[image source: cirp.org]
NineMSN’s Sunday reports: “Who Watches the Doctors?”:
A woman goes into her local hospital for routine minor surgery to remove a tiny lesion on her labia. But just before the anaesthetic is administered, her doctor leans over her – out of earshot of the operating theatre staff.
“I’m going to take your clitoris too,” he whispers.
Carolyn Dewaegeneire then slid under the anaesthetic, and woke up mutilated. Her entire external genitalia had been removed – nothing like the diagram she had been drawn during the surgical consent process. The Bega District Guide explains:
She had entered Pambula Hospital expecting to have a small pre-cancerous lesion measuring 20mm in diameter excised from her labia.
Instead, she woke from the operation to find that the area removed measured 95mm by 55mm by 34mm and included her clitoris.
Carolyn continues to experience pain and urinary outflow difficulty. The effects on her sexual function is not mentioned in any of the publicity, but can be inferred.
Summary of the Sunday video, for those who can’t access it:
The perpetrator, Graeme Reeves, was barred from practising obstetrics in 1997, after refusing to treat a dying woman’s puerperal fever. The Medical Board found him to have an “impaired mental capacity” to practise medicine, and placed conditions on his practice, including that he continue with psychiatric treatment. His diagnosis is not stated.
Nine reports that in 2002 Reeves lied his way into an OB-GYN job in Bega/Pambula, where he mutilated Carolyn.
The signs were there that there were problems, but nothing was done to stop him.
Hornsby Hospital had already revoked Reeves’ clinical privileges, and warned the medical board:
“Dr Reeves is displaying unpredictable behaviour, dysfunctionality, and unsatisfactory manner with staff and patients. The hospital has decided is inappropriate to continue the granting of any clinical privileges within the hospital.”
The Board heard another patient complaint just before Reeves moved to Bega, but the Medical Board delayed their investigation. By then it was too late: he had already mutilated Carolyn. She describes shock, denial, and feeling too traumatised to report her situation to anyone.
Another woman went in for surgery on an ovarian lesion, and ended up with both ovaries, both Fallopian tubes removed; and a kidney gone, also, after complications ensued.
Another woman reports that Reeves failed to use gloves when performing a gynaecological examination, and used an “intimate, sexual” touch, as well as touching her breasts unexpectedly.
Another woman says that Reeves spent over an hour painfully attempting to insert an IUD after she had an abnormal Pap smear, saying “I haven’t got this right”. He performed no cervical biopsy, and she was later found to be riddled with cancer throughout her pelvis.
Finally, the Southern Area Health Service rang the Medical Board about Reeves, reporting that his behaviour was “difficult” in the operating theatre. He was eventually struck off in 2004 for “gross professional misconduct”. Carolyn, who had not disclosed her problem to anyone, noticed an article in the newspaper reporting his deregistration. Only then did she tell her story, anonymously, to the local paper – and found that she wasn’t the only victim. Four women met in a local park to share their stories and sympathise with each other.
Reeves’ insurer has denied liability for Carolyn’s civil damages award, because she made her complaint after he was deregistered. Reeves has claimed that he is insolvent, and is unable to pay the claim himself.
The MSN video goes on to criticise cover-ups and the culture of silence around impaired and incompetent doctors. The Medical Errors Action Group is lobbying for mandatory reporting of such doctors.
This isn’t a borderline case, a known but unfortunate side effect, a medical slip: this is a seriously impaired doctor practising for many months in completely inappropriate ways, mutilating, and raping patients – and nobody around him, not his colleagues, not nurses or other staff, were able to stop him. Did they convince themselves that it “wasn’t that serious, really”? Did they convince themselves it was none of their business? Did they fear personal repercussions should they blow the whistle? Why did nobody so much as check his registration when he was employed?
I smell the patriarchy at work.
Update 19 Feb 08: The Bega District News has an update today on the aftermath of the airing of this Sunday programme:
Hundreds of former patients of disgraced gynaecologist-obstetrician Graeme Reeves have contacted Lorraine Long’s independent health watchdog, the Medical Error Action, Group after the horrifying story of Wolumla woman, Carolyn Dewaegeneire, went to air on the Sunday program two days ago.
“We have been completely inundated with emails from people in the Bega Valley (by 9am yesterday there had already been 187) lodging complaints about Reeves, and both the Bega and Pambula Hospitals,” Ms Long said.