the field of energy, quantum physics and natural healing this will lead to a huge step in the evolution of medicine and healthcare.

I'm looking forward to it, I'm convinced it will come in the next 50 years. The paradigm is changing. And it's changing fast.

The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive form - this knowledge, this feeling is at the centre of true religiousness. The Cosmic religious experience is the strongest and oldest mainspring of scientific research. My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.

- Albert Einstein

Letter to my colleagues

Dear fellow doctors,

This letter is directed to two of you. We share the same educational background, we are all trained to be Medical Doctors. I met you last year during a difficult phase in my life where I encountered acute physical problems. This was not the first time for me, however, these particular encounters were part of a traumatic experience that changed my life. I should have written complaints to you individually 9 months ago. Unfortunately I was in such a bad shape that I couldn't force myself to do it back then. I was recovering from emergency surgery, could barely sit or breathe and I was suffering from arrhythmia attacks. So, consider yourself lucky that it took me too long to recover to file a formal complaint and that my story only makes it to be a letter on my blog today. And that I'm somehow grateful that you were part of my final eye-opener.

September 2016 - I came to the emergency GP office in the evening hours. I was suffering from severe abdominal pain in the lower right quadrant for 2 days and my regular GP was very worried. He did some lab work and we were waiting for the results to come in the next morning. He told me 'not too wait and go see the out of office GP during the evening or night whenever the pain got worse'. He also told me that however the next day was his day off, he would come in and see me. Doctors don't tell you that often. 

The pain got worse, I was keeling over at the couch. We left the children sleeping in their beds to go see the GP at 10 pm. You don't do that easily as a mother. The neighbour agreed to sit downstairs to keep an eye. 

The GP didn't listen. I told him it was something related to my ovary or uterus, that it reminded me of labour pains. He said that couldn't be true. He poked around in my abdomen and told me 'now it hurts everywhere, doesn't it?'. I wouldn't call it a decent physical exam. He refused to do an internal examination 'because I wasn't having so much pain'. He refused to look up the lab results. He told me I was having irritable bowel complaints. I have been suffering from digestive issues since I was a child, so I know what bowel pain is. This was different. He didn't care. I told him I was a doctor myself and that I thought it was something else. He seemed offended and asked me patronisingly 'what severe and very rare cause I was thinking about then'. And he laughed at me when I suggested a few not so unlikely things. And then he discharged me. 

The next day I was admitted to the hospital with a twisted and dying right ovary. I had to have emergency surgery right away. Fortunately they could save my ovary. This might not have been the case if I had decided to skip my morning appointment with my regular GP because the GP of the night before had installed a deep feeling in me of 'overreacting'. The only reason I went to the appointment was because my regular GP had told me to come and see me on his day off. I didn't want him to come for nothing.

In the hospital I told 9 people I didn't want morphine or other opioids after surgery because my body wouldn't take that very well. I told 3 ward nurses, 2 gynaecologists, 3 anaesthetic nurses and the anaesthesiologist herself. She told me just before I went to sleep 'we will see'. I woke up totally sedated and later found out I was given opioids anyway. I suffered from severe tachycardia from the side effects through the night - my heart ran the marathon while I was laying in bed unable to move. It tore my body to shreds and was the last push over the edge.

I didn't recover for months. I couldn't walk. I couldn't sit. I couldn't breathe. I was suffering from arrhythmia attacks - my heart rate would be over 160 bpm for hours. I was diagnosed with severe physical exhaustion, burnout and supra ventricular tachycardia. I couldn't sleep or eat. My BMI dropped to below 20. I was having panic attacks 24/7. I couldn't take care of my kids. I couldn't work, and that was the least of my problems. 

Why this letter? I sought medical help because I expected to be helped. To receive healing. To ask for support. But you, my colleagues, medical doctors, although you think you did, you didn't heal, help or support me.

You misdiagnosed and mistreated me. You harmed me. You made me sicker. You abused me. You made fun of me, you laughed at my pain. You dismissed my suggestions, my knowledge about my own body, my medical knowledge even. You almost let a critical organ die. You gave me medication against my permission that almost killed me. 

You killed my faith in the medical profession. 

So, tell me, how could a patient trust you? How should they put their life in your hands? They don't know about hospitals, or procedures. They have no clue. How do you treat the voiceless, the weak? 

Do you rely on your authority only? Forcing them in the name of medicine and science? Neglecting what they tell you about their symptoms, their bodies? The body THEY know best, because they have lived inside of it for their whole lives? 

Why did you go into medicine? To be an authoritarian figure in a sick patriarchal healthcare system? Or do you want to be a good doctor, a healer, a compassionate co-creator of health? 

Only you know your motives. But I would strongly suggest that you read this letter if you want to be a good doctor. Listen to your patients, take them seriously and put your ego away before you harm others too. 

For me, this episode let to a profound belief that the medical system should change. Their is no way back. We need compassionate healthcare. We need true healers who work with patients instead of harming them. I am now determined to help people find health and happiness through their own power. And I sincerely hope, that when they need acute intervention, you will be there to help them heal too.

Yours sincerely, 

Willemijn Maas, MD