Saturday, February 14, 2009

When Professional Oaths Mean Nothing And Male Power Means Everything

So, this may be a little off topic, but I have to vent. Today, my friend and I were in a *minor* car accident. The weather was horrible and we got stuck as we were trying to turn a corner. My friend was outside of the car trying to push it, while I was inside the car, when we were rear-ended.

We weren’t hurt, but my friend wanted to call the police so that they could take a report. The person who rear-ended us did not want my friend to call the police because she did not want *more* points on her license and was driving her friend’s car.

We waited quite awhile for a police officer to arrive. When he showed up, he was attitudinal and belligerent, and there was clearly an issue of power. The police officer let the other driver off because she was cute and upset, worried that her driving record would be ruined. A quintessential damsel in distress.

It ended up that while we were waiting for things to get figured out, two more cars crashed, luckily not into us. The police officer told us that we should leave the scene because the situation was dangerous, and that if we really wanted to file a report, we could go to the police station to do it.

So that’s what my friend and I did, feeling that the officer had acted inappropriately and not done his job. At the station, the power dynamic only worsened. The police officer there really wasn’t taking things seriously.

When we went to the police station to file a report, the police officer seemed very confused about what had happened, as were we. The officer there called the officer who had reported to the scene and kept saying things such as “supposedly” and “they claim.”

This took me back to two experiences in relation to my health that I would rather forget. The first is my first rheumatologist appointment, when I felt like a deer in headlights. I was in a total fog, like this can’t possibly be happening to me. Similarly, this whole situation is completely shocking. Here, we were victims being treated like we had done something wrong.

The second is when I got my medical records. My CT scan report read, “22-year old female complaining of right flank pain.” This “complaining” was seen completely as hearsay, suggesting that the pain was not really believed and the only way to substantiate it was via the CT scan, just as our report of the accident was seen as not true, because the responding officer hadn’t filed a report.

Finally, I told the officer at the station that he wasn’t listening to us, and that this wasn’t so much about the damage to the car, but how the situation was handled. Basically, mid-sentence, the officer got very forceful with his language and told me to “go take a seat.”

Need I remind you that I’m 4’11” and 90 pounds? My language wasn’t half as forceful as the officer’s was. I was simply trying to make a point, but of course, the officer was not going to admit that he or the responding officer were being blatantly sexist and that’s why they weren’t taking the situation seriously. And when the police officer at the station asked for my information, he clearly wasn’t listening and I had to repeat the information no less than three times.

Just like doctors, police officers and other public safety personnel are supposed to serve and protect. But this doesn’t always happen, which is clearly the case here. Plus it’s nearly as difficult to get a copy of a police report, as it is to get your medical records. And it’s your own personal information.

Police officers, upon receiving their diplomas take the following oath, “I will preserve the dignity and will respect the rights of all individuals […] I will discharge my duties with integrity and will promote understanding and conciliation […] I will act with honesty, courtesy and regard for the welfare of others, and will endeavor to develop the esprit de corps […].”

This is strikingly similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors. Observe:

“I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug […] Above all, I must not play at God […] I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick […] I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm […].”

It’s odd to connect two seemingly separate spheres of life, but I think this is an apt comparison, and a very unfortunate one.

I think in all of this, sometimes doctors and police officers act as if they are above the oaths they take, and if not that, that they are more powerful and worthy of respect than their patients and community members. Sometimes the need for respect and compassion takes a backseat to power and control, in times when the patient or community member needs it most.

I guess I thought that America in 2009 was a little bit more progressive than it is. Just as I don’t deserve to be treated like some dumb kid by my male rheumatologist, I don’t deserve to be treated like an overly emotional female by a cop with a giant male ego.

Not only is this situation disheartening, but it is emotionally draining, as well. The treatment by the officers was much more emotionally damaging than the accident itself. And that just isn’t right. If you can’t see it, it didn’t happen or doesn’t exist. Puts a whole new meaning on invisibility.

While I am thankful that no one involved in this mess was physically hurt, the demeaning treatment and feelings of powerlessness will last for a long time.


  1. sorry to hear about it. have you considered a letter to the editor of you local paper? that might bring some attention to the issue.

  2. The letter to the editor is a good idea, and definitely something to consider. Thanks!