Presenting full text of Dr.’s speech at local ‘Women’s Herstory Month Luncheon’
‘Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope’
First of all, allow me to thank Dr. Meghan Jordan and her students for choosing me for this great privilege of being your guest speaker for this event in your newly minted Utica University!
It is my honor to stand before you today and speak about this year’s theme for the celebration of National Women’s Month, “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”
My name is Emerita A. Pizarro. I am a pediatrician. It would be nice to say that I come from a long line of healers, but I do not. I am the first doctor in the family and I wear that title with pride. I honor my family with that title. It gives them so much pride and joy that I did not dare change my name after I married.
If we look back on the first documents on women healers you will see that we have truly come a long way. We used to be called witches.
During Ancient Times women were relegated to house keeping and child bearing. Only those who were exceptionally gifted were educated. Noble women, women of means, had easier access to education.
In Athens, at around 354 BC, local legislation stated the women should have the responsibility for their family’s health. I can bear witness to the fact that this responsibility has been passed on to the present day. I cannot tell you how many times during the course of my workday I would hear a father say “Oh, I am sorry, I don’t know that. My wife takes care of all of that!”
Eons later, Julius Caesar, Emperor circa 100 to 54 BC, ordered that all women who were educated as physicians could gain citizenship and relieves them of all taxes. Right? April 15 is coming up. That would have been a nice fringe benefit. We would not have a shortage of women physicians if that was the case.
A lot of women were left out of official records even when their writings and correspondences were well kept. Some had to practice medicine disguised as men. Women physicians were doomed to oblivion, pushed aside by their male counterparts.
Let me tell you about two women physicians who have not been fully recognized for their exceptional lives. Remember these names: Aspasia and Cleopatra Metrodora.
Aspasia gained fame in the 4th century AD, founding the origins of obstetrics and gynecology. She developed surgical management for early failure of pregnancy, early techniques of inducing abortion when a woman’s life is endangered by their pregnancy, and how to manipulate a fetus in breech presentation to allow for an easier delivery.
Cleopatra Metrodora was a Greek physician and surgeon in the 7th century AD. As you may have guessed from her name, Cleopatra was from Egypt. She practiced as a midwife, gynecologist, and surgeon. She was not afraid to speak her mind and document her thoughts. Her masterpiece, entitled On the Uterus, Abdomen, and Kidneys, was constructed in a fashion similar to modern textbooks and described women’s diseases in detail.
She wrote the oldest medical book known to have been written by a woman called On the Diseases and Cures of Women, yet the medical writes of that era and later periods failed to mention her work.
But who do we recognize as the Father of Gynecology? J. Marion Sims. I want you to remember that name. As early is 1844, Sims started experimenting on enslaved women, often without anesthesia, sometimes using opium, causing the women to be addicted. He would operate on them numerous times, one patient had 20 procedures on record. Many procedures and equipment were named after him. One of them is the Sims vaginal speculum. There is now a movement to rename it the Lucy speculum, after an 18 year old enslaved woman he experimented on.
But I digress!
The most famous first female doctor in American medical history is Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree form a United States university. She was universally discouraged by male physicians from pursuing her dream. So she earned a living as a school teacher while training informally in a physician’s household. After failing to gain admission to any established medical schools, she applied to the smaller, less prestigious institutions. She received a single acceptance letter- the Geneva Medical College in Geneva, NY! Listen up Utica University!
She arrived in Geneva on November 6, 1847, several weeks after the beginning of term. She later learned that the faculty had opposed her admission, but felt unable to reject the candidate who was otherwise qualified for admission. They referred the decision to the all-male student body, who thought the request was a joke, and voted unanimously to admit her. She received her MD degree in 1849 and went on to launch a clinic that later became the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler challenged both the prevailing prejudice against the place of women in medicine and the systemic prejudice against black women by becoming the first African American Woman in the United States to earn a medical degree. She worked as a nurse for 8 years before being admitted to the New England Female Medical College in 1860. She earned her medical degree in 1864 and practiced in Boston until the end of the Civil War, then moved to Virginia where she joined other black physicians in caring for freed slaves.
Fast-forward to the 1990s. I had a medical degree and was practicing in a small hospital in the Philippines but dreamed of more training in the U.S. I had sent applications to all the pediatric residency programs in the states where I had family, friends, or classmates. I had letters of invitation for an interview in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. But I needed a visa to go to the United States to go to those interviews. I have been turned down before. So I nervously handed the letters to the US consular agent after my interview. He read the letters slowly. “All the interviews are in January,” he said. Then he started stamping my documents. “Well… you are going to need a lot of winter clothes!”
And here I am. Taking care of the city kids from Utica, the suburban kids, the rural area kids from the valley and north country, and refugee children from all over the world. I think I was brought here for a reason. I take care of them from birth until they are of legal drinking age!
I would like to think I have made a difference in these children’s lives and given them hope for the future. In fact I am sure I did make an impact on one of them.
In my early years here I met a young child from Bosnia. His parents brought him in and through an interpreter, told me the harrowing stories of how he came to be here. There was a war. He was hit by a stray bullet. He was put in an ambulance and on the way to the hospital they were hit and the explosion caused the ambulance to roll over.
The child survived but broke his spine. He was paralyzed from the waist down. The boy was scared. He was not eating. He would not say anything. He would not even make eye contact. I knew he was depressed and will probably have long-lasting effects of the trauma. I worked to gain the parents’ trust and, eventually, I gained the boy’s. He came out of his depression and with the help of so many, in the city that loves refugees, he flourished. His name is Hermin Garic and he is now an elite wheelchair racer. He has become a proud Utican and an inspiration to so many!
You never really know who your are going to give healing or hope to. Or when. Or how. But you have to be open to the opportunities. You do not need to be a doctor to be a healer. You can heal and give hope with your art, your science, your touch, your voice. You can be like all these other women I told you about. They encountered difficulties but they did not let it break them. They were doomed to oblivion but they did not let it silence them. They made a difference in countless lives. They persisted and made a difference. And so can you.
Whatever field you are in, and whatever endeavor you launch into think of all the other women and girls you can inspire. When you ask how to correctly pronounce a woman’s name, when you acknowledge that you can see someone’s struggle, when your eyes tell someone that you can see their pain, you have become a healer. That knowing look, that touch of a hand, that tight hug, that is the start of healing.
When you see someone acting out and instead of asking “What is wrong with you?”, you ask “What happened to you?”, you have opened the door to healing.
Look to your left. Look to your right. Look around you, my dears. You are looking at your opportunities to heal and to give hope. You are the women you have been waiting for. Go wherever life may take you but grow where you are planted.
I end with my favorite quote from Ada Lovelace, scientist and mathematician, and only daughter of Lady Wentworth and Lord Byron:
Here’s to strong women: May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them!
And to that I would add, may we help heal them and give them hope!!! Thank you and more power to you!