A patient’s perspective on domestic violence

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I often read advice to doctors about how to screen for domestic violence.  I was that woman for many years. I was that child and I know for a fact my pediatrician knew but was afraid to report it. And then I grew up and became that woman.

Physical violence while brutal, doesn’t compare to the controlling, creeping intimate fear sustained in such relationships.  My then husband came with me to some of my doctor’s appointments, not so just so he looked good, but so you wouldn’t think to ask if he was hurting me.  He was a world-class liar.

I was exactly the picture of the abused woman you read about.  I was depressed, anxious, in chronic pain (and yes, chronically ill).  He would stand there looking concerned but he came off as loving and attentive.  I was unable to express fear, concern for my safety, or that my head had been slammed into the cupboards because I had a seizure that morning.

How did I tell you that without him I wouldn’t be able to pay for my healthcare?  I couldn’t tell you that he had cut me off all my money — even the money I earned myself as a professional woman.  So when I couldn’t pay you, sometimes it was because I really didn’t have access to my money.

I did receive looks, especially in the ER.  Usually just sideways glances.  If I got anything at all, I felt judged.  Even when I admitted that I was being hit, I felt judged for not leaving.  But where would I go and how would I pay for it? And with whom would I stay? And how would I insure myself? How would I pay for my medications at a shelter? I had a job. I had animals I loved.  I had a life outside all this.  I just didn’t have access to my money.

Once I did tell my doctors that my I got hit in the face and I wouldn’t allow it anymore, most of them looked away uncomfortably.  One said, “Well, that is part of chronic illness, Melissa.” As though living with domestic violence and being battered is something men and women live with. But violence is never acceptable.  A nurse told me, “Keep your chin up.”

Those aren’t answers. Those are slightly supportive statements. I am grateful for them though.

In retrospect it would be helpful to ask me privately if I want my husband or partner to leave.  It would be helpful to give me paper and pen and let me write things down. I often put that I was depressed and in pain. It was rarely addressed but occasionally doctors filled me with antidepressants to numb my life circumstances.

How do emergency responders and healthcare providers help patients like me? You treat me like a person.  You look me in the eye.  And you don’t assume that I’m an idiot or deserve my life circumstances.  I didn’t deserve what happened to me.  And, I didn’t pick the fights.  Often, he came home and drank. Or he came home and wanted to exert power.  And I didn’t leave because I thought if I loved him enough he would change. And I also truly was afraid and lived in fear for my own life and didn’t know how I would live.

This is a complex and difficult situation to discuss.  Every family and situation is different. I think some doctors assume that patients who are in higher socioeconomic class who are more educated have access to more services and assistance.  But as I’ve discussed, that isn’t always the case.  Control is control and power is power.  I was cut off and I was sick and I was afraid and my life shattered and shattered and shattered.

I needed my doctors to do more for me than hand me antidepressants.  Those of you who were willing to hug me, listen to me, believe me, or spend a little more time with me in the room, I am grateful.  You were the ones who humanized me and made me feel like I was a real person.  It has taken time to sort through, heal, and carry on.

Melissa Travis blogs at Living With Lupus- But Dying of Everything Else.

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