Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When doctors take it out on patients

Via Feministing comes the story of a woman who is suing the OB who cared for her in labor over abusing her verbally and refusing pain medication, saying "Pain is the best teacher". I believe that when he saw her, he could have legitimately considered her too far progressed for any pain meds (every doctor seems to have a very different rule of thumb about how late is too late), but you don't have to be a jerk about it. More troubling is the allegations that he deliberately gave her a vaginal exam in the middle of a contraction (already painful and during a contraction even more so), stitched her up with a too-large needle, and had her start pushing when she was not fully dilated, telling her to "Shut up and push". And of course there's the "you'll hemorrhage and die" card.

These incidents are not as rare as we would like to think. I've seen very disrespectful treatment myself and heard far, far worse stories from other doulas. There are doulas who refuse to practice in hospitals anymore because they can't stand to see treatment like this. In the doula listserve I'm on, doulas often write in with these stories asking for advice - what can we do to change this treatment? How can we encourage patients to complain, without having them dwell on the negative aspects of their birth experience? It's the rare family who will actually bring suit.

My own personal and unscientifically formed perspective is that this treatment seems to be more common when it's not the patient's regular care provider (in the suit above, her OB was out of town) or is someone in the practice the patient hasn't seen very often. I wonder what all the reasons are that this could be...

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