Susan P. Blevins
I had the worst health of my life when I was twenty-three. An obligatory medical examination for employment at the UN in Rome revealed an ovarian cyst, which was removed in England, where I was born, but the job was botched. Eleven months later I had a peritonitis and nearly bled to death. The cyst had reincarnated in multiples, so I had to have emergency surgery in Rome, where I was already working. They removed everything in sight on the right side of my female apparatus.
Between the first and second surgeries I developed hepatitis B, probably from a blood transfusion during the English operation. This I self-diagnosed, and ended up in the Policlinico hospital on the outskirts of Rome. I was put in an isolation ward with all the choleras, malarias, typhoids and other infectious diseases. There were not only bars on my window, but a dry moat with railings on the far side, so it was absolutely impossible to have contact with anyone on the outside.
I was very sick, and spent my days sleeping, and immobile. They didn’t want me moving around, not even walking to the adjoining bathroom, because every time I moved, they told me a few cells would shake loose from my liver. They also wanted me to stay very calm and free of any stress or anxiety.
My skin was yellow, my eyes were yellow, I drank yellow chamomile tea, my wastes were yellow, and I was very, very tired. I had my personally assigned young doctor, Aldo, who took daily care of me. The chief of medicine had his grand walkthrough every couple of days, usually around 11 a.m., with his retinue of my Aldo, students, and nurses.
As the days turned into weeks (I ultimately stayed there nearly two months), I noticed that the chief of medicine was making his inspection earlier and earlier. He was a man who seemed incredibly old to me at the time, but was probably in his early sixties, and he was very pleasant.
One morning, at around 7 a.m., the door opened, and in walked the chief of medicine, alone, not flanked by his usual coterie of followers. I was just waking, and expressed my surprise to see him. He told me he had a very full day ahead of him and wanted to check up on me to make sure I was recuperating well.
He came over to my bed and asked me to pull up my regulation nightdress. This had been given to me by the sisters who ran the hospital because my own night attire was considered too outrageous. I obliged by pulling the hem up to my navel, awaiting the examination I presumed would follow.
He proceeded to palpate me, first on the liver, but surprisingly progressing lower and lower until he was palpating my pudenda. I was surprised by this, but at that tender age, too innocent to sense this was not the correct protocol.
He then asked me in what I can only describe as a strangulated voice to “turn over.”
The next thing I knew, his teeth were in my buttocks and he was kissing, biting, and squeezing them. He muttered breathlessly that it was a long time that he had wanted to do this, how beautiful I was, and how long he had desired me.
In moments of stress I become very English. I reached up and pulled the bell cord for the nurse to come in, and said to him calmly, “If you’ve finished your examination, doctor, you can leave now.” When he left the room all my British sangfroid exited with him and I went into the bathroom and vomited, crying uncontrollably. I was already very weak and emotionally fragile as a result of the hepatitis, and this pushed me over the edge. This incident set back my recovery by a few weeks.
I told Aldo later that day that I was going to report the Chief, but he begged me not to. He told me that the Chief had recently been widowed, that he was retiring in just six months, and that my reporting him would ruin his pension and reputation.
Being young and naive, I allowed myself to be persuaded. Women in Italy in the sixties had not yet been liberated, so I assented to his request, though in retrospect I regret my decision.
I just wonder how many other women he bit on the bum before he retired.