I’m a final year medical student, and from where I stand right now, I know medicine saves life, because that is what I see.
But… one morning, one tiring lecture hour, my professor had to remind me of the Tuskegee Syphilis study during his class on the very topic. I used to be very bright in history, recent times, my topics of interests have shifted over to medicine, my course, since naturally it is supposed to make me a better doctor.
If you don’t know the about Tuskegee syphilis study, let me give you the idea, people actually made a study during the great depression, where they told black men affected with syphilis they would be offered free healthcare, and did the exact opposite of that, just to study the course of that very long disease.
It happened during the great depression right, why are you still agitated by it? Because my friend, it continued till the 70s and I’ve been taught that history is learnt, because it shouldn’t be repeated.
Sounds bad? There was an even worser, Guatemalan study where they injected people with syphilis, for godsake.
Later that day being in obs and gyn postings, while I was wearing my gloves ready to use the Sim’s speculum I wondered, how many people has this very speculum killed. The guy who operated on black slave women without anesthesia (and obviously their consent too) because he “believed” they didn’t feel pain, killed their newborns and blamed the mothers for being “slothy” for contracting tetanus which actually owed to the bad environmental conditions their slave workers put them in, came with this very speculum.
Unfortunately, the father of modern gynecology, that didn’t see humans but indeed color they were born with.
Was it only him? Sadly, no.
“Berta was a female patient in the Psychiatric Hospital… in February 1948, Berta was injected in her left arm with syphilis. A month later, she developed scabies (an itchy skin infection cause by a mite). Several weeks later, Dr. Cutler noted that she also developed red bumps where he had injected her arm, lesions on her arms and legs, and her skin was beginning to waste away from her body. Berta was not treated for syphilis until three months after her injection. Soon after, on August 23, Dr. Cutler wrote that Berta appeared as if she was going to die, but he did not specify why. That same day he put gonorrheal pus from another male subject into both of Berta’s eyes, as well as in her urethra and rectum. He also re-infected her with syphilis. Several days later, Berta’s eyes were filled with pus from the gonorrhea, and she was bleeding from her urethra. Three days later, on August 27, Berta died.” An excerpt from the notes of Guaremalean study. Sounds like V for Vendetta in the worst way I would think of.
How to forget our very own, forced sterilization camps, that claimed lives owing to botched surgeries and not sp similarly recent deaths in a sterilization camp keep reminding us, that we still live under a regime that pushed for the ban of oxytocin, a life saving drug in pregnancies, because it is apparently to abuse a certain animal. And not to even start with the abuse of refugees, prisoners and minorities all over the world.
As I remove my gloves, I still see remnants of blood that these inhumane forefathers of medicine and those who had ruled has left behind
My gloves, you see, could be discarded, so could be the blood of toil that they have left. Will we?
Ps : The relevance of this whole write up is when I see hatred, communal, racial,lingual, casteist or in any damn way (which unfortunately I see more recently, than I had ever ), I fear, and on remembering the history, that fear amplifies. And if you think history and politics are not related to healthcare, kindly compare healthcare indices of states or countries with different political backgrounds and decide for yourself, I hope you see a pattern there.