Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I saw myself in her...

Today was a slow day at work. I have to say that I was relieved when I went down the ER this morning and saw a clear board…. The first time since I’ve started that I’ve encountered an empty emergency room. I retreated to the office to work on chart notes, and told the BA to page me if I was needed.

I hadn’t even gotten through my first chart when my pager went off. A 15 year old girl had come in by herself explaining that she had been raped by her neighbor the night before, while over at his house for their daily tutoring session. She was failing math, and her neighbor had offered to help her with her homework after school.

They were going to do a rape kit, and the attending physician asked if I would prep her for the procedure with the intention of staying with her during it. I hesitated, trying to imagine how I could walk into that room, and explain in terms that she would understand how her doctor was going to come in and examine her body for scratches and bite marks, and hopefully find enough semen to be able to charge the bastard with rape. I tried to imagine how I could sit next to her while medical professionals and police officers asked her if the man ejaculated, or if he used a condom, all the while jotting down her responses and nods of her head on their clip boards.

I made up my mind to swallow my own self pity, my self doubt, thereby venturing into territory that I knew all too well. I knew that having been through this myself would work for me because I knew exactly what it was like, and yet it would work against me for the very same reason.

I sat and talked with this young girl about school, music, and the snow that had been piling up outside since her arrival. She smiled slightly at this, admitting how she hoped that school would be cancelled tomorrow. I didn’t ask her to reveal the details of what happened, but they came pouring out of her at a seemingly uncontrollable rate following an awkward pause which indicated to us both the end of the small talk.

She confessed feeling stupid, confessed feeling like she should have been able to defend herself, confessed that she blamed herself for not leaving sooner, for not recognizing the signs.

I saw myself in her.

It was then that I knowingly crossed a professional boundary, and admitted that I understood what she was going through, because I had been there. I usually try not to reveal too much about my personal life to my patients or their families, I'm there to support them, not to add my own antecdotes. And yet I didn’t feel that there was anything more appropriate than to expose such a personal, painful, piece of myself for my patient in that moment. I remember what it’s like. And following my assault, all I wanted was someone who understood how I was feeling. I felt that if nothing else, I could give that to this young girl who was feeling so incredibly alone.

I went through the steps of the rape exam with her, and told her that I could stay if she wanted me too, to which she just nodded. So I stayed, and although it was excruciating to do so, I have never felt that my job was more necessary than I did in those moments.

While walking home from work tonight, all I could think about was what would become of this young girl. I wonder whether or not justice will be served, I wonder whether justice can ever be served in these situations? Even if her attacker is handed a prison sentence, it will never be for quite long enough.

As I walked, I must have passed by a dozen people, all rushing home at the end of their day. I cringed as each walked by, literally closing my eyes tightly for a moment as they passed. Tonight, I admitted to this young girl that I had been a victim of sexual violence. What I chose to leave out was that as a result I go through every day afraid of it happening again, something as simple as walking home from work has become my personal gauntlet. And I have to wonder whether or not my patient will face the same in years to come.

I would like to think that I helped prepare my patient for her rape exam, and yet I know that I couldn’t prepare her for what she may face tomorrow, or next year, or even ten years from now. And I don’t know if anyone can prepare her for that.

UPDATE: I was reading a dated post by Lauren at Feministe this morning and found a thread to a piece that she wrote 2 years ago on rape. It is AMAZING, please please go read it here.