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Nancy's story

As a child, Nancy was diagnosed with physical problems that required numerous visits to hospital. At seven, she began treatment with Doctor Drysdale, a specialist who ran a clinic managing illnesses like hers.

Within a short time of starting treatment with Drysdale in the 1960s, Nancy was given a drug that she and her mother were told would make her better. During regular visits to the clinic, Nancy was left alone with Drysdale as he carried out examinations which didn’t seem to have any relevance to Nancy’s health issues. It later transpired that Drysdale behaved similarly with other patients.

‘He seemed to do the same thing with all of the girls’, Nancy said. ‘He had a very good time running his crepey, dry hands is what I remember, over your breasts, and on occasion he would pretty much be, I don’t know how to say it any other way but fingering you.’

Drysdale often got Nancy’s mother to wait outside, then would tell Nancy to take her clothes off and walk around his clinic room. On some occasions he had a group of medical students with him.

‘He had bunches of young medical students in and he would, for me, he would have me parading round his office naked, walking around, posing, “Walk to there. Walk to there”, and these guys were all sitting round his big desk guffawing and laughing and you’re just a nothing. It’s so embarrassing, you know. You dreaded it. We had to do it. There was no option. We had to do this.’

Nancy first disclosed the abuse to her mother when she was in her 30s. She doesn’t remember the exact response but it wasn’t supportive. This stemmed in part she thought from the era that influenced her mother’s age group, in which doctors were held in such high esteem.

In the late 1990s, Nancy heard through media reports that treatment methods employed by Drysdale had been experimental and that there’d been no approval for the drugs he’d administered. They’d been banned for use in animals, let alone children.

Further details revealed the side-effects of the drugs were consistent with many of the signs and symptoms of ill-health Nancy had experienced since childhood. She and several other affected women tried to build a case for further investigation and possible criminal charges. Wherever they turned however, their progress was stymied. Victoria Police were initially sympathetic but when it came time to take further action, said that Drysdale was elderly and not worth pursuing. The specialist doctor Nancy had been seeing suddenly no longer wanted her as a patient. ‘She’d come up through the hard ranks of dealing with, made it into the boys’ club’, Nancy said.

Looking back, Nancy could see signs of the effect the abuse had on her as a child. Over years of treatment she became quiet and withdrawn and started having nightmares. ‘But I never talked about it.’

She’d had counselling ‘forever’ since, she said. ‘I’ve spent I would say thousands of dollars. I’ve had to shop [around] for someone to get there. As a 17-year-old I asked to see a psychiatrist because I thought I was going insane. I was very frightened and fearful of men … I tried to kill myself when I was 20.’

And as an adult, she never allowed herself to stop. ‘I would literally fall over with nervous exhaustion. I would fall over to the point where I was unable to work. Boom and bust cycles. The boom times, I got community awards. Out of this it made me feel a very strong sense of standing up for vulnerable people.’

She told the Commissioner that she’d had difficulty in relationships, particularly intimate ones and had only recently disclosed the abuse to a man she’d be seeing for some time. One of the outcomes of Drysdale’s treatment was infertility and her inability to have children saddened her and made her feel ‘weakened’.

Now in her 50s, Nancy said she felt like her ‘facade’ was breaking down. ‘I just can’t cope, and I think it’s because you don’t have the resilience, and you’re looking ahead less than you’re looking back. You always have a sense of hope when you’re younger that you’ve got all this time ahead of you and suddenly it’s not there and it’s like, “Shit, this is it”. I don’t want this to be the best. I still want to know what I’m going to be when I grow up.’

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