Medical Harassment, It Just Makes You Feel Better

File this one under creepy, inappropriate, and completely unethical*:

In a lawsuit filed yesterday, a Camden County woman accused her orthopedic surgeon of “rubbing a temporary tattoo of a red rose” on her belly while she was under anesthesia.

The patient discovered the tattoo below the panty line the next morning, when her husband was helping her get dressed to go home after the operation for a herniated disc, her attorney, Gregg A. Shivers, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Note that the placement of the tattoo, while of prurient interest, is made that much more curious by the fact that surgery for a herniated disc required the patient to lay on her stomach for the duration of the surgery, meaning that after the surgery, Doc turned his patient over and took the time to apply a temporary tattoo “below the panty line.”

As his laywer puts it, it’s part of her aftercare plan.

The doctor’s attorney, Agre, who had seen neither the board complaint nor the lawsuit, said the doctor had “never been accused of anything.”

“Most of the patients are delighted by Dr. Kirshner’s sense of humor.”

Ha ha ha! Yes! Delightful!

via Chaos Theory
* I highly suggest that if you click through to read the full article you resist the urge to read the accompanying comments, where the patient is cast as a clear example of a “scumbag” trying to “take advantage of the system.” Can’t a bitch take a joke?

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23 comments for “Medical Harassment, It Just Makes You Feel Better

  1. feminist jen
    July 22, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    on a related note, i had a friend who was told she could leave her clit piercing in for her shoulder surgery, and she woke up to it in a sealed container next to her.


    feminist love,

  2. July 22, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    What a strange and creepy thing to do! You’d have to wonder if he’d done anything else to you while you were unconscious. It seems quite specifically planned as something that would scare you profoundly and let you know you were at his mercy but that is small enough that some people would think it was harmless and dismiss the woman to whom it happened.

    It would be interesting to know if any other patients, male or female, have been subjected to “Dr. Kirshner’s sense of humor” in similar ways.

    On the bright side, her attorney has the coolest name ever. My new goal in life is to have a kid that I can name Gregg A. Shivers.

  3. K
    July 22, 2008 at 11:14 pm


    ….that’s just BIZARRE.

  4. July 22, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Kirshner does not deny placing the tattoo – and has left washable marks on patients before to improve their spirits, his lawyer, Robert Agre of Haddonfield, said last night. He said none has complained.

    “What’s offensive about this complaint is that it suggests something he did was intended to be prurient, and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Agre. “It was intended just to make the patient feel better.”

    That’s funny, cause getting rubbed below the panty line by a stranger while I’m unconscious wouldn’t make me feel better. It would make me feel very violated and vaguely nauseous.

    At least it wasn’t permanent–and it’s sad that doctor’s have deigned to give their female patients permanent marks and that having it not happen is something to be grateful for. Ugh.

  5. ellestar
    July 22, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    I have to admit, a rub on tattoo would have delighted me. It does depend on where her panty-line was (mine is just above my pubic hair, so there is nowhere to rub on a tattoo). I wouldn’t like one on my butt or breasts, but I’m pretty comfortable with anywhere else. “Rub on” tattoos are put on by wetting the skin, placing the tattoo, then pulling off the paper backing. It’s basically a sticker and and the thought of waking up to a sticker doesn’t make me, personally, uncomfortable.

    That being said, I can definitely understand feeling uncomfortable waking up with proof that a doctor has been places he didn’t tell a patient he was going visit. He definitely needs to stop giving people surprise tattoos ANYWHERE. So while I don’t think this doctor should be sued out of practicing medicine, what he was doing wasn’t cool and I hope he’s learned his lesson.

  6. July 23, 2008 at 12:45 am

    That is just outrageous.

    I don’t care how innocent or funny he thought it was, we put a certain amount of trust in doctors, especially surgeons. We are so vulnerable there, and so many things could go wrong on the most routine of procedures (I understand that there is no such thing as a “routine procedure”) that waking up to anything unexpected would make me feel frightened and violated.

    I hope he receives a serious reprimand for such activity. An example needs to be set that doctors just don’t have the right to do whatever to their vulnerable patients. Where is the professional behavior here?

  7. Cymbal
    July 23, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Reminds me of the stories of surgeons who, upon completing their masterful cutting and slicing, then would cut (or burn with some kind of cauterizing instrument) their initials into the flesh of their patient. Like a signature on a painting. The shit? Happened on female patients. Male patients, nah. That’s not SeXXXXXY to the doc, y’see.

    I can’t remember if the patients sued or not. And this one really ought to. You don’t give your surgeon carte blanche to do whatever they want to you. When my dentist sedates me to yank wisdom teeth, it WOULD NOT BE COOL if I woke up to find that my panties were off or my bra was unfastened. I would be calling Teh Lawyer for Teh Lawsuit at this point. This doc (and apparently a lot of docs) need some fucking boundary lessons.

  8. July 23, 2008 at 3:22 am

    You know, I can kind of see how if you were having minor knee surgery or something, waking up with a cheery temporary tattoo on your calf would be twee and festive. Kind of. Almost. I don’t know. I could at least see the intent, there.

    This, on the other hand? Come on, now. Performing back surgery does not give you free range over a patient’s body. I think this is one of those “Gah, what is WRONG with people?” moments.

  9. Aura KitKatting
    July 23, 2008 at 3:46 am

    I’m not sure where exactly the patient and surgeon were located however, I know with the consent laws in CA, the forms they make patients sign are extremely explicit as to what can be done; therefore if a dr / surgeon / nurse / ANYONE were to do some sh!t like this it would obviously violate the terms of the consent form / contract and the patient would have serious legal grounds to sue. NOT that she doesn’t already but, just something for the asshats who think this is anywhere near appropriate, to think about.

    This is really upsetting to me.
    Especially since I am going in for major surgery myself in a few days ……. ugh ugh ugh I don’t want to think about this. :(

  10. PhysioProf
    July 23, 2008 at 6:20 am

    As someone who spends a substantial portion of his professional time teaching medical students, I can tell you that this kind of attitude–that physicians are gods, not mere mortals, and wield power over other human beings that no one dare question–is inculcated in them from the very beginning of medical training. It is an ugly secret of our medical training system. And the more prestigious the institutions where physicians receive their training, the more overweening is this attitude.

    Surgeons are the worst, as they are basically used to functioning as dictators in the operating room: which makes perfect sense in light of the practical demands of surgery. But it does not work well in other areas of life. Put a surgeon in charge of any enterprise that requires leadership through persuasion or consensus, and you are totally fucking fucked.

    Anyway, this is a long-winded way of stating that this incident doesn’t surprise me one fucking bit. From a legal standpoint, btw, it is clearly a battery, as these patients gave informed consent to a particular operation, and not to having temporary tattoos placed on their bodies while asleep. It is battery in exactly the same way it would be battery if you put a temporary tattoo on the body of a stranger asleep at the beach.

  11. Jenga
    July 23, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Shoulder/upper arm –> Kinda fun
    Panty line –> f*cked up beyond belief

  12. MM
    July 23, 2008 at 10:30 am

    “on a related note, i had a friend who was told she could leave her clit piercing in for her shoulder surgery, and she woke up to it in a sealed container next to her.”
    It’s possible that they placed a urinary catheter after she was unconscious, and deemed it appropriate to remove the hardware at that time.

  13. seagull
    July 23, 2008 at 10:55 am

    This is precisely the same sort of professional/privileged male entitlement we’ve seen numerous times before – the “Oh no, I didn’t mean it like THAT, you are totally misinterpreting my motives!!” line that follows a totally inappropriate action. So many people out there would call this intimate tattooing of an anesthetized patient a clear-cut abuse of power, but WAIT! WAIT a second. He’s a DOCTOR, guys. He was just trying to HELP, ok?

    His lawyer: “What’s offensive about this complaint is that it suggests something he did was intended to be prurient, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

    “What’s offensive about this complaint…” The callousness here is simply astounding. No apology, nothing close to an admission of inappropriate behavior or a lapse in professionalism. No. What’s really offensive here is that the female patient (Mateo) should use something trivial like the unauthorized placement of a temporary tattoo – which Dr. Kirshner’s lawyer is good enough to remind us “are like children’s tattoos. Kids put them on themselves and they wash right off” – to try to drag this wonderful doctor’s name through the mud and – gasp! – even seek damages against him. Yeah, yeah, it’s her body, but he’s a doctor, and that means that he always knows what’s best for her, even though she may be unconscious and unable to give permission for tattoo placement below her panty-line.

    It’s always the ones in power who get to decide the “real” intent or meaning behind words and actions – their own and other peoples’. Dr. Kirshner did this as a joke, intending to “just make the patient feel better.” If Dr. Kirshner had instead been a, say, black male nurse at Virtua Memorial Hospital, another adult male who did not have authorization to touch Mateo’s abdomen or crotch area, I don’t think anyone at the hospital would be satisfied with the explanation that it was just a joke, “just to make the patient feel better.”

    This whole situation is reminiscent of the dialogue in Durham a couple of years back surrounding the Duke lacrosse scandal. I did a little digging and found one of my favorite blog postings from the time: “We spend our time focusing on the intent of one white man’s words or deeds, and not the terrorism that they represent for many, many women and sex workers. We talk about the lacrosse players and their ilk as ‘good guys’ gone astray, not about women of color on Duke’s campus and in Durham who have felt accused, exploited, criminalized, and victimized as a result of this action. All of our energy is spent on folks terrorizing others, not those being terrorized.” (
    Similarly, we are now focusing on whether or not the doctor intended to harass this woman through his actions, not on the fear and discomfort that his taking this kind of license with female bodies has instilled in other potential surgery patients around the country. The important thing is whether or not this “good guy” doctor really meant to do harm, not that his actions DID do some harm, not only to his patient but to other people who are facing the prospect of going under anesthesia.

    One of the postings on the article suggested that someone “investigate the patient and her ‘boyfriend’.” After all, there is a possibility that this gold-digging, wolf-crying bitch did tattoo her own crotch while unconscious, or get her “boyfriend” (er, uh, husband, whatever – she’s a whore) to do it. Amazing.

  14. CJ
    July 23, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    The point is surgeons should only be preforming surgery on unconcious paitents, anything else is a gross violation of trust. I’ve only had one experience of surgery, when I had a fibroidanoema removed a couple of years ago. It was uncomfortable enough having my breasts poked and prodded by so many doctors, etc.. not to mention being treated like a silly little girl by male proffesionals* because I couldn’t accept that the chronic pain in my breasts (no sleep, unable to work) was “normal” for someone of any age, let alone mine at 19. To imagine being so vulnerable in the care of people you know nothing about gives me chills..
    *Misogyny in the health care sector is a whole other can of worms; “I’m the doctor, I ALWAYS know best, silly female! Yes, even about your own period pains that I don’t believe in..”

    #1, That is scary! With my surgery they made me tape over my piercings (including VCH), apart from removing the tounge and septum piercings which I can understand why.

  15. July 23, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    “…a temporary tattoo – which Dr. Kirshner’s lawyer is good enough to remind us “are like children’s tattoos. Kids put them on themselves and they wash right off…”

    I think that comment speaks volumes about the historical relationship between the medical establishment and women, which has seen women as infantile beings incapable of either owning their bodies or making informed decisions about their care. Dr. Kirshner apparently sees this inappropriate action as nothing worse than, say, a pediatric surgeon’s placing a ‘smiley-face’ temporary tattoo on a child patient’s arm after surgery. What’s bizarre and offensive is not only the fact that the type of tattoo and the area he placed it on have strong sexual connotations, but that he’d think a female patient would find it amusing or pleasing to find it – like an easter egg. Truly disturbing.

  16. Bitter Scribe
    July 23, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I hope if this doctor goes in for surgery himself, someone places a temporary tattoo on him of a duck going “QUACK!”

  17. July 26, 2008 at 4:57 am

    Surgery can be a very traumatic experience. My twin sister had such a difficult time after a surgery she had to remove a kidney stone. She felt so vulnerable and it was the first time she ever really had to experience her body as something that can fail, something that can be cut into, etc. To wake up and find out that the doctor was turning you over and placing sexually suggestive marks below your panty line while you were asleep!! My stomach is turning just thinking of it. Ugh. This is so awful. No witnesses can be found, so god only knows what else he did.

    Seagull, so well said. Absolutely.

  18. July 26, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Also, this doctor has his office number published all over the web……

  19. Meg
    July 30, 2008 at 5:12 am

    I would love to know that strange men were touching my genital area without my permission while I was unconscious. Especially if my health depended on the good judgment and competency of these men. What’s not to like about that?

  20. sandman
    July 30, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    That what the surgeon did was wrong, there can be no question. One can debate whether it was just really stupid or a more serious medicolegal offense. I’m assuming the hospital medical staff and state medical board will look into the issue.

    I have to object, however, to PhysioProf’s stereotyping of the entire medical profession as “gods” and that this is inculcated into them in medical school. In my Introductory Inculcation class in med school, we were specifically taught that most physicians are only demi-Gods, like Hercules for instance. Only surgeons achieve true Godhood. Physiology profs, we were taught, are fallen Gods, and their curse is that they have to teach ungrateful medical students for all eternity.

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