The Doctors Next Door

How I Got My Black Eye

black eye

I got my first black eye last weekend. It actually looks pretty good in this picture - it was already starting to fade.

I feel uncomfortable when I see someone with a black eye. How did it happen? Was it a bar brawl? Was is a street fight? Was it a mugging? Was it domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a really uncomfortable topic. After all, what do you say to the lady with a black eye next to you in line at the store? Don't you try to avoid looking at her, and especially try to avoid looking at her bruised eye?

My black eye and I had a busy week. Together, we went to work at the hospital. We saw patients, rode in the elevator, had lunch in the cafeteria, and went to meetings. I even took my black eye on a plane trip! We went to the airport, took a cab, checked into a hotel, and ate out at restaurants.

There were a variety of responses when folks first saw us. Most of my co-workers responded with the expected surprise, "OH MY GOSH, what happened to your eye?"

Other times I didn't understand why people were acting odd around me because, for the most part, I had forgotten about my eye. While in the cafeteria, I caught several people looking me, but when I met their eye, they quickly turned back to what appeared to be the most interesting assortment of tomatoes in the salad bar. Then I realized my black eye was making them uncomfortable, too.

The elevator ride was the most interesting. You know those awkward moments in the elevator with strangers? Folks tend to rock on their heels, check their watches 8 times, or watch the floor

awkward elevator.jpg
indicator lights with rapt attention, but rarely does anyone make eye contact in the elevator. I tend to be one of those who just has to say something to my fellow elevator companions, but after our cafeteria experience, I decided to say nothing and see what would happen.

You should've seen those poor people riding up three floors with me and my black eye. They were doing everything possible to act as if we weren't on that elevator. The heel rocking was more vigorous. The watches weren't just checked, the second hand was intently studied. It was painfully obvious that my black eye was making them uncomfortable.



I bet they wondered the same thing I do when I see a women with a bruised eye. Is she a victim of domestic violence?



There's no easy way to tell if a woman is a victim of domestic violence. Forget the stereotype of the poor, inner-city woman. There is no stereotypical abuse victim. She could be your son's kindergarten teacher. She could be the cashier at your grocery store. She could be the mom in the picture-perfect family living next door. She could be your doctor. She could be your golfing buddy's wife. She could be your daughter. She could be anyone.




 Domestic violence statistics are sobering. Take a look at the numbers:

  • One in four families are affected
  • 2 to 4 million women are abused by their partner each year
  • 2,000 to 4,000 women die each year
  • 1 in 3 female trauma patients is a victim of abuse
  • 22 - 35% of women who go to the emergency room are there for domestic violence problems, regardless of the reason they say they are there. We correctly diagnose domestic violence in only one in 35 women.
  • Women in the US are more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a current or previous male partner than by an assailant of all other categories combined

While these numbers are astounding, they actually are an underestimation of the problem because most cases don't get reported.

A 2002 study of 1,692 women in Ireland found that 39% reported violence from their partner. Three hundred of the women had physical injuries, but only 5% of the women were actually asked about domestic violence. Studies here and in England show almost the same statistics. Almost 80% of the women said it would be alright to ask, but we don't, do we? 

Doctors should ask. It's our job to ask but studies show we don't ask enough. About 10% of doctors routinely ask about domestic violence during regular office visits and when a women presents with physical injuries, we don't ask enough.

Of all the doctors and nurses that I'm around all day long at work, only two asked me if I was safe at home. They said it jokingly, but they did ask. I wasn't offended or embarassed they asked, I was glad. 

But what about the rest of us? Why don't we, as neighbors, co-workers, friends, or family members ask?

Maybe we don't ask because we don't know how to ask. Maybe we are uncomfortable with the topic. Perhaps we see it as a private matter. Maybe we think domestic violence is rare, not something in our community. Maybe we don't think it could ever happen to that nice family we see in church every Sunday. Maybe we worry we'll offend someone by asking. Perhaps we're scared they might actually answer, "Yes, someone did hit me." Then what?

Thankfully, my black eye was not the result of domestic violence. It was from my son accidentally hitting me with the back of his head when he was jumping on my bed, which by the way, I had just told him to stop doing with the standard parental admonition that someone might get hurt.

But what about those other women, those with the black eyes or other injuries from domestic violence? What can we do to help them?

First, just ask. Don't worry about offending someone. If you ask with kindness and sincerity, how can anyone be offended when you care enough to ask? If they are, well then, that's unfortunate for them. You did the right thing by asking if they are alright. At least they know you care and if they are in an abuse situation, you've opened the door for the future.

If they say yes, guide them to some of the resources below.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, know that it is not your fault and you deserve to be safe.

Here are some domestic violence resources:

  1. Call 911 if you or your children are in immediate danger. Keep yourself and your children safe.
  2. Learn about your community's resources. Check in the phone book, ask the police department, ask your doctor, or ask at your church. They can help.
  3. Call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  4. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 
  5. Domestic Violence: Protecting Yourself and Your Children 
  6. Family Violence Prevention Fund







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