It was Mid-winter in Ottawa when I first laid eyes on Mannon (not her real name, of course). I was to be her attending resident for the next two months. We had divvied up the patients on the Adolescent Medicine floor in our team. I had twenty-five teens with a myriad of health problems requiring in-hospital management.
The nurses warned me that Mannon had withdrawn further after Bruce, the resident before me, left for his next rotation. She had developed an emotional attachment to him. I would have big shoes to fill. I pulled her chart from the shelf. Beth, the head nurse, handed me two more.
“Hers is a long story,” she smiled ruefully. “You might want to go over the older files too.”
I poured myself some coffee from the break room and closed the door behind me in one of the parent conference rooms. I glanced at my watch. 6:30 a.m. I had a few minutes to spare before rounds.
Mannon was born almost 18 years ago to a French-Canadian family in rural Quebec. She had an older sister, Elise, who was three and a half years her senior. She had two younger sisters who were 4 and 6 years her junior. The family had a deep dark secret. It wasn’t until Mannon was 10, that she was made privy to it.
One night, while everyone slept, Mannon was awakened by the sound of her bedroom door opening. She saw her father walk quietly into her room. He sat on her bed and stared at her. Then he put his finger on his lips, willing her to be quiet. He covered her mouth with one hand and pulled her blanket off with the other. He proceeded to rape her. It seemed to go on forever. She was too shocked and afraid to speak, let alone cry out. When he was finished, he pulled his pants up, and quietly left her room, without a word.
After that, Mannon’s father would come to her room at least several times a month. During the day, everyone would carry on as though they were a normal family. Mannon tried to engage her older sister about the matter. All Elise would say was that she was counting the days when she could leave home for good.
This went on for several years. Elise did leave to go to university in Montreal. She would call occasionally but had refused to come home. Mannon became very close to her younger siblings. In fact, she doted on them like a mother hen, attending to their needs, tutoring them with schoolwork, even attending their after school activities.
One night, when Mannon was 14 years old, she woke up to see her father going into her younger sisters’ room. She leapt out of her bed and screamed. This disrupted her father’s “night walking routine.” The next morning, Mannon was beside herself. She decided to take matters into her own hands. After school that afternoon, she walked to the police station and reported her father.
The rest is history, as they say. Mannon’s father was convicted and went to jail. The children became wards of the state. They were scattered in various foster homes. Mannon’s mother blamed her for breaking up the family. Not once did she ever acknowledge the years of sexual abuse nor her choice to look the other way each time her husband abused the girls. She refused to be convinced, even with all the evidence presented to her.
It was during the trials, the unwanted publicity and scrutiny from neighbors, her mother’s public rejection of her that Mannon began to withdraw. She was a stunning 5’9″ young girl with pale blue-green eyes and light brown hair. At the hospital, she weighed 85 lbs. She had stopped menstruating. She was described as pale, with sunken eyes, emaciated, and she was growing lanugo on her body.
I went through the chart and jotted down the various medical issues, investigations, and management to date. Then I listed the various services involved in her case. I needed to call on them to schedule the next multi-disciplinary conference.
How does one begin to remold something so broken? Is it even possible?
It is very difficult for children to stop loving their parents. Not even when they have been repeatedly betrayed or abandoned. What do we do when the very place we consider our sanctuary turns out to be more dangerous than an inner city ghetto at night? And the very people we look to for shelter willingly feed us to the wolves?
I closed the charts and shoved my notes in the pocket of my lab coat. I walked out of the room and made my way to Mannon’s room.
That was about 24 years ago now. Every so often, I remember Mannon and I’ve often wondered how she may have fared. I wonder if she ever made it out to the real world after she has done some degree of healing. She was brave enough to save her siblings and report her father. Surely, she drew strength from somewhere inside her. I can only hope that she has given life a chance. That she will allow herself to trust again.