tears of freshman year

the gloves are off
as a new student survives
a molesting doctor and a hitting teacher

house soccer 1962

house soccer, 1962
i'm in the middle of the second row

Shortly after I entered the Lawrenceville School in the fall of 1962, the school doctor molested me. I was a fourteen-year-old freshman.

We new students were instructed to report to the infirmary, where we stripped to our shorts and lined up for what we were told was a mandatory physical. When it was my turn, I entered into a small, windowless exam room, where Dr. Blackmar awaited me.

He told me to drop my shorts, and abruptly grabbed and fondled my balls with his bare hand. He told me to turn my head and cough, which I did. As he conducted the exam, he looked me in the eyes, not in the genital area.

blackmar portrait

My testicles were the only part of my body he touched or examined. When done, he retreated to a small desk, where he jotted down some notes while mumbling medical mumbo jumbo. I was too shocked and disoriented to hear or understand what he was saying. He dismissed me, and the next student entered. My time with the doctor lasted less than one minute.

My health was good, and I had no symptoms in the genital area or in any other part of my body. The doctor took no medical history, asked no questions, and offered no advise.

Blackmar used no gloves and offered no privacy-protecting hospital gown. There was no third party present during the exam, even though there were nurses on duty that day to collect urine samples. I didn't see him wash his hands either before or after the exam.

His manner was brusque and impersonal and his actions created the impression of an assembly line.

The experience left me feeling hurt, shocked, and confused. No one had ever before touched that part of my body, let alone in such an impersonal and insensitive way.

I'll never forget the look of helpless resignation and weary exasperation on the nurse's face as we students circulated into and out of the exam room. It was as if she knew all too well what was going on inside.

To relieve the tension, we laughed among ourselves about the funny doctor, calling him Quackmar behind his back and speculating about his pedophilic preferences. Someone said that he preferred the strapping young man type. I was small and skinny and late to enter puberty, so I felt somewhat relieved.

Someone else speculated about what he would do if one of us sprang an erection on him during the exam. I weighed about eighty or eighty-five pounds and, except for my roommate, I had yet to make any friends in school.

That was the last time I saw Blackmar. I hoped I would never again be forced to see any doctor who showed such cold disregard for a patient's feelings.

There are old and enduring principles of medical ethics at work here: necessity, consent, Do No Harm, and the maintenance of appropriate boundaries.

Blackmar violated all of these principles.

There was no medical necessity for such an exam. Many physicians only perform gynecological or testicular exams on patients who are twenty-one years of age or older, who are symptomatic, or who are sexually active. I was none of these things. This leads me to question the necessity of the exam.

While it may make sense in a residential environment to screen incoming students for communicable diseases, it makes no sense to screen universally for non-communicable testicular problems.

There is such thing as a legitimate testicular exam, which checks for lumps, growths, or other abnormalities. It has been suggested that Blackmar may have been checking for a hernia, but he didn't examine my abdomen or inguinal canal. He touched and fondled only my testicles.

When an examination of a sensitive area of the body is indicated, it is usually done as part of an overall physical and health evaluation, which was not the case here.

The totality of my experience with Blackmar — including the atmospherics as well as the details of the procedure itself — leads me to believe that this wasn't a legitimate exam.

No doctor should ask a patient to disrobe in their presence. The usual practice is to allow the patient to disrobe and put on a hospital gown, or at least a sheet, while alone in the exam room.

The medical literature on women's and teenage girls' breast exams emphasizes the use of the pads of the middle fingers, not the fingertips. Thus the patient has some protection against a rogue provider.

The literature on physical exams for both men and women emphasizes communication, minimizing discomfort, building mutual trust and confidence, and creating an overall positive experience for the patient. A patient who has a negative experience may may hesitate to seek further medical assistance when in real need.

A poorly executed exam — let alone one undertaken under false pretenses or with an intent to commit criminal molestation — can alienate a patient, especially at such a young age.

Blackmar made no attempt to obtain my or my parents' consent before performing the exam. I was a day student and had my own family doctor. Neither was there any attempt at patient education. The patient has a right to know what the doctor is doing to his body and why. No exam should come as a surprise to the patient.

Do No Harm means not giving the patient any problems they didn't have when they came to see you.

Gross insensitivity on the part of the provider can leave the patient traumatized and confused, and can cause long-term issues involving trust of authority figures and trust in intimate relationships.

The doctor is there to heal, not to traumatize. For healing to happen, there must be a bond of trust between doctor and patient. Like any relationship, it's built up over time and cannot be achieved between strangers in an assembly-line setting.

Looking the patient in the eyes while touching his genitals is a gross failure to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.

Edward "Ted" Blackmar was the resident physician and medical director at Lawrenceville from 1958 to 1973. The circumstances of his departure are unknown, but it appears that he did not practice medicine after leaving Lawrenceville. He died in 2010.

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harrison portrait
photo credits: Lawrenceville School
Olla Podrida yearbook, 1963

I felt lucky as a newly-arrived freshman to be placed in an accelerated math class for sophomores with Dr. Ross Harrison. The class met for two years, 1962-'63 and 1963-'64, with largely the same students both years.

Harrison had a habit of hitting the boys, including me, after an incorrectly answered question. He struck on the upper arm, just below the shoulder, with a closed fist. In boxing terms, it was a jab, but without gloves. Sometimes he used the extended knuckle of his middle finger, which made the pain even greater.

Even worse, he instructed the students to hit each other after a missed question. If a student got a question wrong, Harrison would sometimes instruct another student to hit him.

Some students struck their fellow students firmly, others lightly, and it was always an adventure to see what would happen next. Occasionally one student would give another student a hard shot, causing a nervous titter to ripple through the class. I hoped that he wouldn't ask me to hit anyone, and to my recollection he never did.

One student refused to participate in the hitting. He was forced to endure tough questioning outside of class from a classmate who wanted to know why he insisted on deliberately disobeying the teacher. One simply did not disobey a direct order from a teacher or other authority. Nevertheless, the pacifist student stood firm in his refusal to hit.

The feeling among us boys was that it was to our advantage in terms of college admissions to seek the favor of our teachers, especially in the elite classes. It was almost a matter of perverse pride to go along with Harrison's program of abuse.

The atmosphere in the class was one of fear and intimidation, as we struggled to keep up with the fast-moving coursework.

I was left with heavily conflicted feelings as I tried to rationalize the abuse as somehow connected to good teaching. I now know that it was the result of a sick and depraved personality disorder and had nothing to do with ethical teaching.

I appreciated the lessons in math but not the hitting.

Ross Harrison began teaching at Lawrenceville in 1952. After I graduated, he became the chairman of the Mathematics Department. He died accidentally in 1976.

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I don't wish to continually relive the pain and horror of having the integrity of my body violated and my safety threatened, but it doesn't go away. I still remember the pain, but the confusion and shame are worse.

Everyone knew about the molesting doctor and all of Harrison's students knew about the hitting.

Everyone knew, and yet no one knew. This is the sad and all too familiar pattern of institutional abuse. Universal acknowledgement from below, and universal ignorance, indifference, and denial from above.

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