Thursday, August 11, 2011

Domestic Violence and Patient Safety: A Personal Story

By Christine Girard, ND
2010 AANP Physician of the Year

Those of you who know me, know I am a fairly private individual. Through this blog, I have tried to expand my comfort zone by sharing with you what I hope to be funny moments in my personal life. This blog post may be my most personal–ever.

On the morning of July 2nd, William and I were in Phoenix International Airport preparing to fly to Eugene, Oregon. My god-daughter, Mikaela, is a very musically talented 16-year-old, who for the last two years has been accepted in the Oregon Bach Festival’s Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy where she has the privilege to study with and be conducted by the top Bach scholars in the country.

While in line for airport security, I realized I had a voicemail from my Mom–unusual for an early Saturday morning. Standing in line I listened to her voice mail. She was crying, “I don’t want to do this on voice mail, but I have to. Jill is dead. They think Kenny shot her. Dale is a wreck. Jack and Judy are driving me to Dale’s. I can’t drive. I don’t know what we’re doing. We need to fly to Jacksonville. Call me when you get this.” William looked at me quizzically as I was listening to the voicemail. I motioned him to lean in and I whispered Mom’s message to him. Needless to say, he raised his eyebrows.

Once through security, I paced at an empty gate while talking with Mom. She was in the car with neighbors Jack and Judy, who were driving her to Dale’s house. Mom recounted the shocked phone call from Dale. Very little was known about Jill’s death.

Dale and Jill’s Dad, Warren, married my Mom, Carol, when Dale and I were seven and Jill was three and a half. Mom and Warren had Mark, our half-brother, five years later. We grew up in the '70s version of the blended family. Jill met Kenny in Connecticut and when the Navy transferred him to Georgia she was heartbroken. She decided to follow him to Georgia and married him soon after. She was 23 years old.

What we know about Jill’s death is that she was shot to death in her home in the very early morning hours of July 2, ten days before her 42nd birthday. Her husband, Kenny, is currently held without bond on charges of First Degree Murder.

In the 18 years Jill and Kenny were married, friends and family have no evidence of Domestic Violence (DV). I say that with some confidence. As Dale has said, “Even though I’m her big brother, it seems like she took care of me more than I took care of her.” Jill did just that: she took care of friends and family who were ill or needed a temporary assist. Both Warren and Dale have lived with Jill and Kenny.

Kenny’s brother and Mom have also lived with them. Family would mention arguments (as Dale says, “like any couple”), but no one could speak to any abuse–emotional, economic, psychological, sexual or physical–in their marriage. As far as the detective, assistant state’s attorney and victim advocate can see, Jill’s death doesn’t fit the normal pattern of DV.

As a family, we struggle with the many unanswered questions. As a physician, I am reminded of how important it is to assess a patient’s safety in his or her own home. DV affects approximately 28% of marriages and results in over 16,000 deaths annually. It sickens me that Jill’s is counted among them.

I encourage you to add safety questions not only to your new patient intake, but also to your routine history-taking. Click here to learn about DV screening tools for your practice. A recent article revealed that women want their physicians to ask. Please, don’t be afraid to ask your patients about DV.

If there is one thing I can say about Jill, it’s that she loved and cared for many people in her life, none more so than Kenny. He was a central part of her life for 18 years. She would want us, in the midst of our shock and anger, to remember that. She would insist that life goes on and that in life joy must be found.

When you see me at the Convention, please say hello, give me a hug, and/or tell me your newest joke. No sad puppy eyes, please. And give Drs. Olehausen and Clark an extra hug. They, along with Carolyn, my amazing assistant, ran the show (brilliantly, I might add) while I have been out on an extended bereavement leave. My thanks also to my SCNM family: Dr. Mittman, the SCNM Executive Team,  and Faculty and Staff for their thoughts, prayers and support. They gave me the freedom of time and space to begin, with my family, the lengthy journey of processing, grieving, administering, and seeking closure of Jill’s death. May her memory be eternal.

Resources for more information:

No comments:

Post a Comment