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.

The doctor told Clark she had a uterine infection, for which he prescribed antibiotics, and anemia, for which he prescribed iron tablets. Later, he would inject iron directly into her muscles, and then into her veins. Parkinson prescribed estrogen replacement for Clark in levels appropriate for a woman entering menopause, not someone in her mid-20s.

Clark testified that she saw Parkinson twice a week for the next year. Each time, the doctor performed a pelvic examination and reported that she had a vaginal infection of some kind, though she never had any symptoms of such a problem. Even though these supposed infections continued for a year, Parkinson never referred Clark to a specialist in gynecology.

"He had me convinced that I had those infections, and that I needed to be there to get the treatment, to get the antibiotics, and to take care of that, and the anemia," she told the court.

Finally, Clark's arms were so sore from the iron shots that she couldn't take it anymore. She quit going to Parkinson and has never been diagnosed with the same problems by any other doctor.

The other women's stories were similar. They told how Parkinson treated them for vaginal infections and inflammation, endometiritis, and infections of the uterus, even though many of them never had symptoms suggestive of such disorders.

Parkinson had performed pelvic exams several times a week -- sometimes as often as every day, and in one case for a duration of 14 years. He was frequently alone with the women -- even though general medical rules require a nurse to be present during any gynecological examination -- and often did not wear gloves, even though use of gloves is standard for a pelvic exam. (Parkinson told the court that he is allergic to latex, and was unable to adequately perform examinations with other types of gloves.)

Nonetheless, the women continued to come to his office for treatment. He told them that they were sick, and he could make them well. And they believed him. He was a well-respected doctor. He held important positions in the local hospital. He did not charge those who had no insurance or limited means. And for many of the women who walked into his examination room, John Parkinson was not just a doctor. He was also their spiritual leader.

Kathleen Grose came to see Parkinson when she was 37 years old and had already been diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later, she underwent a partial mastectomy. Although Parkinson held himself out to be something of a cancer specialist -- his letterhead reads "Internal medicine-hematology-oncology" -- he certified only in general medicine.

Even so, Parkinson began giving Grose chemotherapy treatments -- that is, a cocktail of toxic chemicals generally used in short intervals to attack cancer. He continued to administer what he termed "maintenance chemotherapy" for 14 years. The state could not establish what kind of damage 14 years of toxic chemicals might have done to Kathleen Grose because prosecutors could not find that it had ever been done before. There are no clinical trials for such a thing.

Parkinson, it seemed, was experimenting on his patients.
Grose told the judge that she had received pelvic examinations, during which Parkinson manually applied a salve to her vaginal area as frequently as three times a week for five years. Her medical records revealed that, during one particular six-month time period, Grose had received more than 200 pelvic exams. When she asked for medicine she could apply herself, Parkinson said no; he needed to examine her.

Parkinson provided complex scientific and medical explanations for his treatments. He said that he was best able to monitor estrogen levels and infection through pelvic examination. And, he suggested, he was able to insert a speculum so gently that a patient may not have realized he was putting a 6-inch piece of plastic into her vagina.

And the chemotherapy? Parkinson and his expert witnesses testified that his chemotherapy regimes were successful, because his cancer patients remained alive for longer than five years.

Judge Jonathan Lew agreed to accept only a fraction of the 129 witnesses Parkinson's attorneys submitted to testify on behalf of the doctor's personal character and the quality of his care. Again, Susan Collins was one of them.

"I know his character," she told the court. "I've been around him and worked closely enough with him, I've seen how much he cares about people, how compassionate he is. He never makes any kind of an advance toward a woman. He's very, very proper. And having been my daughter's physician, I know that she considers him to be just above and beyond reproach."

Geraldine Rasmussen's own mother testified against her, saying that Parkinson was a terrific doctor and that Geraldine had vowed to get even with Parkinson.

Louis Madsen Jr., the dentist, stake president, and friend of Parkinson, was emphatic in his support of the doctor:

"I would not dare go before my God and not defend this man. That's how strongly I believe in him. ... This man is extraordinary in every way that I have observed."

The hearing was finally over, nine weeks after it started. But Lew didn't issue his order in the case until March 1995, a year after the hearing had begun.

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