With Pain Care, #MeToo

With Pain Care, #MeToo

By Cynthia Toussaint.

The #MeToo movement, where women are speaking out about being sexually assaulted and harassed, first reminded me of nearly being raped when I was in college. When I dug deeper though, I realized most of the harassment I’ve encountered was at the hands of healthcare professionals. Really sad, but true.

Cynthia Toussaint

My first pain care harassment episode happened shortly after CRPS spread into my “good” leg forcing me to abandon my professional dance career and move back into my mother’s home. Desperate for answers and relief and getting nowhere with my HMO, I went to their urgent care facility.

When I met the young, good looking doctor, I was uncomfortable as his attitude and manner were immediately flirtatious. When he spoke to me about my hamstring injury, he drew a diagram of it.  The doctor explained the reason for my excruciating pain was that my hamstring was tight – and that was the way many men liked their women. I was stunned and horrified, and quickly got up and left the examining room.

But he wasn’t done. As I limped down the hall to escape, he called out in front of the nurse’s station no less, “My prescription for you is to take care of those gorgeous legs.” When I got home, I sobbed in front of my mom. It was bad enough that I wasn’t getting any care, but now I was a sexual object to be demeaned and played with.

As the months piled up with no diagnosis or care, I threatened to sue my HMO. They begrudgingly put me into their hospice so I could get daily physical therapy. Led by my attending physician and ringmaster, Dr. Sprague, this “healthcare setting” was a nonstop circus of sexual degradation and harassment.

I was being asked out on a date everyday by one of the nurses assistants. When I finally stopped laughing him off and turned him down saying that I had a boyfriend, he shot back seemingly hurt, “I see all kinds of guys coming in and out of your room.” He was right. Besides John, I had plenty of male visitors including my brothers and theater friends, most who were gay. But why was I defending myself to this creep? Because I was desperate for care and didn’t want to rock this sinking boat.

This was nothing compared to the technician who was in charge of my constant passive motion machine. My right leg was in a contracture and the machine was used in an attempt to straighten it. I feared this man as my daily encounter with him included a stream of sexual innuendos, suggestive gestures and comments about my full lips. I felt violated over and over again.

The worst of the worst was when he inquired about painful body positions. After answering him like a good soldier, he asked “Can you still get on your hands and knees?” Momentarily trying to trust that he cared, I said yes. He responded with a smile, “Good, that’s all that’s important”, smacking his lips to punctuate his sexual pleasure.

That did it. I’d been concerned about getting this guy into trouble, but I finally made a complaint to Dr. Sprague. He put the cherry on top with his response. “You get what you deserve here.” This was the same guy who told me I had to give up my foolish notion of dancing and be what I was supposed to be – a housewife and a mother.

I’ve spoken to hundreds of women in pain over the years and most all share similar stories. Just like Hollywood and other industries where men hold positions of power, healthcare is filthy with this abusive, demeaning behavior. What makes it worse for us is that our lives are being turned upside down by pain and fatigue and we’re desperate to get better. We’ll take almost anything to get out of this rabbit hole of suffering.

But the #MeToo movement is changing this paradigm. We don’t need to submit to sexual predators to advance our careers, attain positions of leadership or get decent, humane pain care.

If this ever happens to me again, I’ll confront the healthcare professional – and go straight to the clinic or hospital administrator. With pain care, trust and feeling safe is all important as part of our healing process. Anything less is completely unacceptable.

I’m grateful to the #MeToo movement for me and all women in pain. Let it be our beacon of strength, courage and self-respect.

Cynthia Toussaint is founder of For Grace, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that works on issues facing women in pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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There are 20 comments for this article
  1. Angelica Heavner at 6:29 am

    That is so uncalled for. Did you by any chance report any of them to the state medical boards? If not you should. Not one of them should keep their license to practice.

  2. Linda at 6:48 am

    # Me Too, last year when sent to the only pain specialist in my area, and I walked out with flashbacks of being raped 35 years ago.
    I can’t get passed it.

    Because the only reason my family doctor sent me there was so she could pass the buck on prescribing opiods. Dump it in the hands of another doctor. And he acted like he was the God of all women. He was from India or some place similar, and I just can’t believe I’m the only one who was treated like this by him, and I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s ever complained.

    What I do know is that my complaint made to the president of this Medical practice, (a-large one) went totally unanswered!

    And at this point and time, that experience has set me back by leaps and bounds. Here I am a year later and I am still trying to get my severe, chronic and life altering pain addressed.
    My family doctor COULD be helping with my pain because she it certainly qualified, but she’s weak and after discussions with her, I know she does not feel forced by the CDC at all, but rather bought in their propaganda.

    My heart goes out to you. Period.

  3. HJ at 2:36 am

    I’ve been treated to emotional abuse:

    “You’re lucky that you’ve got me. Most doctors see a depressed patient and want to run the other way.” (-rheumatologist who gave me a lecture on the history of “hysteria” and how it was applied to women, who insisted I see a psychologist and then said he didn’t like her and told me to get someone HE picks. He started pushing anti-depressants instead of muscle relaxants).

    “Nobody’s surprised when they see the fat person’s obituary.” (-gynecologist who probably thought he was doing me a favor. He also said he didn’t ‘care how I lost the weight, just lose it.’)

    I had been treated to lots of unprofessionalism, but comments like those would replay themselves in my head after the appointment. I found other doctors and am getting far better care.

  4. Tetesa at 8:51 pm

    I’m so sorry you have had to deal with this. It is ridiculous. Our lives are a daily struggle and for some idiot to add to your struggle infuriates me. Please please be very careful with reporting these horrible people. I know its the right thing to do and I’m so proud of you for being strong. But I’m so worried they will retaliate. The way things are for us. I feel like doctors are constantly looking for a reason not to treat us. To withhold our much needed pain meds. I’m so concerned they will find away to blame you. I feel horrible as a woman saying this. Ive always stood up for women’s rights and human rights. I went against my own family to call out an abuser. I’m not one to back down. I just dont won’t some jerk to make a bad situation even worse for you. I’m not saying its ok to be treated like this. I dont think anyone should be treated like this. Please when you report it. Be very professional about it. Try to have a witness if possible. If someone makes you uncomfortable try to record the time they are with you. Find an excuse for someone to be in the room. If at all possible. I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of the abuse. And it absolutely should be reported. I’m just concerned they will find away to use it against you.

  5. cindy deim at 4:20 pm

    Honestly, that is the reason I always have a female doctor. I had a doctor one time when I was in Grad. School going to the school doctor making small talk asking me what school I went to… While he was doing my annual pap then starting asking me if you know so and so. Even that was strange to me. I said I don’t really want to talk about this right now. I didn’t want to know if I went to school with his little brother. 🙂

  6. Mark Ibsen MD at 11:17 am

    #me too.
    I figured the Montana Board of Medicine was going to rape me in secret…
    In a dark alley, so to speak.
    I got how powerless people who are abused can be.
    I made them screw me in the public commons,
    Being transparent and setting boundaries.
    They tried to dehumanize me,
    Claiming mental illness,
    “Disruptive Behavior” in my own clinic,
    Horrible stuff.
    So, Yeah,
    #Me too,
    In a way.
    They are doing this to physicians weekly.
    Dr Christiansen this week.
    We must speak out on this abuse of patients and caring doctors

  7. Notasheep at 10:40 am

    I am honestly having trouble formulating any response to the story. I am outraged, horrified and deeply deeply saddened at such unmitigated …….BULLSTUFF….. I also can only offer the best hug for you I can imagine.

  8. Notasheep at 10:32 am

    Y’all may disagree, but sex\orgasm does relieve some types of pain. Unfortunately for me just the idea of that much physical effort is now laughable(or fortunately since I am now divorced! Lol!). Endorphins are amazing for the relief they can give. Best thing imaginable for most women’s cramps.
    As for #metoo, assaulted at age 11 by 5 young boys. Finally healed by learning just how powerful I am on my own and forgiving the stupidity of those boys. Couple are upstanding men now with beautiful families. I am dang glad they are! Hardest part was forgiving myself for the sexual behaviours my feelings from the assault engendered in me as a young women. Forgiving them was easy in comprison.
    As a nurse, sexual innuendo was common 35 years ago. Doctors were GODS back then. We would stand when they entered a room!!! Hard to imagine how we could do it now days, but was so back then. I place more blame on the nurse supers than I do the docs, they allowed and demanded such crap from the staff. Yep, said it was crap back then too, but to keep my job, did the expected behavior and avoided the supply closet during rounds.

  9. Gracie G Bagosy Young at 6:38 am

    THIS! THIS is one of the many reasons why women’s pain is under-treated, overlooked, dismissed. It is one of the biggest reasons why. Simply disgusting. I am so sorry that you had to endure this kind of treatment along with the other ailments that plague your body, my sweet friend.
    Gracie

  10. MichaelL at 4:44 pm

    That has to be the polar opposite of me! I took my wife a year to get my attention. She was an acquaintance, who started seeing me for chronic pain She became my wife, after she stalked me for a year! But…making sexual comments to women!? That was never my forte. I had been rejected enough as a youngster, in school and college! But, she was the reason that the medical board found to take my license, for good! Said something about a power differential (that did not exist). I guess those men on the board did not think that there was any equalizer that a cute young woman could bring to the table! She pursued me in spite of my initial disinterest, which was the way I treated all of my patients! I was never a sexual aggressor!

    But, that is exactly what the incompetent evaluation by the clinic I was referred to made. They made that decision after my tests for sexual predator came up normal. Forget that they made massive mistakes in my evaluation. The former head of the American Academy of Pain Management wrote a letter verifying that their evaluation seemed amiss. But, what would he know? He was only a psychiatrist certified in pain management!? He reviewed the exam results and came to the opposite conclusions of the group. They were hired at the behest of the medical board, to evaluate my “sexual deviancy”. (I guess they don’t always have an unbiased itinerary!) Your story only angers me at the people that would practice medicine in such a way, only to take that away from me…THE POLAR OPPOSITE! It also angers me that you would be so abused in the hands of “medical professionals”! But, they are still working, I am not. But, I turn retirement age this month! I, also, became disabled from an accident from a tree stand…(;-P…So I was disabled and collecting a check every month for the past seven years! Free Medicare, too! Well, I do have to pay for it, But it comes out of my disability check!. But, I digress. Isn’t life on this earth grand!

  11. JoDawn at 3:07 pm

    You did not deserve that.
    Period.
    (((((((HUG))))))))

  12. Laurie Zubritsky at 10:32 am

    You should send this post about sexual harassment to the tv networks. This story needs to be heard!

  13. Bob Schubring at 10:07 am

    Cynthia describes a serious cultural problem in our society, that of Entitlement. Some people feel entitled to take things from others, without first asking their consent. The Taxed Enough Already (TEA) movement objects to the taking of money or property without their consent. The #MeToo movement objects to the taking of their choice of sex partners…and whether to have sex at all…without their consent. Learning to speak up about our own needs and truly listen to the needs of others, is essential. There cannot be a cooperative social relationship, if one group do the giving and another do the taking, and neither communicates with the other about how much giving and how much taking is acceptable to each. Takers must learn to accept it, when givers say they cannot give any more. Using force to coerce the giver into yielding, makes matters worse for the giver and further damages whatever relationship might have once existed.
    The encounter Cynthia describes with the Urgent Care doctor reveals a particularly-disturbing consequence of that failure to listen. The doctor presumed that Cynthia was a lonely person seeking human contact, and nothing more. He persisted in ignoring her description of her symptoms and insisted that she fit his preconceived concept. In his mind, she was there to get reminded she was a desirable sex partner…not because her leg ached and she couldn’t walk on it for any distance. Entitlement, in that doctor’s mind, entitled him to ignore reality and only consider his preconceived concept of what he wished that she needed. Chronic pain patients are presently experiencing this same denial of reality, in dealing with groups like PROP. They preconceive that we are seeking drugs for recreational purposes, and will not bring themselves to understand that people who show up in an emergency room with a pain crisis, are having a pain crisis that requires treatment.
    When we encounter such a person, nothing short of blunt candor will work. The person has to be told that we do not appreciate their denial of our reality and that we need some other professional who can do the job properly, to take over for them. That sort of bluntness takes the fun out of playing the game…if we try to be pleasant, polite, or nice, the person continues with the fantasy that we’re enjoying the attention he’s giving us. Confronting people is hard to do, especially when we’re ailing, but Cynthia has the right idea. It simply has to be done.

  14. Melanie Ross at 10:02 am

    In elementary school:#metoo

    When I was 12 years old, and in 6th grade, our class had the first male teacher in our school. It was 1967.
    Since my mother was going through a bitter divorce, (my father had been committed a few years earlier to a psychiatric hospital for severe schizophrenia) I was comforting myself with lots of (yes, unhealthy!) sugary treats, and as a result had put on a few pounds.

    One day, after school, my teacher Mr. Smith asked me, “Are we getting fat, Melanie?” I don’t remember what I said in response, because the overwhelming feeling of shame and mortification was so intense that there would be no way for me to remember anything that came out of my mouth after a question like that. At the time of course I didn’t realize how totally abusive and shameful it was for him to say that to me, but to my fragile pre-adolescent 12 year old soul that comment pierced me like a knife. This was someone I liked and respected. It probably hurt worse because I was already kind of an outcast in the classroom, probably because of my father’s history, so I was one of the kids in class that was made to feel like I had cooties. Having my teacher comment about my weight only added painful insult to injury. I never told my mother, not only because I didn’t want to add anything to her already overwhelming misery, while she was attempting to divorce a very assaultive man, but I also didn’t have the courage to report something that humiliating. As a result, I never told anyone.
    Even though that comment was made 50 years ago, it still stings to remember it.

    I’m sure it helped set the stage for a lifelong search for “thinness” – an illusive dream, resulting in years of eating disorders.
    Now, 50 years later, I’m on disability for severe recurrent depression, and have suffered with ibs and fibro for the last five years.
    While I can’t say for sure that that comment is the reason for any of my current condition, it certainly didn’t help my fragile pre-teen psyche.

  15. Joanna Pinne at 9:43 am

    Thank you for your courage in posting this. I’ve encountered these things, not to the extent you have, but disgusting nonetheless. One doctor in emerg once kept saying, over and over, “I know you from somewhere but I can’t remember where”, as if his social life was more important than my crisis. Hard to believe!

  16. Jmm at 8:49 am

    I Commiserate with you! I can’t imagine why some doctors (male medical professionals) feel that the only reason we are in pain is for lack of sexual gratification. Could it be we
    are actually hurt and in pain? Don’t get me wrong…there are doctors that deal with it with a
    professional and caring basis…but that doesn’t seem to make up for the ones that are ,for lack of better wording,”sexual predators”. Why can’t we be dealt with on the same basis as a male patient or do they get treated that way by female medical professionals?
    I have had so much physical ,verbal and being put down by medical professionals that I’m even Leary of having to go to a new one. Being in constant pain leaves you exhausted. Not in the state of mind to have to deal with anything other then pain,and yet we have to deal with every other aspect of our lives too. Just a note”i have also had physical and emotional abuse by female medical professionals,but at least was not abused sexually(physically or verbally) by
    them.”

  17. Rita KIMBEL at 5:13 am

    That’s just plain old ridiculous, I’ve never been sexually harrased by any doctor, nurse or assistant. Uneducated in customer relations, these people that treated you like that are obviously not at the maturity level to be treating patients. Never let it happen again, you are right to report them and they will lose their jobs if you yell loud enough to the right people.

  18. Dan at 5:06 am

    It is a shame that the people we trust to help make our lives better are sometimes the people who inflict the most harm and pain. And the sad part is because of the created narrative we allow it as if somehow we deserve it. Well I hope we all wake up soon before it is to late

  19. mist at 3:53 am

    http://www.doctoroz.com/be-on-the-show

    Do You Have Chronic Back Pain?
    The Dr. Oz Show is looking for women suffering from chronic pain. If this sounds like you, please write in today!

    I came across this on his site after writing a letter about – Chronic Pain Patients ,no treatment,under-treatment of pain why is the media etc . forgetting the victims US the Medically dependent opioid pain patients,our doctors and family in the opioid crisis .

  20. mist at 3:45 am

    Oh my I read your story and I am saddened as a woman I have had a couple of #metoo moments yours were much more cruel than what I had . I am sorry you had to endure the heartbreak and betrayal of being violated.
    If I have Back surgery at a young age 20 I won’t be able to push out as many children. I will have to have back surgery in my 40’s but by then I should be done having children and it won’t affect your intimate life too much to wait ,cause you can get it out of your system by then. mind you it was 20 years ago when I was told that.so word for word has slipped my mind .
    Sex would help and be good for back pain. Yes a doctor told me that., my doctor was aware I was single at that time and no I was not active.,no children. At 20 I was not wanting children ..
    See when you are young you just leave thinking he didn’t mean anything by it maybe I’m evil for even thinking he meant it dirty,but why did he just make me feel very uncomfortable.

    .

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