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



The shadows of Mother's day

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I know it was EVERYwhere on social media. Hard to avoid, to be honest. Every page had a piece on mothers, motherly love, gratitude and so on. Although there is no love more profound than the love of a mother, it's also the most painful when complications arise.

There are some who would have loved to (still) have a mother. There are many with a mother who wasn't able of unconditional love for some reason, illness, addiction, work, survival. Or those with mothers who have hurt them unconsciously or on purpose. There are some women who would have loved to be a mother but didn't have the chance to give birth and experience the love for a child of their own. Women who lost a child, which is an unimaginable burden. And some who had children but weren't able to care for them as they would have wanted. All of these are sources of great pain and sorrow. The shadows of Mother's Day.

Nothing 'happy-merry-flowery' like the ads we saw all over the internet yesterday.

With my own mother I have a complicated relationship, so to speak. She suffered from an illness for the largest part of my childhood. I know she's not to blame for that condition. However, it destroyed our connection. I remember her with headaches, or in bed. From a very young age, I didn't dare to tell her when I fell or hurt myself, sensing that she wasn't able to cope. I hid my sadness and fears. When I was older, I had no mother to discuss my teenager problems with. She would come home from work and go straight to bed. No mom to talk to, no support. I remember the house quiet and empty, no music was allowed in the house. No laughter, no friends, I didn't dare to take them home with me, because I never knew what to expect. I see how she wasn't able to help herself, but it made me taking care of both myself and a parent way too early.

"The truth is that no child can save her mother." - Bethany Webster

I became a doctor because I wanted to fix it, I studied psychiatry to be able to understand her depression. Of course I couldn't. I felt the obligation as a child to take care of her emotional needs and forget my own, a role obviously doomed to fail, and for failing at it I felt guilty about it for most of my life. A dynamic evolved of her blaming me for not loving her and not being affectionate and me creating distance and feeling guilty about it. This pattern of blame and guilt destroys the love a child feels for a mother. The things she so desperately needed from me and I needed from her, love and affection, just vanished into thin air.

Nothing 'happy-merry-flowery' here.

As I am a divorced mom with a co-parenting agreement I have to let go of my children every 3-4 days. I just have to trust they are taken care of, which in itself is hard enough because as a mother you think you are the only one who can do this the right way. It's not easy nor normal to let go of your children when they are this young. The right time to let them go is puberty, not when they are toddlers or preschoolers. I remember vividly having to leave my 3-year old with my ex's new partner. I had to, although my heart broke into a thousand pieces; this sweet little child, this piece of me, was crying so hard and wanted to crawl back into my womb, in my arms. I just wanted to take her with me but I wasn't allowed. Which is a heartbreaking thing to experience as a mother, not being allowed to console your children 'because of the agreement'. And yesterday, on Mother's Day, they were not with me. Although that hurts, it also became a familiar thing I'm not really conscious of anymore. We are all used to the arrangement but the construct of Mother's Day points it all out once again, we do have to miss each other a lot.

Nothing happy-merry-flowery. 

What has been very difficult for me over the last year was my inability to care for them whenever they were with me. Due to my health issues and exhaustion, I often couldn't provide the care I wanted for them. It made me very sad and I was truly doubting my role in this world. What was it I had to give when I couldn't even take care of my own children? Yesterday reminded me of those heavy emotions.

Nothing happy-merry-flowery.

I'm lucky to have re-married a wonderful man who took on the tasks of caring and nurturing my daughters, without questioning, without complaining. Although his own children are in their late twenties already, he just did it, like my children were his own. He has been the extension of my motherly love for them for months. It made my love for him grow even bigger and it made the bond between him and my daughters much stronger. I am extremely grateful for his unconditional support and loving care. We celebrated that on Saturday, together, as a new family, the day before Mother's Day. It made my heart sing to be able to show each other what love truly is.

It was a happy-merry-flowery day!

Let's celebrate whenever we feel the occasion. Not because of some invented day that reminds us of our pain.

If you want to read more on the dynamics of the Mother Wound, you can find it here (Womb of Light - the work of Bethany Webster).