"Before you interview this next patient, Vitum, there's something you should know." While this story is based on an actual experience I had in a hospital, and the effects of sexual assault on a person are real and devestating, the patient and experience depicted here is entirely fictional. Confidentiality of my patients is my highest priority, just as it would be if you were my patient. For more info, please see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
"Sure, what is it?"
The doctor closed the door to his office, and handed me the patient's chart.
"This patient came to me a couple of years ago. He's a very successful architect, he lives downtown, and he's overall quite healthy. But before you go in there, I just wanted to give you the heads up - he was sexually assaulted when he was a young boy. Just, you know, so if anything along those lines comes up in your interview you can be sensitive to that."
Ha, I thought. Warning me so that I don't put my foot in my mouth. Again. I guess he knows me better than I thought.
I appreciated the warning, even though the patient was there for something entirely unrelated and that issue never came up in the interview. The guy was obviously very successful, clean-cut, and seemed quite confident and professional. He took good care of himself and seemed to have a really good head on his shoulders. I wrapped up with the interview pretty quickly, told him the doctor would be in to see him, and then went back to the doctor's office.
When the doctor is with another patient and I'm waiting, I'll generally review my class notes if I've got them, brush up on a few drugs, look over the drug samples in the office wondering if I could just take some pills just to try them out. Or I'll look over the various diagnostic journals piled high on the doctor's desk, or read a patient's chart if I've got it. Not really thinking of the warning the doctor had given me, I habitually cracked the patient's chart and began reading.
In just a few minutes, what I learned about the lingering effects of child abuse will stay with me forever. I caught a snapshot of how a brief moment stolen from this poor man's childhood has in one way or another affected every aspect of this patient's life.
The chart read like a paperback story that would be too depressing to ever make it to print. It was packed full of the effects about how this patient's life had been dramatically and irreperably changed because of this incident. Here were the carbon copies of emergency room charts depicting the patient's multiple visits for anxiety attacks, thanks to post-traumatic flashbacks of the experience. There were the notes from a psychiatry consult that the patient had undergone shortly before, which contained more terrible, heartrending details of not so much the experience, but how it had affected him.
The patient had initially told his brother, his closest friend, about what their hockey coach had done to him. His brother's response? He didn't believe him. That's pretty much the worst thing you can do if someone approaches you saying they've been assaulted. After that, the patient didn't bother telling anybody else about it, until he needed to seek medical attention for the stress; even still, there are only a few people that he's told.
Now, he suffers from frequent flashbacks, most of which land him in the ER with anxiety attacks. He has trouble with commitment (more than the average guy) or sexual intimacy - I wonder if he'll ever be able to settle down with someone. He can't be alone in a room with an older male - must be hard to have a job interview under those circumstances. He can't have anything to do with hockey games, arenas, or the game in general - that must make it difficult to go to a bar with the guys.
I had heard that sexual abuse can be a tragedy that significantly affects a person's life, but I had had no idea that it was that pervasive. My heart went out to this patient when I finally went in with the doctor. I was one of maybe five people on earth that knows about his secret, and as much as I wished I could do something to help him get back to a normal life, I couldn't. All I could do was be shocked at how unbelievable it is that one brief, disgusting, selfish action that lasts a brief moment can literally ruin a victim's life. It literally made my stomach turn.
The worst part is, the creep who did this is still free, probably still working with young kids, quite possibly still assaulting children, ruining lives by taking one moment at a time.
One of the things that attracted me to medicine is how a doctor is much more than just one thing - a doctor is an expert in chemistry, biology, pharmacy; a manual labourer, a thinker, a problem-solver; a teacher, an advocate, a counsellor. I'm not sure, but judging by how nervous I am to have to someday be the listening ear to someone who confides in me the details of their painful past, that last one might be the hardest one.
While this story is based on an actual experience I had in a hospital, and the effects of sexual assault on a person are real and devestating, the patient and experience depicted here is entirely fictional. Confidentiality of my patients is my highest priority, just as it would be if you were my patient. For more info, please see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.