Recently, in a doctor’s surgery, I had what I now call my very own “Tim Hunt Moment.” (You remember Tim? Biochemist, Nobel Laureate and really poor joke teller? He who told an audience of female scientists in Korea recently that “his trouble with girls” in laboratories is that “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them they cry?” That Tim Hunt. The now unemployed Tim Hunt.)
Anyway, in much in the same way as the Tim Hunt fiasco unfolded, the doctor with whom I had my appointment decided to bring a bit of “wit” to the occasion. A bit of levity to what otherwise promised to be a fairly humourless 10 minute session. I was, after all, only after a referral for a mammogram the next day, a tricky scenario to make into a rollicking good time, wouldn’t you say?
But this particular man was not to be deterred. This doctor was going to be funny whether I liked it or not. And I definitely didn’t like it.
Now, before I go on, let me say that it’s not that I don’t love a good joke. I do. But I really can’t bear a bad one. Especially one which is so bad, so sexist, so totally inappropriate that I later find myself wondering whether to report him for having told it. And therein lies my Just-Like-Tim-Hunt conundrum.
I went to the doctor for a simple referral and I emerged a short time later being asked, in effect, whether I wanted to be a part of quite possibly ruining a man’s reputation, career, income, family – his life. All because, apparently, he had been blind to the fact that he was doing a fine old job of ruining it himself.
Here is how it went down: I discovered the day before my scheduled mammogram that I did not have a current referral. I telephoned my family GP only to be told that he was booked solidly for the day and that as it was simply a referral I needed why didn’t I pop in to see another Doctor. I agreed.
I had never seen this doctor before and did not know him except in passing. We had never exchanged words. He had no idea of my sense of humour, or lack of it. I had no idea of his. Humour is not one of the attributes I look for in my medicos. I seldom go to the doctor for a laugh.
So in I go.
The doctor, a child of the 1950s like myself I’m guessing, ushered me to a seat and I explained why I was there and what I wanted. He called up my history on his computer and started to chat to me, a sort of getting-to-know-you interaction with the focus on breast health and what I was doing to maintain mine.
And then, he decided to be “funny.” To have a joke. Swinging around on his chair to look at me, the doctor asked if I had a partner. I said I did. One of almost 35 years standing.
“So, does he play with your fun bags?” he asked, a big grin taking over his face.
Fun bags? Say what? It felt as though time stood still as I tried to process exactly what I had heard. (The main problem at this point was that because I didn’t know what fun bags were, I had no idea whether I had any. That being the case, I could not tell the doctor whether my husband did in fact play with them. Or not.)
And then the penny started to drop. It was a slow but horrible realization. The doctor I had come to for my mammogram referral was talking about my breasts. The fun bags he referred to as my husband’s play things were my breasts. This was, apparently, his idea of being funny.
I was shocked. I was also, to be honest, disappointed – yes, as much as it galls me to admit this, I was almost as disappointed in myself as in him. Instead of getting to my feet and leaving, or instead of telling him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his behaviour, I sat in the chair, nervously, awkwardly tittering, hoping that he would just write the referral so I could go.
But he was just getting warmed up. He advised me that if I let my husband “play with my fun bags” in the name of breast cancer research, I could get my revenge by “shoving a finger up his rear end” in the name of the prostate cancer cause. Ye gads!
Mercifully, by the time I arrived home, it was close enough to the legitimate drinking hour that I could open a bottle of wine. A number of glasses later, I decided to call my own GP. I had realized I was feeling truly unnerved. I also realized that if a worldly and mature woman such as myself could be subjected to and reel from such “humour” then Heaven help the more vulnerable female out there.
Over the phone, I explained to my GP him what had happened and he was appalled. He apologized on his colleagues’ behalf and asked if I wanted to take this further. It was not only not funny, it was a reportable incident.
I felt better for the telling – as though I had taken some of my power back ; my GP had committed to counselling him about what had happened and so I said no. Rightly or wrongly, I would not report him. I did not want this doctor to lose his job, his livelihood. For his family to be hurt.
I just wanted him to know that not only was he not funny, he was in fact inappropriate and unprofessional, that he had, intentionally or otherwise, turned a medical condition and request into something sexualized and tawdry. And that he must never do it again.
He had done something that left me feeling violated. Something that brought to mind the phrase “physician heal thyself”. No laughing matter.