The Fairfield Wives

Dr. John Parkinson, a civic and religious leader in the perfectly suburban town of Fairfield, told women they needed pelvic exams. Long exams. Several times a week. For years. And they believed him.

"I was like a beetle with my rear end up in the air," she recalls.
Parkinson also prescribed low-grade antibiotics, which he had Atkinson take for more than a year. And the doctor directed Atkinson to come for office visits at least three times a week. Each time, he had her climb up on the examining table, feet in stirrups, while he put his fingers inside her vagina to perform a pelvic exam. Sometimes he'd have her squeeze his fingers and told her she needed to do more such Kegel exercises to tighten up her muscles. Sometimes he said that she had a yeast infection, for which he'd insert cream into, and rub around, her vagina. (Parkinson never gave Atkinson a prescription, so she could apply the cream at home.)

Afterward, Atkinson would get dressed and walk into Parkinson's office, which was so cluttered with magazines and medical journals and papers and whatnot that she'd have to clear a path to a chair. On the way, she could see Parkinson in a dark, laboratory-type room, looking through a microscope. He would join Atkinson in his office, lean across the desk, and tell her, gently and sincerely, that she was very sick. She had inflammatory cells, he would say.

The doctor assured her that he would take her under his wing and make her well. And he would accept whatever her insurance would pay. But she had to continue to see him regularly.

"I was convinced he was my only hope," she explains. "I trusted him because he was a member of the church, and he knew I wanted to get well so that I could have another child."

As the weeks went on, Atkinson continued to take the antibiotics, along with some other medications Parkinson prescribed. She was cramped and plugged and in terrible pain. Often, she would be up for two or three hours at night, either pacing or sitting on the toilet.

"At one point, I was shaking, it hurt so bad. Nothing could come out of my body," she says. "I remember laying in bed one night imagining that I could reach up and touch God's hand."

Atkinson became increasingly nervous about leaving the house. She started looking at her watch from the moment she sat down in a temple ceremony -- a highly sacred event that generally lasts about two hours -- and often had to walk out amid the questioning looks of her sisters and brothers in the church.

People began to talk.
Among other reasons, people talked because Atkinson solicited advice from almost anyone who would listen. She brought it up at women's group meetings and potlucks. She talked to other women on the phone. Had they ever had anything like this?

"People would say little things like, 'Yeah, it's a lot of stress with three kids,' like I was crazy, or a hypochondriac, or something."

Eventually, Atkinson called a church member who was a nurse, and who asked Atkinson a lot of questions about Parkinson's procedure. The nurse didn't like what she heard. She told Atkinson to see another doctor. But Atkinson defended Parkinson. The nurse, she reasoned, must not understand what Parkinson was doing.

Meanwhile, the frequent visits to the doctor's office were becoming impossible to manage. Atkinson would usually go see Parkinson in the morning, when her husband could come home and stay with the kids. It was a constant juggle. But the ladies who worked in Parkinson's office were bulldogs. The doctor was very concerned about her, the ladies, who were also church members, would say. She needed to come in for treatment.

"I had three little kids and a husband," she remembers. "He was new at his job, and we were so poor. I just couldn't keep this up."

Finally, Atkinson couldn't take any more. She just stopped everything -- stopped taking the medicine, stopped going to appointments with the doctor. That's when she started feeling better.

Soon afterward, Atkinson ran into Parkinson at a church event, and he told her that he was very worried about her, that she needed to come back in. Atkinson replied that she was going to take vitamins and trust in God to heal her. Parkinson reiterated that she needed to return for treatment. And, she did. But not the way Parkinson had in mind.

By now, Atkinson felt better and the nurse's comments about Parkinson were continuing to play in the back of her mind. She and her husband had become suspicious. It was time for second, even third, opinions.

So, Atkinson arranged to see Parkinson one morning in his office, where he performed a pelvic exam, and again told her that she was very ill with inflammatory cells and needed to come back in two days. The same afternoon, she went to a specialist, who told her, essentially, there was nothing wrong with her that staying away from the doctor and off the medications he was giving her wouldn't cure.

Again, Atkinson went to Parkinson, and again he performed a pelvic exam, telling her about the inflammatory cells and so on. The second afternoon, Atkinson went to a third doctor. Not only did this doctor tell her that she was healthy, he began to question why she wanted to be examined twice in one day.

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