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Photography by Denise Beckwith

“I say it now and a hundred times, I was laying there on the bed. With a big light on top of me, the anesthetist was behind me, and Doctor Smith* bent over and whispered into my ear, ‘I’m going to take your clitoris

 

Women aren’t supposed to blow the whistle, they’re supposed to just go and hide and put a blanket over their head and disappear. I did turn into jelly for two years and then I saw a headline in the local paper “Obstetrician struck off for gross professional misconduct” and I just snapped, I said right, I’m going to get him and I’m going to get the lot of them. But one of the things is with me, I am a living proof of what he did do because you can see what he did do. And I’ve got the medical evidence to say what was wrong with me and what he did. Here it says there was no malignancy, the vulva is otherwise unremarkable. There was nothing wrong with me that couldn’t be cured with a cream.

 

So what was cut out of me was the equivalent of taking off the penis and the scrotum of a male. Now, when a male loses a penis, it’s considered catastrophic, and huge compensation payments are made, because it’s the be all. The family jewels. But if it’s cut out of the equivalent of a woman it doesn’t really matter does it? It’s oh well, doesn’t matter.

 

The length was 95, the width was 55, so that’s in between your legs, and was 34 millimeters deep into me. And I lost one and a half litres of blood, my body temperature went down to 34, which is hypothermia, and my blood pressure went down at, I think it was 82 over 54. It bloody nearly killed me.

 

I want those responsible for the cover up to be held responsible. When Dr Smih was being charged, no previous complaints were allowed to come to the court. If somebody’s raped somebody before, and they’ve been found guilty and then this same person is raped again, that court should be told about the previous thing, because he had been struck off in 1996. He’d been under psychiatric care since 1996. How the hell can they expect, you know, how can you have a place where you don’t consider previous complaints? So what are doctors? Are they a breed that are totally protected? And if you’re a gynaecologist obstetrician, you’ve virtually got open sesame to do whatever you bloody well like. And some of them do. It’s… I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know what else to say.

 

So then Dr Smith* was having legal aid, so all you people who pay your taxes, he got legal aid all the way through for the three and a half weeks for the first trial, three and a half weeks for the second trial, and then went to the Supreme Court, then went to the High Court, and then went to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and he got legal aid all the way through. Then in the end he was let out, because he had some diabetes and they said they couldn’t … his defense lawyer said that he wouldn’t be getting adequate medical attention. I don’t think I need to say anything more.

 

I’ll say it now and I’ll say it a hundred times that I was lying there on the bed with a big light on top of me. The anaesthetist was behind me, and Dr Smith* bent over and whispered in my ear, “I’m going to take your clitoris too.” And then I was gone. Why I read that to you is because they were trying to say that I’d imagined it, trying to say I was making it up and all the rest of it right in the beginning. Also during the trial was a question of why didn’t you complain then? And my answer was who could I complain to? And what about? I mean, I had all the stuffing knocked out of me. It’s more horrifying than you could imagine.”

 

  • Carolyn DeWaegeneire, Australia 2015

 

 

 

*The name of the doctor cannot be named because of other pending criminal charges. Dr Smith is a pseudonym.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sydney Cemetery. The last resting place of a young woman who died because of the incompetence of a man to whom she entrusted her life: her doctor.  The same doctor who went on to mutilate women in the most intimate and disturbing ways while they were undergoing surgery. For years Graeme Dr Smith* was allowed to practice, despite a series of horrific incidences and complaints from hospitals and patients. And even now, the health watchdogs say they can’t or won’t investigate him. Today we ask, are patients adequately protected from mentally ill or grossly incompetent doctors. In 2002, Graeme Dr Smith* lied his way into a job here in the Bega Valley.

 

But no one knew about that Sydney woman who had died, leaving three children motherless because he hadn’t given her simple antibiotics. Dr Smith* also didn’t disclose that following that incident, strict conditions had been imposed on him, including a complete ban on him practicing obstetrics. It was a ban he decided to ignore. In April 2002 Dr Smith* rang the medical board telling them he was working in the Bega Valley, but only as a gynecologist. Dr Smith* was lying again. The job meant he’d also be working as an obstetrician. But neither his new employer nor the medical board checked to see he was telling the truth. But signs of a real problem with Dr Smith* were there if anyone had bothered to look. In 2000 Sydney Hornsby had confidentially warned the Medical Board that “Dr Smith* is displaying unpredictable behaviour, dysfunctionality and unsatisfactory manner with staff and patients. The hospital has decided it is inappropriate to continue the granting of any clinical privileges within the hospital”.

 

The same month that Dr Smith* announced he was moving to Bega, the Medical Board’s performance committee heard another patient’s complaint about Dr Smith*. It recommended, “An assessment of Dr Smith*’ gynecological practice should be conducted”.

 

But the Medical Board didn’t investigate Dr Smith* until much later that year. By then, it was too late for Caroline.  A few months after Dr Smith* arrived in Bega, she was sent to him to check out a small sore she had noticed on her genital area. Her surgery was to be anything other than the minor op she’d expected. When she woke, Caroline was devastated. Dr Smith* had removed all of her external genitalia. At this time, alarm bells were ringing elsewhere. Dr Smith*’ employer, the Southern area Health Service, rang the Medical Board, seeking advice about their new doctor, who they said is “difficult, demanding and unreasonable in the operating theatres”.

 

They realised Dr Smith* had lied about his right to perform obstetrics and so in July 2004 the NSW Medical Tribunal ordered Dr Smith* be struck off as a doctor for three years. The Medical Tribunal knew nothing about what had happened to Caroline or the other women in the Bega Valley. Though it deregistered him, the tribunal ruled there was no suggestion that any of Dr Smith*’ patients there were harmed by his lack of skill of competence. But no one asked Caroline or the other woman. And the first Caroline knew of Dr Smith* being struck off was when she read about it in a local newspaper. Still looking for answers nearly 2 years after her operation, Caroline decided to investigate Dr Smith*. She demanded a copy of her Medical file from Pambula Hospital, near Merimbula, where the surgery had been carried out. To her shock, she learned that apart from the tiny lesion that she had gone to Dr Smith* to have removed, everything else that had been taken by him had been perfectly healthy. She’d been mutilated for no reason. Wanting other women to know what had happened, Caroline told her story anonymously to her local paper.

 

She soon found out she wasn’t the only victim of Dr Smith*. One afternoon in a Bega park, four of the women met for the first time. But these women who are now bravely speaking out about their experiences at Dr Smith*’ hands are unlikely to ever get the investigation they want. The Medical Board says it can’t investigate because Dr Smith* is not currently registered. The Healthcare Complaints Commission says it has other priorities. The Medical board rejected one solution, mandatory reporting, as a way of dealing with the problem. That would mean all medical staff would be legally required to report incompetent doctors. Now there’s an official indication that this could be a good idea after all.

 

There is one final, cruel, twist for Caroline. She won substantial damages against Dr Smith* for his gross negligence during her surgery, but it turns out Dr Smith* has no money. And even though he was covered by the medical insurer, when he operated on Caroline, they now won’t pay out, denying liability because Caroline made her claim after he was deregistered.

 

Ross Coulthart

Investigative reporter

Nine TV Network Australia

 

 

*The name of the doctor cannot be named because of other pending criminal charges. Dr Smith is a pseudonym.