I never finished The New Jim Crow, that critical masterpiece so artfully composed by Michelle Alexander. The book lays before the reader the makings of America's resurrected caste system where undesirables are rounded up and penned into for-profit prisons across the country. It's appalling, painfully well researched, and terribly difficult to stomach. I made it little over half-way through, barely dipping my toe into the dark waters of the American tradition of oppression founded on anything that's convenient to identify in people. Gender, national origin, faith practices, health concerns, the list rolls on ad infintium.
Like I said, I dipped my toe into the tide pool. I waded in ankle deep and felt the riptide tugging on my pant-legs. There are monsters who hunt in the shallows, not sharks or stinging urchins -wade too far in, and death won't come from a misplaced bite or an infected pierce on the sole. No, that's too simple. I speak of monsters made so because their way of life is cumbersome to our own. The monsters depicted here are self-made. The dark pull of my own racial insecurity, of a lifetime of being white and female in the Midwestern middle-class are those that lap at my feet, tempting me with open maws to step further into reality. Into the millions of punctured and bleeding souls subsisting on hepatitis and a daily dose of systemic abuse. We know about it, and we know it's wrong.
Alas, all of that isn't even why I'm here, sniffing into my monitor. I am here, as words on your screen, because the screaming monologues inside my head have been interrupting themselves for months, answering their own bleating plea for the root of injustice. Why do they do it? The CEOs that crippled our nation preempting the 2008 Recession, the men and women robbing, corralling, and murdering the communities they'd rather not understand, and the unique and creative ways in which a constant portion of well-to-do society brazenly walks over civil rights protected by law writ and approved by the People and payed for in blood by many other, forgotten people? Aren't there laws that protect us? Yes, of course there are. What modern nation doesn't profess laws that safeguard their citizenry?
We all know that doesn't mean jack unless those trespassing those laws are held accountable. We are a nation of a great many opportunities and an even greater list of basic human rites that allow me, a gay female, to be both educated and successful, and also to marry to the woman I love. Percentage wise, let's not overlook the many blessings set on our door. Alright then, let's stop beating around this uncomfortable bush.
I am here, in your mind's eye to share a story encapsulating the reason why so many injustices are permitted in wide-angle view of the American judicial system: They do it because they can, and they can do it because we allow them to. I'm not even going to mention our Great Overlords mucking things up on the east coast- there's not enough RAM on any computer designed to host that much raw emotion on any one blog. My name, lovely reader, is Victoria Marie Kaufman. This is one of my stories.
In 2018, I collapsed from a severe back injury while in the field. The case was opened by the Department of Labor & Industries, and eventually, I received back surgery that fixed me up right, and soon my case will be closed. While all of that was going on, I saw a doctor in the city I relocated to for my most recent job, in Spokane. A surgeon in Spokane accepted my case, then when I saw him again, decided that my having an attorney and being an L&I case, was simply something he didn't want to deal with. He was a cutter who cured people with a knife, and didn't have time to mess around with paranoid emotional young women with lawyers. That's not even an opinion- he outright told me to get rid of my attorney after lecturing me on how suspicious it made me as a patient and how he didn't want to deal with it. He wanted to treat me and move on.
I was seeing a therapist at the time, processing some of that middle-class traumatic shit that every person alive eventually has to either fess-up to in themselves or decide to pawn off as internalized pain onto anyone else willing to carry it for them. I don't know if that's a fair extremism, and just using the word extremism probably means I know it's disproportionate to the event. I'm given to believe we all have some shit a therapist could help us navigate. So, anyway. This surgeon decides after taking my case that he doesn't, in fact, want my case. That puts him in sort of a sticky bind, given that he had a moral and ethical obligation to do right by my care. This next part I can only report from the facts I physically have.
I had a nerve test done, and Dr. MiddleAgeWhiteGuy sends me a letter to review the results. In it, he mentions that he got a letter authorizing him to shove his big 'ole ego-masterbators into my digital medical records. Where he found the notes my therapist made during our sessions together. And then, ladies, gentlemen, non-binaries, and that one human who identifies as a galaxy, he read them. Then openly discriminated against me for what he saw. He explicitly listed several of my deeply personal concerns like (why lie?) my bouts of insomnia, thoughts of self harm, fears about the duration of my job, and other first-world general stressors that almost everyone I know also experiences. What can we expect from a generation drowning in debt, a racially-based caste system, and our grand Cheeto in Chief being a known rapist? I have it on good authority that it is not just me, carrying around this load of grief and emotional turmoil.
Circling back to my story: In my immediate (and understandable) panic upon getting this letter, I contacted my therapist and psychiatrist to confront them about this egregious lapse in consent to releasing my information. They were both floored. Not only was consent to access my files not given, my practitioners didn't even know the name of my L&I surgeon. Dr. MiddleAgeWhiteGuy had the same access to my digital medical records as every other doctor on the EPIC medical record system, the difference is that he did not have the same scruples. There are rules about looking in someone's files. There are rules about who is permitted what access and under which circumstances. In this age of information-powered influence, rules are just about all we have to carve out a moral island in a sea of social possibilities.
Of course, I went and saw both of these practitioners. They shared their fury and offered to severe ties with the doctor's organization. They told me to get a lawyer. I asked them to pump the breaks, and spoke to my current attorney. Meanwhile, Dr. MiddleAgeWhiteGuy is still reading my therapy notes. In fact, not just reading them, but somehow actually keeping tabs on them. Four days after I went to speak with my therapist, who pointedly treated my resurgence of symptoms resulting from this obtuse violation, I received another letter. Yes, he sent me another letter. He put all of this in writing. My second letter did not include a reference to my torturous nerve conduction test. It did not say much, actually. What it did say was that, after seeing the notes that I had gone to my therapist about his non-consensual reading of my personal pains and fears, he decided that I was too unstable to work with. He no longer felt comfortable working with me. Let me say that again, because I actually had to stop to choke on a vomitous laugh of ripe, putrefying emotional rawness just now: He. Felt. Uncomfortable. Poor, poor Dr. MiddleAgeWhiteGuy.
Naturally, I asked for my medical records, or any proof that he was telling to truth about being given (or thinking he was given) access to my files. None to be found. Beyond that, my medical records were refused me. My legal, accessible, inalienable medical records that any citizen in America has 100% guaranteed access to, were held hostage by his organization. It took a fancy legal request from my current attorney just to have their copies made available to me. You know what evidence I found that Dr. MiddleAgeWhitGuy had to molest and injure my personal healing journey in those hard-to-acquire files? Not a lick. There was never a letter from any counselor I'd seen. Never a mention, in fact, of any permissions outside of the two letters he sent me.A bold-faced lie from a successful white man with nothing to fear from anyone, patient, lawyer, or otherwise. This is where the hard facts stop and my zeal picks the story up again. He wanted an excuse to drop my case from his load and he found one. Never mind that how he constructed his justification was legal, amoral, a gross misuse of the EPIC system, and an insult to all practicing therapists who trust in their patient's safety in being vulnerable with them.
This story has a happy ending, though, don't think I've forgotten you, lovely reader.
I've call so many attorneys for malpractice and civil rights in Spokane, that I genuinely lost count. Seattle and Tacoma, too. Fellas on the west side are too busy with rape/botched surgery cases from surgeons. All the Spokanites said it was a "conflict of interest." I called the Washington Ombudsman to report the violation of my human rights. They said they could only help me if my therapist or psychiatrist were the ones who had broken HIPAA. I filed a complaint with the Department of Health, complete with both copies of the incriminating letters and all. They ruled that it wasn't their responsibility as it wasn't sexual misconduct, a botched surgery, or indicative of a pattern to hurt patients. On the grounds that this was a "personal disagreement between physician and patient" they denied my request for accountability. The Human Resources Department for his network won't take me calls, or return them. For that matter, neither will the hospital out of which he works.
So that's it. Dr. MiddleAgeWhiteGuy gets away with it. If he wants to discriminate against my mental health, the L&I status of my back injury, the fact that he stared discomforted by my holding hands with my supportive girlfriend the entire time he berated me for having an attorney, or the fact that I am a woman who openly allowed tears to roll down my face in front of him while relating that I hadn't been able to sleep or take a dump because of the inflammation in my back- he can. Why did he do it? From discussions with other professionals, one of who held up the letter to the tune of "this is the stupidest thing I have ever seen a physician do, to openly discriminate, break HIPAA, and put it in writing...he could lose his license," I know that laws were broken. Everyone I have turned to, none of whom can move against him, agree wholeheartedly that it is clearly illegal, discriminatory, and a willful act of an inflated white, male surgeon.
The answer swims in circles were the tide pool of self-awareness breaks into the oceanic depth of socioeconomic realism: he did it because he could, and he gets away with it because we, the People, let him.
My happy ending to share with you is this:
Dear Dr. ShitForBrains,
You done fucked up. I have inarguable proof that you have taken a personal distaste for lawyers, L&I cases, and diagnosable mental illness to the extreme of open discrimination. It took me an extra four months to get surgery that has put me on the road to recovery. You have cost me hundreds of dollars in treatment for the conditions you claim make me unsuitable for surgery. Not to mention time lost at work and income I will never get back. You did all of this without consequence. You have the power, influence, and reputation that protects you and gives you authority to be something of a surgical cowboy; running around and beating the undesirables out of their rights and property to run your cattle through to market. These are things I will not forget.
And for all of them, I forgive you. I am on the mend from surgery, about to marry the most incredible woman you'd only hope to know, and building a future for myself doing something I am both good at and truly love. Your violations have touched me, injured me, yes. You violated me. Historically, you are not the only one but, doctor, you will be the last. I am stronger than your fear. I am stronger than the knife that makes you strong. I am not alone. I have youth on my side and a great deal of time to remember you. Remember you without allowing you to render any more hurt upon my life. Remember you for being a highly-rated doctor. Remember you for making me stronger. Remember you for the way you were disgusted at my legal representation and at the tears I was unashamed to shed. Pain hurts, and so I cry. When you hurt me, I did, also, cry into the arms of a friend, a sister, a brother, a partner, and yes, a therapist.
I forgave you because my anger had no purpose, it corroded my attention to love and justice. I forgave you because the best revenge is a happy life lived. I forgave you because you are the embodiment of the still all powerful freedom of white men to do anything and everything they please, as long as it suits their means. I know better white men than you. He is a carpenter with two daughters, he is a lawyer with three sons, he is a scientist who sings with birds, he teaches me how to dance, he is my friend, he is my confidant, he is a safe place for my fears and joys as I journey through life. He is unafraid of handing over his privileged opportunity to those who do not have it and to give the floor and space for others to speak. You will keep healing those spines of which you approve. Good, a great many will need you. With your ill deed, I hope to further awareness of the importance of accountability. Of the laws that are there to keep us safe from people like you.
This Bitch, MS
Where would we be if doctors were permitted to treat everyone based on discrimination? They do, of course. Black folks are still dying from medical negligence at an alarming rate. How do we hope to relieve our society of the millions rotting in prison for holding less weed than the amount that fraternity boys at my university used to tip their cooks with? For the children dying of cold and neglect at the border? Maybe we are there already, a world without accountability. I don't pretend to know. I am a biologist and I understand birds.
There are scans of these letters, naturally, and JPEGS, emails, and hard copies all squirreled away for safeguarding. I have the medical license number of this doctor. I have his picture and his notes on my visits. I will not give them to you because, if I had to convince you of my story, you would not be my intended audience.
Be good to each other, friends. And speak up for those who have their voices stolen. The day has yet begun to shine on a brighter world.
With love and nothing else,
Victoria M Kaufman, MS