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An Anonymous Doctor Recalls Stories Of Sexual Abuse In The Operating Room

"Not publishing it would metaphorically dust their bad behavior under the rug. And that's not right."

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On Aug. 18, the Annals of Internal Medicine published an anonymous essay that exposes two horrific incidences of inappropriate behavior committed by doctors on unconscious patients.

The essay wasn't originally submitted anonymously, but the editors chose to publish it this way to protect the author's identity as well as the patients who received care at the hospital in which he worked.

In the essay "Our Family Secrets," an anonymous physician educator recounts a class discussion with senior medical students where horrifying stories of harassment came to light.

During the class, the author asked the students if any of them had something happen during their clinical experiences that they felt they needed to "forgive."

One medical student told a story about a surgeon violating a female patient while she was under general anesthesia for a vaginal hysterectomy.

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"My attending [surgeon] was cleansing and scrubbing her labia and inner thighs. He looked at me and said, 'I bet she's enjoying this,' [then] winked at me and laughed."

The student continued: “That guy was a dirtball. It still pisses me off,” but admitted that at the time he did not know what else to do but join in the laughter.

Then the author shared a story from when he was a third-year medical student and witnessed a resident physician harassing a female patient after she gave birth.

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The author writes that he had just delivered a baby girl when the mother started bleeding severely from her vagina. He alerted the resident physician, who ordered that the patient go under anesthesia. The resident physician then performed a bilateral uterine massage, which involved inserting his hand inside the vagina and pressing his fist against the uterus until it hardened. Once her uterus contracted and the bleeding stopped, the author recalled the doctor saying, "Atta girl. That's what I like. A nice, tight uterus."

"The guy saved her life. But then something happened that I'll never forget," the author writes. With his left hand still inside the patient's vagina, the doctor raised his right and started dancing around, singing "La Cucaracha, la cucaracha, dada, dada, dada-daaa."The doctor kept laughing and looked at the author, who apprehensively started to laugh and dance along. "[Then] the anesthesiologist yells, 'Knock it off, assholes!' And we stop."

"This is my silence to break," the author writes in the essay.


The decision to publish this essay caused a heated debate among the editorial staff.

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"This is an extreme example of this behavior," Dr. Christine Laine, editor-in-chief of Annals, told BuzzFeed Life. "We all agreed that the piece was disgusting and scandalous and could damage the profession's reputation. Some believed that this was reason not to publish the story. Others believed that it was precisely why we should publish it."

They also published an editorial to accompany the essay, which explains the tough editorial decisions surrounding it and what message they hoped to send by publishing.

But Laine stresses that it's important to remember that while these incidents are horrifying they are also, she believes, uncommon.

"Inappropriate behavior is a problem that occurs in all medical specialities and across all provider types, but the incidents in the essay are not common; it's at the extreme end of the spectrum."

She noted that they don't want patients to worry that this is something that happens all the time, but they do hope to create a discussion that empowers physicians who witness poor treatment or harassment to speak up.

"Our ability to heal doesn't negate our duty to treat patients with respect, and this essay is a vivid reminder of that," said Laine.