Going to the doctor can be a terrifying experience for survivors. There is a very serious lack of control, uncertainty, and vulnerability which can make anyone anxious, but for a survivor of sexual abuse, it taps into many of the feelings a survivor has been made to feel. There can also be a struggle for a survivor because by going to a doctor, he or she is taking care of him or herself. The survivor may feel that is selfish; that they do not deserve care; or that they are burdening others with their concerns.
In general, I don’t like to go to the doctor either, but I can usually make myself go. I try to go to recommended yearly visits, getting my eyes examined, going to the dentist, etc., because I know it’s important even though I don’t want to do it. I go and get it done, and then it’s over for another year.
I have rarely had the occasion to go to the doctor with someone I care about and see the appointment from another perspective. This week, however, Jeff went to the chiropractor to try and get some relief from his migraines. The doctor he was very personable and friendly. He examined Jeff’s posture and asked him lots of questions. Then he had him stand up on the footing of a table that lowered him into a position of lying down. He was totally fine with what was going on.
Watching the procedure, however, I was not. It wasn’t so much that I was having a flashback, as I felt small; like a child. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple days and that’s the best way I can describe what I was feeling. I have never had a bad experience with a doctor, but it just made me ill at ease. The doctor didn’t say what he was going to do next, or what he was doing at all really. I’m sure it’s just something doctors do every day and don’t think about, but if I had been the one on the table, I would have liked some explanation.
I have noticed in doctors’ offices that the forms they give me when I go in either ask for no history of sexual experiences, or the information it is seeking is too in depth. I hope that doctors are given more training than I have experienced to be sensitive to survivors’ needs. I always want to say something, like “You didn’t ask me about this. It’s important. Can we talk about it?” Or “That is asking too much. Can I tell you part of it, and know that I can talk about it at another time?”
Doctor, are you willing to hear me? Or is this another situation where I’m supposed to keep quiet?
I’m working through how I felt in the doctor’s office this week, and chances are high I won’t go in there again with Jeff, but it is something I need to understand within myself so I can know what to do if I should ever need to go to a chiropractor or massage therapist.
This discussion does not begin to elaborate on factors such as doctors who have been abused or doctors who are abusers. That is also part of the dynamic in a physician’s office.
It’s a process and I’m working on it. I’m trying to figure out why I felt like I did and what I can do about it.
How do you advocate for yourself at the doctors’ office? Or what would you like to see happen if that has never been an option for you?