Editor's Note: This story is part of the series A Plastic Surgeon Sexualized My Exam
I underwent post-bariatric body contouring with one of the finest plastic surgeons in the nation. Let me be clear that he is not the plastic surgeon who sexualized my exams. Here is my story.
How It Made Me Feeosing Control
Before my assault, I was a person in control. After the abuse, I went from vulnerable to intense helplessness. I lost my power and self-reliance. That's not who I am. I have never felt comfortable with my own vulnerability and now I am more uncomfortable than ever with it.
I came to fear everything. I feared being disbelieved. I feared being re-victimized if I reported the surgeon to the authorities. I feared that others would judge me. I felt that I had to explain myself that I'd not been in any way provocative with the surgeon. I feared how others would react (some ignored me). I feared my doctors would turn a blind eye (some did). I feared my husband would be angry with me (he was not).
I feared what the surgeon would do to me if I spoke out against him. I feared he would discredit my reputation and jeopardize my career. I feared he would distort the events to show I had overreacted to a thorough and proper exam. I feared that my word would not be believed against this prominent surgeon and social pillar of the community. I was a woman and an outsider to this community, after all.
I feared him. And I hated that. I have never feared anyone or anything in my life, but I feared him. I even so much as refused to tell people his name. I simply referred to him as Dr. Creepy.
Almost immediately I wanted to cancel my three-month post tummy tuck exam with my real plastic surgeon. I knew that I would not come to any harm with him. Indeed, I had been looking forward to my appointment so that I could share the fabulous results of my tummy tuck. But instinctually I wanted to avoid anything that reminded me of the assault.
I did go to my three-mos post-op with my real plastic surgeon. Even though I remained mostly clothed during my exam and he did not touch any of my sexualized body parts, I suffered a panic attack.
Shortly after that exam, I followed through with my long-laid plans to have my second stage surgery with my real plastic surgeon. It was a long emotional journey through the months leading up to that surgery. Even though we had a strong patient-physician relationship, I developed irrational bouts of mistrust and fear of my real plastic surgeon. At times I was an emotional wreck and I phoned him twice in hysterics to cancel my surgery. My husband advised me to wait until I was stronger emotionally, but I was not one to be held back from doing what I wanted to do. That said, it took eight hours or so of consults with my real plastic surgeon for me to once again be at ease. Psychologists call this exposure therapy: A technique used to treat anxiety disorders, which involves the victim being exposed to the feared context without any danger.
Ironically, I was not angry with the local plastic surgeon who harmed me but with my real plastic surgeon. I felt that if he simply had referred me to a local plastic surgeon for aftercare as I had asked, then the sexual assaults never would have taken place. Realistically, I knew that my real plastic surgeon was not to blame for what had happened. I am no longer angry with him for that.
Having been turned away by the most trusted of my doctors when I confided the assault to him caused me to fall into dejection. I needed my doctor to support and protect me. But instead, he turned his back on me each time that I turned to him for help.
I am aware of my doctor's ethical and fiduciary responsibility to me. So where I once held him in the highest regard, my sense of trust has eroded to one of wariness.
Only recently have I begun to take my power back and feel like "me" again. One morning during an abdominal ultrasound a male ObGyn popped his head into my exam and asked the technician some trivial questions. I later confronted him in the hall. "Don't ever walk in on my exam again," I said in a low and forceful voice. And that is who I am.