Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yes, Virginia, crappy OBs really do exist

I read and enjoy several blogs by physicians including OBs. One theme I hear frequently repeated by those doctors is (if I may paraphrase) "the natural birth community (particularly online) paints all OBs as evil/uncaring/c-section happy/in a rush to get to our golf game. I am not like that" - sometimes then there is a chorus of "well YOU are very rare and special" from the commenters - "and my colleagues are not like that. They are wonderful people who care about their patients."

I believe that there are caring, dedicated OBs out there and I believe they are in the majority. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean I believe their caring and dedication play out in ways that are always mother-friendly. I also believe there are OBs who routinely practice in a way that is based on informed consent, patient choice, and respectful communication even when the patient disagrees with them or wants to diverge from their standard practice; I sometimes have difficulty believing they're in the majority, but I don't believe they're rare, special pearls.

However, I do think that the proportion of non-evidence based, aggressive, and/or insensitive OBs is higher than the other OBs realize. They just don't routinely see each other in practice. In a teaching hospital where there are residents, fellows, attendings, etc. all working together this is less true, but once OBs are out in the community in their own practices, they're not following each other around to see what goes on inside the exam room or in L&D. So behavior like this happens to women, is reported by those women or by observers, and is disregarded by OBs as "My colleagues are good people. They're not like that." You can be a nice, caring person and still be like this:

Well, the OB feels this need to check her cervix again. After I just did the same thing less than 2 minutes before. I even said - "hey, I just checked her. She's still only 7-8 cm. But she's hurting bad in that one spot, so anesthesia is coming up to re-dose her."

"You think I can stretch her to 10cm?" he asks.

"No way. Cervix is too thick all the way around." I tell him as I cringe at the thought of manually opening her cervix when she is in such excruciating pain to begin with.

The OB insists on checking her again. And forces her cervix open another 1-2 cm. The woman is screaming at the top of her lungs through all of this. I'm giving the doc the evil eye, and telling him again - "anesthesia is coming up. This woman deserves some better pain relief!"

The OB is telling the woman to push through it.


I look at the woman and mouth "I'm so sorry" to her.

From labor nurse At Your Cervix.

I doubt that this doctor walks around with horns sprouting out of his head, or telling OB colleagues how much he hates his patients. He may even be lovely to some of his patients, or lovely in certain situations. But I think it's OK to admit that not everyone knows what goes on behind closed doors, and that when women tell their stories of inappropriate treatment, we should validate and honor those stories. The kneejerk response should not be "No one I know would do that - we are good people" (and neither should it be "All OBs are EVIIIIIL"). Because clearly, someone IS doing that - and why couldn't it be someone you know?


Enjoy Birth said...

It always amazes me to read about things like that. But sadly it doesn't surprise me. Of course there are crappy OBs. Of course there are wonderful OBs and then there are the average ones. When I read stories like this it just reinforces my desire to encourage moms to choose their care providers carefully!

Kristen said...

YES! I've been thinking along these very lines for quite a while now, especially after seeing some of the very discussions (among OBs) that you've referred to here. I've even heard one physician question whether or not My OB Said WHAT?! is a hoax. (Could a few of the entries on that site be a result of misunderstanding on the mother's part. Sure, I suppose so. But it seems awfully presumptuous [among other things] to consider the entire site a hoax!)

In any case, I entirely agree that part of the problem is that most OBs do not see what some of their less respectful colleagues do (even if these colleagues are perfectly wonderful outside of the office/hospital) behind closed doors.