justicewalks’s moving reflections on her coming medical procedure (h/t bint) had me contemplating my own body. Specifically, the four-inch scar that runs from by bellybutton down my abdomen. I thought that the scar had long healed.
When my personal care physician here in the US first saw the scar, she asked if I had a c-section. So I told her the story of when I had surgery at age 16 to have an ovarian cyst removed. Of how my physician mom was allowed to sit in on the operation as a courtesy, and how she requested the surgeon do a horizontal incision for faster healing.
And how the surgeon shook his head, said “Girls should not wear bikinis,” and sliced my belly with the scalpel.
To this day, my mom shrugs the incident off. The surgeon was old and old-fashioned, and isn’t it great that I didn’t have cancer anymore. Well, sure. And I didn’t wear bikinis either. I stopped thinking about it.
I was surprised when my personal care physician shook her head in disbelief. “Wow,” she said. “That doctor is an asshole.”
Of course he was. I can’t believe how long it took me to see that. And it wasn’t until reading justicewalks’ words that I could fully articulate what bothered me most about this scar:
how alike will I be to all of the other voiceless, bleeding, black, female bodies that have lived and died whole lifetimes that way
I have a lot of privileges in Filipino society, especially in terms of socioeconomic class and ethnicity. I was unconscious in that operating room, but I had the additional status of physician’s daughter, and my doctor-mother was right there speaking on my behalf. And yet, that entitled male doctor thought nothing of overriding both my own bodily autonomy and my mother’s explicit requests with a flick of his scalpel.
I wish how this example is a blip, how things have changed in the almost two decades since I had the operation. But this case illustrates the paternalism that continues to permeate the medical profession in the Philippines. Marginalized populations who have much less privileges that I did, such as gay patients, can be treated with ridicule.
I gleaned other examples from conversations with my sister, who worked a OB/gyn rotation at a charity government hospital in Manila. On a quiet day, she said, they only had 300 births. Three-hundred. Every day. Partly due to the stress of running from one bed to another trying to catch babies before they fall to the floor (literally), the medical staff is known to snap at mothers in labor. “Keep your legs closed next time.” “Remember this next time you do it, it’s not all fun, you know.” Think these sound bad? In Tagalog, the disrespect and dismissal in those phrases are thunderous.
It gets worse. When a teenage girl comes in to give birth, medical staff routinely don’t administer epidurals or other pain meds. Even when she request them. They justify this practice, saying it’s for the girl’s own good. So the disgraciada will remember the pain, and that’ll make her stop popping out babies. Somehow, I don’t think this practice is standard in the private hospitals where the wealthy disgraciadas go to give birth.
I think the doctor who cut me up retired a while ago, but these examples show how entitlement and paternalism in the Philippine medical profession thrive. And as with the case of a lot of issues in Filipino society, it will be marginalized groups like poor women who will be the most scarred.