After going without for nearly two years, getting health care coverage through my former full time employer was a huge deal.
I took full advantage of affordable visits to a variety of specialists for preventative maintenance, and a trip to the urologist was the last one on my list before I knew I would be losing my job and insurance. I was a chronic UTI sufferer and the dangerous combo of paranoia and self-diagnosis led me to believe there was probably an inoperable reason for my on-and-off suffering. I finally settled on a well-known practice after reading about one of their female practitioners, and a week later headed for my early morning appointment.
I sat in their lobby (without wifi or cell service) and fiddled with an AARP magazine out of boredom. I looked downright haggard by my standards, and checked out the dark circles under my eyes in my pocket mirror. I was surrounded by mostly old people, so I felt pretty uncomfortable from the get go. After a few minutes, I was finally called up to a little cubicle to check in. I made friendly chit chat with the clerk at the desk. He couldn’t have been much older than me, and took an interest in the details on my chart. He asked me some pretty standard medical questions, like if I smoked or not, and accepted my co-pay.
I could see him scanning my profile on the computer when he asked me a couple questions about my job, which at the time was in politics. It was the back and forth small talk that made me feel like the doctor’s appointment was less of an inconvenience. I could see him look at the photo in my profile on the computer, then my face, then back again, like a cartoon character with bulging eyes doing an exaggerated double take. I shrugged it off. He finished with my charts, and I reminded him to vote.
After I left the appointment feeling happy about my good health, I headed out of the building. Once outside, I got cell service back and noticed I had a new friend request on Facebook from someone with whom I had no mutual friends. I unlocked my car, sat down and looked at my phone. I checked his photo in full, and realized it was the medical clerk. My stomach started to sink. I started my car and drove to work, but I felt sick.
I was dumbfounded and upset at the thought of someone with access to my personal medical records, Social Security number, and contact information looking me up (while he was still at work) to creep on me. I looked at the name and photo 10 times or more to make sure it was him. I couldn’t believe it, but there it was on my phone. I immediately began to worry I had done something to provoke this or bring it on myself.
But that wasn’t the case. I would have carried out our conversation with anyone, male or female, medical employee or not. Nothing in my manner or tone should have made him feel like he had permission to use my personal information to contact me for anything other than business strictly related to my visit. The fact this happened at my urologist’s office only disturbed me further. The clerk knew I was there for what could’ve been a really serious, even scary issue.
This was some grade A asshole behavior.
In the hours following my appointment, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of distrust in a space where I should have felt comfortable and secure. I called my mom and boyfriend and cried. My boyfriend was angry, and my mom, a nurse herself, confirmed that this was extremely inappropriate. They encouraged me to take action. I was afraid of the potential repercussions; the guy did have access to all my information, and could essentially find me anywhere. What if he decided to go a step further and find me offline?
I called and emailed a screenshot of the friend request to the office manager. On the phone, she was silent, and then shocked. She told me this had never happened in the history of their practice. She thought he was a good guy, and a good employee. She apologized profusely, in a manner that seemed like she was doing some serious damage control. I got off the phone, left work early and stewed over what happened for the rest of the afternoon. I got a follow-up call the next day from someone in their HR department.
The office took administrative action against the clerk and assured me I would never see him again. I knew deep down I did the right thing (he could keep doing this to other women), but I still felt a twisted sense of guilt for getting someone fired. I started to buy into the idea that I was making a big deal out of nothing. People make mistakes, and maybe he didn’t understand the gravity of his. But then again, maybe he did.
A doctor’s office is supposed to be a place of strict confidentiality, where you feel secure and open enough to share your most personal issues. A visit to the gynecologist or urologist is even more sacred, because those visits can be embarrassing or difficult for a lot of women to discuss.
We’re supposed to feel encouraged and empowered to take charge of our reproductive health, not afraid that we’ll be exploited by men in the process.