THE BLOG
12/01/2013 01:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

One Woman's Nightmare, Another's Scrap of Hope?

Robin Temple was effectively "butchered" by the people she trusted most to help her.

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But her story begins long before that, back when she was serving in the Air Force in the '80s. Temple alleged she was raped by her sergeant, but when she reported the rape, she was quickly shuffled away into a mental hospital.

In the hospital, Temple says she received illegal doses of anti-psychotics like Haldol and lithium, which triggered grand mal seizures. She spent more than 100 days in the mental hospital before being released only with the ultimate involvement of a state senator.

Every VA hospital Temple subsequently contacted to receive her veteran benefits turned her away, until she finally got a VA doctor's attention in the mid-'90s. From there, however, things only went downhill. Temple had developed tumors in her ovaries and was to have them removed. The VA surgeon mistakenly removed part of her colon instead, leaving the ovaries in place. The tumors spread to her lymph nodes.

Temple's medical nightmare continued to worsen. She developed two hernias, her bladder was cut in half by bladder sheaths that would later be recalled and one of her kidneys began to fail due to repeated episodes of sepsis. Temple then found a lump in her breast, which led to a double mastectomy and the removal of some affected lymph nodes.

Temple now lives in a camper from which she has aired videos of herself recounting her story. Her videos quickly gained traction, catching the Internet's attention. Some of the videos are painfully graphic, displaying Temple's mangled, jigsaw puzzle of a body and truncated teeth from an allergy to penicillin.

Temple's story is a tragedy to be sure, but with the help of websites like Reddit and YouTube, her tale went viral and caught the attention of many, including the media. Petitions and fundraising campaigns were immediately launched in her honor.

At this point, Temple's story is rapidly making its way across the Internet, despite the fact that many don't want it to be heard. I had a question though -- with the vastness, accessibility and equalizing power of the Internet, how does one get their story of injustice heard?

Platforms like Upworthy, indiegogo, and many more are intent on bringing injustices and important issues to the forefront with the help of the Internet. Some of these sites are accused of using sensational and deceptive headlines to grab attention, but it gets the job done. Of course for every person or group whose story is heard, countless stories are never heard. So how do you make yours known? I wanted to learn from some of the most tireless fighters I'd encountered.

Héloïse Schuhmacher, a Canadian medical student, has been a rallying force behind Temple. When she first learned of Temple's story, she couldn't believe the field she was ready to commit herself to could abandon someone so recklessly. From there, Schuhmacher began an Internet fundraising campaign for Temple, despite living in another country.

Schuhmacher has helped me understand what it took to get Temple's story heard.

"Robin's one could have been [a story of injustice left aside]," she explains. "Actually she has been documenting her tragedy on her Facebook page for four years already, she has been contacting countless different people asking them to expose the case, but only was she heard when she posted this video two weeks ago." 

Temple's videos are shot in her cabin, conversational and unadorned, with her body fully exposed, as she explains how everything went wrong. She opens one such video: "Hi, my name's Robin Temple. I'm an Air Force veteran and I'm a malpractice survivor." She pauses before the line about being a survivor, her eyes darting quickly down to her twisted, deformed belly. Despite the discomfort of the situation, the urge to look away, Temple's easy going cynicism and humbleness put the average viewer at ease, whether we should be put at ease or not. She is willing to bare it all.

On the effectiveness of this style, Schuhmacher gives me her own initial reaction, one that closely mirrors my own:

As the video progressed and the atrocities were revealed, I started to feel a sudden rage coming from the terrible injustice I was witnessing. I can tell you that at the end of the video I was left dizzy, completely unable to assimilate that it was even possible to harm and abandon someone like this. All I saw was an incredibly resilient and strong woman with so much despair and helplessness in her eyes, I believe that empathy should be the main drive of a doctor. I couldn't understand how doctors could have treated her with such indifference.  

Schuhmacher explains the significance of adding the intimate and difficult-to-digest video, "is that her story is one that could put lots of people (the culprits and everyone who witnessed it with indifference) in danger -- it's an uncomfortable one, and it's not the kind of story that you will hear on your global mainstream media."

Schuhmacher adds because Temple was originally labeled by doctors as "psychologically problematic," it took a long time for anyone to take her story seriously. Temple does suffer from PTSD, but Schuhmacher calls that a "a normal human reaction to an inhuman event or series of events," and notes that does not make her medical condition any less valid. Listening to Temple yourself, it's clear she's not just "crazy," she's another human being who was devastatingly mistreated by a broken system, again and again.

Since hearing of the tragedy, and launching the indiegogo campaign, Schuhmacher and Temple's numerous other supporters urged everyone: spread the word and don't stop.

And for those whose stories will still never be heard, hopefully voices like Temple's rising to the top will help alleviate some of their suffering too.