As a woman physician, I have always felt very protective about my patients who have experienced domestic violence. The thought of one person exerting dominance over another just to make a point horrifies me, and it is hard to not let my feelings bubble up to the surface.
One case I had was of a woman delivering her baby in the operating room by planned Caesarean section. The woman and her husband were from a very traditional culture, where the man and the mother-in-law were considered to “own” the woman. In fact, they had an arranged marriage, and because the man’s family didn’t know that the woman had scoliosis–considered a grave defect–they punished the woman for it. His family locked her in a room and didn’t allow her to leave. They fed her only rice and beans, despite her being extremely pregnant.
The husband had the gall to be present in the operating room during the delivery. He was only there to see if the baby was a boy or girl (the doctors wouldn’t tell him ahead of time because they worried what might happen if it was a girl). It did turn out to be a girl–and he walked away, without a word to his wife.
It made me sick to be near him during the C-section. He looked like any young professional–clean-shaven, wire-frame glasses, with nice, black shoes. How could I tolerate the presence of a person so despicable that he had starved his own wife during her pregnancy? How could we allow this monster to be in the same room as his wife, whom he had abused? And what would happen to them afterward, once they were all at home together?
Something that one of the Ob/Gyn residents said to me about this case has returned to me over and over again during my training: “You just have to know that it’s really hard, that there are certain things in our patients’ lives that we can’t fix, that we can only present options for them, and hope for the best.”
Have you had a patient who was being abused? Or who was the abuser? Please share your story.