Betty J. Wytias
It was 1984. The George Orwellian prophecies had not come to pass. But I was living in a world of bewilderment and bereavement all my own.
My physician, “Dr. Mary Jones,” called one night to tell me that the various tests had come back about my mental affliction. It seemed that every time I heard a loud noise, my neighbors were slamming doors and hollering, the dog madly chased a squirrel with his teeth gnashing, I heard a scream in the night, I would be reduced to inconsolable tears, sometimes shaking, paralyzed with inexplicable grief, unable to think or work. Dr. Mary called to tell me I was suffering from acute post-traumatic stress syndrome. My first husband, Peter, had died after an excruciating blood disease in 1976.
Dr. Mary asked gentle but probing questions as it did not seem to her that the death of my husband, Peter, quite explained the severity of my reactions, especially after so many years. I then told her that in the years I was married to Peter, he lied to me, he brainwashed me into thinking I was stupid, ugly – yet he was incurably jealous – and beat me so severely that once when I took him to the Emergency Room for his monthly blood transfusions, the ER staff thought I was the one being admitted – I lied and said I had been in a car crash. I told Dr. Mary more about his brutality, about his extraordinary talent – and mine - for not letting the rest of the world know.
Dr. Mary then told me about this wonderful female psychiatrist with whom she was scheduling an appointment for me the very next day. And then there would be a group of PTSD counselors and support groups with whom appointments would be made. It was at a medical clinic where physicians, dentists, nurses, donated their time to provide medical, dental and, for those qualified to do so, psychological care for battered women and their children, and on a sliding scale.
The clinic was also a “one-stop shopping” center—vouchers for daycare, law students who matched clients with pro bono lawyers to handle the legal issues of battered women. Hairdressers gave free hairstyling services at their salons. I would find out about websites and foundations that arranged for pampering dinners out once a month, fly-fishing retreats, golf tournaments to raise money for shelters, transitional housing, children’s “fun” events, even an annual run/walk in our town to raise money for battered women’s shelters and transitional housing. I thought I was dreaming.
I met with the psychiatrist, “Dr. Stephanie Milstein,” the next day, with my current husband, Robert. She patiently sat with us for over an hour, compassionately explained that I was not alone and that my “prognosis” was good. She explained all of the services and care that were going to (right column)
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be availed me. She gave me a reading list, told me to keep a file, a diary, gave me names of support groups, of organizations that provide nurturing services to domestic violence victims. She left the room to take a call. I turned to my husband and said “I didn’t choose to be a battered woman.” Both of our eyes welled. Because of sadness, but mostly out of extraordinary gratitude that I was—we were—going to be taken such good care of. I slept really well that night.
It was indeed a dream. In 1984, no Dr. Mary’s or Dr. Stephanie’s asked me about my relationship, my bruises, my black eye, the welt on my head. The clinic, the center, the support and services did not exist. But my first husband’s brutality was no dream, rather, it was indeed a living nightmare.
The real “Dr. Mary” in fact called me a July night in 2004; it was to tell me that I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, the most common kind of breast cancer. And that she was scheduling an appointment with a breast surgeon Dr. Stephanie the very next day.
“If only battered women could be pampered with even a fraction of the support that the cancer movement inspires and that the model programs provide, the impact would be incalculable”
Dr. Stephanie patiently, compassionately and zealously met with us for over an hour, giving us resources, telling us about my surgery, appointments with the oncologist and others who would be involved in my care. A model of caregiving. She then left the room for a few moments. I turned to my husband and said, “I didn’t choose this.” I thought, “I didn’t choose to be a battered woman either.”
When Dr. Mary called me after our meeting with Dr. Stephanie, she asked sympathetically how I was doing. My response was simple, “I’m doing great. I’m obviously in great hands. After being beat up by my first husband this sounds like a cakewalk. If only the medical profession—and the rest of the community—paid 1/100th the amount of attention to battered women as they do to cancer patients, it would be revelatory.” Dr. Mary sighed and agreed.
I received TLC from the Cancer Center, always greeted with cheer and tremendous support, managed to laugh my way from one treatment to the next, with my “chemo” buddies. Then when I started radiation, it was like I was going to a spa. Every Thursday, oncological masseuses were on hand—free of charge to the patients—to give soothing, compassionate, peace-inducing massages. No dream. Cancer patients deserve all of this and more. I am convinced my treatments, prognosis and recovery have been so utterly successful due to the extraordinary support of the medical community, my wonderful family, and of all of the other extraordinary supporters out there, not the least my co-workers. Missing work for surgery, treatment, and recovery, I wasn’t at risk of losing my apartment or my job, as are some victims of domestic violence.
But—if only. If only battered women could be pampered with even a fraction of the support that the cancer movement inspires and that the model programs provide, the impact would be incalculable. My journey—and those of others—
Betty Wytias is an Assistant Attorney General in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office representing the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners, Nursing and Podiatry. Betty is also the Attorney General’s Domestic Violence Policy Advisor and sits on numerous committees whose focus is the eradication of domestic violence.