A Woman in My Position:
The Politics of Breast Implant Safety

by Linda Wilson, Dianne Brown,
156 pages,
ISBN: 1550210904

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Ounce of Prevention, Pound of Disaster
by Cordelia Strube

In 1985 Linda Wilson underwent a double mastectomy on the advice of a surgeon recommended by her G.P. Usually this procedure is performed to remove cancerous growths. But in her case the surgery was to remove recurring fibrocystic lumps in her breasts. It was considered preventative, eliminating not only the fibroids but the risk of breast cancer. Following the mastectomies, a plastic surgeon, recommended by her surgeon, inserted silicone implants. However, "the potential to cause cancer and/or reactions of the body to silicone toxicity was never considered."

Since the initial unsuccessful insertion, Wilson has endured further operations to try to correct what her plastic surgeon called "deformities". She experiences some of the problems suspected of being caused by breast implants: muscle and joint pain, chest pain, fatigue, rashes. She has also learned that, although the reason why fibrocystic lumps form in breast tissue is not known, the condition often disappears through the menopausal years. She is left with the knowledge that the surgery may have been needless, and the reality that the Dow Corning breast implants she currently wears will soon have to be replaced.

Throughout her ordeal, her questions about the operations were met with indifference and hostility by her plastic surgeon. She relates one incident that took place shortly after Meme implants were inserted, when she suffered the first of many infections:

"He [Dr. Guichon] told me that there had been no healing and that the implant had to come out right away...I was then told to lie back. Dr. Guichon, without any anaesthetic, took out the stitches. He then put his hand into the opening and began trying to pry the implant out of my breast... It seemed to take forever. Finally, unable to take it any more, I looked straight at Dr. Guichon and told him to get his hands off me. He stopped and asked if I was in pain. He administered Valium and then Demerol and then continued. I asked him to show me the implant. He held it up and threw it into the garbage can."

Wilson and many others have been subjected to a procedure that "involves the breaking of scar tissue that has formed, rendering the breast hard... The doctor, usually in his office, without anaesthetic, places his hands firmly around the breast and applies extreme pressure until the scar tissue tears... This is excruciatingly painful and it is not uncommon for the woman to faint. It sometimes leaves the breast feeling softer. However, in many cases, it causes the rupture of the implant and leaks silicone into the body."

During one of Wilson's numerous stays in hospital (where she was given intravenous antibiotics to fight infection, which themselves caused yeast infections and skin rashes), a nurse told her that most of the implant patients who experienced "complications" were patients of Dr. Guichon, her plastic surgeon.

Wilson chose to sue him. In the course of this, she learned that not only were her surgeon and the manufacturer of the implants suspect; so too was the government regulatory body that let them go on the market. She describes with great care and detail her Kafkaesque struggle, starting in 1985, to make Health and Welfare Canada accountable for allowing the use of Meme breast implants. These are silicone implants covered in a foam that can disintegrate once inserted into the body, then becoming entangled with breast tissue, often bringing about infection. According to Dr. Chris Batch at the University of Florida, the foam has also been found to break down into a cancer-causing chemical.

Linda Wilson lost her suit. At the trial, her husband claims to have overheard the testifying doctors saying to each other such things as "Did I do all right?" and "Nothing I said could harm you, could it?"

This book raises disturbing questions. Is our medical community equipped or willing to police its own practices? Can we trust government to regulate our health and welfare? How much does profit-making rule decision-making? How much power does the pharmaceutical drug industry actually have? Conspiracy theories can abound here. Linda Wilson's extraordinarily brave and candid account reminds us that we cannot be trusting, that we must constantly question our social systems. Her trials have left her with huge legal bills, as well as permanent disfigurement. Her account of the lawsuits should be a warning to us all. As fellow taxpayers, we owe it to her to sit up and take notice.


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