Unmasking Medical Neglect in Women’s Healthcare: ‘The Retrievals’

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by Celia Cooksey

A woman’s pain is too often ignored, a sentiment scarred onto the lives of women at Yale’s fertility clinic and underscored in over 200 procedures. During their incredibly invasive and painful egg retrieval surgeries, one nurse had swapped the fentanyl for saline. These women were told they wouldn’t feel a thing, and yet they were alert and feeling every pinch and scrape into the inner recesses of their bodies… A gutting and heart-wrenching feeling that makes the stomach churn to even just think of experiencing.

The New York Times’ new podcast The Retrievals is not to be ignored and should be required listening for all healthcare professionals. You can feel these harrowing experiences in your gut as you listen, and when you hear story after story of women’s pain being dismissed, ignored… it is almost overwhelming.

Yale is a name one inherently trusts. When choosing who to turn to for such an intimate moment and vulnerable healthcare need, turning to Yale seems like a safe choice… the way that trust can make patients overlook little issues, relying on the elite hospital system in which they have entrusted their care. The carelessness that had to be pervasive throughout in which this nurse was able to continue for so long is tough to reckon with.

There is a larger issue at play, beyond just one hospital system and the cruelty of a rouge nurse. For far too long women’s pain has been ignored by their doctors, across the health spectrum. The reality of this situation is just that. For over 200 procedures, the pain women felt and expressed to their medical professionals was underplayed, discounted, and ignored.

Historically, women’s pain is disregarded in healthcare due to gender bias. Healthcare providers may underestimate women’s pain levels, leading to inadequate treatment. Conditions like endometriosis and fibromyalgia have been misunderstood or misdiagnosed in women, causing diagnostic delays. Women’s reproductive health problems are sometimes dismissed, and clinical trials have often excluded them, leading to gaps in understanding gender-specific responses to treatments. Efforts to combat this bias include increased awareness, education, and research, but addressing the issue remains a significant challenge in healthcare systems worldwide.

This podcast reminds us all of how unacceptable this under-appreciation for women’s pain is.

And, don’t forget. We would know nothing of this story if not for the reporting of the New York Times. Supporting journalism matters. Hospital systems with the reputations as good as Yale’s don’t get to improperly supervise highly addictive drugs and allow 200 procedures to scar the lives of women across the region with no repercussions. This is a small story of one “bad apple” addict nurse that was almost swept under the rug, just a local bit in the evening news. It is powerful that these stories must be told and remembered and taken as serious evidence toward gender bias in the medical system.

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