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'The allegations, if true, are serious’
It took doctors 15 years to explain the 27-year-old woman’s symptoms. She has trigeminal neuralgia, an excruciatingly painful, facial nerve condition commonly known as the “suicide disease” because of instances where patients with the condition have taken their lives to end the suffering.
The woman, a creative director, also suffers from severe migraines and jaw pain — three conditions that affect her from the neck-up. This is why, in one of her early appointments after becoming Dr. Allan Gordon’s patient in 2013, she did not expect him to examine her breasts.
In a report obtained by The Globe and Mail, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s complaints committee, comprised of two physicians and one public member, notified her in February that it was formally closing her file, despite noting several factors that would “tend to support” a referral for a discipline hearing.
“The allegations, if true, are serious," the committee says in its report. "The acts of cupping, squeezing or groping a patient’s breasts, making inappropriate and unprofessional remarks, (particularly if they were of a sexual nature) or pressing on a patient’s pelvic area without medical indication, could ground a discipline referral.”
The committee said it is difficult to understand why breast or pelvic examinations were “indicated in a patient who attended with facial pain and migraines.” The report acknowledges that the college received complaints from other patients, alleging that Dr. Gordon did not conduct examinations properly and that he failed to obtain their informed consent. Still, the committee noted other factors that supported closing the file. Dr. Gordon denied the allegations and agreed to resign, the report says. He also argued that the patient’s credibility was “suspect” because she complained only after he was no longer practising at the Wasser pain clinic.
She did not complain to the college until 2018, after discovering that other women in an online, chronic-pain support group alleged they had similar experiences with Dr. Gordon. “I let it slide because I really needed to get treatment,” she told The Globe. “He was the ‘Pain Guy.’ ”
A 'traumatizing exam’
The woman, a lawyer who is now age 32, has suffered from chronic pain and problems digesting food ever since she was a child. Until Dr. Gordon suspected she had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder, she had no idea what was wrong with her. From the get-go, Dr. Gordon also took an intense interest in her sex life, she told The Globe. During her first appointment at the Wasser pain clinic in September, 2016, he asked if she enjoyed sex.
At a follow-up visit two weeks later, he asked what positions she preferred during sexual intercourse and said he needed to do a vaginal examination, she alleged. He invited a nurse and a resident at the hospital to watch the exam. The woman was uncomfortable and wondered why a neurologist would perform a gynecological exam, but because she believed he could help ease her symptoms, she did not object.
The exam was painful, she alleges. Dr. Gordon poked the area around her vagina with sharp objects. He also inserted his finger in her vagina and stood there for what seemed like an eternity. The most distressing part, she alleges, was when he put his finger in her anus without her consent. “I felt taken aback,” she told The Globe. “I had been put through a traumatizing exam with him prodding my genitalia.”
She immediately told her parents and a friend what had happened. In January, 2017, she went to the hospital to make a formal complaint. She then complained to the college in the fall of 2017.
In a report sent to her in February, the college’s complaints committee wrote that, “The acts of touching/penetrating the patient’s anus without consent, asking inappropriate sexual questions … and conducting a medically unnecessary vaginal examination, could ground a discipline referral.”
However, the complaints committee closed her file. It said an independent expert concluded he had insufficient information to judge whether the patient consented to the exam, but he found that Dr. Gordon’s care met the profession’s standard of practice.
The committee also said it was satisfied the public is “adequately protected” because Dr. Gordon has resigned, the report says. Dr. Gordon said he obtained informed consent and that his exam was medically appropriate, the report notes.
The woman filed a civil suit in September, 2018, accusing Dr. Gordon of taking advantage of her trust in him by sexually abusing her. His lawyers have not yet filed a statement of defence.
A history of trauma
When she arrived for her first appointment with Dr. Gordon in the fall of 2015, the woman, now 35, was coping with much more than physical pain. She was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety as well as suicidal thoughts triggered by the hopelessness of living in near-constant pain.
Dr. Gordon diagnosed the woman, a doctoral candidate at the time, with EDS.
He examined her in the presence of a hospital employee, but the patient refused to let him do a pelvic exam because of her history of trauma.
She did not strip down to a hospital gown in subsequent appointments until Jan. 17, 2017. That is when she attended the Wasser clinic for a follow-up, suffering from pain in her left hip.
According to a civil claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in February, Dr. Gordon asked the woman to remove her clothing, including her bra and underwear, and put on a hospital gown.
He did not explain why a physical exam was necessary, where he intended to touch her or offer to have a nurse present, alleges the lawsuit, filed on behalf of “Jane Doe.” She left her underwear on, and explicitly told him she did not consent to a pelvic exam.
Dr. Gordon instructed her to lie back, with her hips and buttocks near the edge of the table. He then lifted her left leg and tucked her shin under his arm. He stood facing her at the end of the table, the lawsuit alleges, and “repeatedly thrust his crotch against [her] vagina, and repeatedly touched [her] vagina with his hand.”
The woman also complained in July, 2017, to Mount Sinai and the physicians’ college about Dr. Gordon. His lawyers have not yet filed a defence to the lawsuit.
'I was almost suicidal’
The 27-year-old graduate student began suffering from severe migraines when she was 15.
“I was desperate for help and in so much pain,” she told The Globe. “I was almost suicidal.”
In 2013, she started seeing Dr. Gordon, who treated her migraines with botox injections. During the four years she was his patient, she said, he repeatedly asked whether she felt pain during sexual intercourse, something she had never complained about.
At one appointment, Dr. Gordon performed “an unnecessary and sexually motivated examination of her breast and upper/inner thigh near her pelvic area under the guise of examining her skin for stretch marks consistent with EDS,” according to a summary of her allegations in a report from the college.
She did not complain to the college until after her last appointment with Dr. Gordon was cancelled after Mount Sinai suspended his hospital privileges in July, 2017, and he left the hospital.
She looked up Dr. Gordon’s name on the college’s website and found the notice for his disciplinary hearing. She said seeing it gave her the courage to come forward.
Through his lawyers, Dr. Gordon says in a letter to the college that her complaint lacks credibility and he denies doing any “improper” internal exam. “It is noteworthy,” the letter says, that she can “provide almost no details,” including how long the alleged exam lasted.
In its report sent to her in February notifying her that it was closing her file, the college’s complaints committee says it is difficult to understand why Dr. Gordon would examine the vagina and pelvis of a patient who suffers from headaches.
“We question the focus on pelvic pain” and stretch marks, the committee wrote, adding that if Dr. Gordon “was concerned about EDS, we would have expected him also to focus on the potentially life-threatening aspects of that syndrome.”
The committee said it ultimately decided to dismiss her complaint because Dr. Gordon had agreed to resign.