A physician speaks out about his patient's hand injuries
resulting from corporal punishment at school

[Australia, May 1983]

Please be advised that Master Glen Hoult, age 12, presented to me at 5.30 p.m. on 21st April 1983, complaining of much pain, bruising, stiffness, tenderness and swelling to the finger tips of both hands.

Evidently he sustained trauma to both hands as the result of being struck with a narrow rod.

On examination the left hand showed evidence of a haematoma, swelling and "track marks" 1/2 cm wide to the palmar surface at the base of the middle and ring fingers, as well as "track marks" across the tips of the same fingers associated with haematoma formation.

The right hand showed evidence of bruising and "track marks" to both middle and ring fingers also associated with haematoma formation.

In both hands the affected fingers suffered from reduced mobility because of the swelling resulting from haematoma formation in the subcutaneous tissue.

In both hands fine touch sensation to the affected fingers was reduced.

In my opinion the injuries suffered are not inconsistent with having been struck by a not inconsiderable force some 8 hours prior to the consultation.

It is worth noting that the consequences of this form of paediatric physical violence can have various sequelae. There exists a whole range of orthopaedic complications ranging from fractures to dislocation of the terminal phalangeal joints leading to premature osteoarthritic changes, to risks of severe infections involving the fascial spaces of the hand. These risk are especially high if there exists any pre-existing undiagnosed subungual infections, and may subsequently prove difficult to manage.

There also exists a whole range of psychological sequelae ranging school phobias to induced "school resentment" leading to subsequent anti-social behaviour patterns, especially in a young child just 4 months into High School.

As a medical practitioner it saddens me that this young boy's parents found it necessary to seek medical attention for what I consider to have been an inappropriately inflicted trauma. There must be more educationally sound and more mature means of modifying the behaviour of a 12 year old child in 1983.

In my opinion the nature of these injuries constitutes a form of child abuse, as a consequence of which I am obliged at law to advise the Dept. of Youth and Community Services for further comments and possible remedial actions to safeguard the medical interest of my patient.

These lesions will most likely regress over the next four or five days, causing some writing impairment and possibly putting Glen at risk in urgent situations demanding manual dexterity. One can only speculate as to the psychological damage such trauma does to a 12 year old child.

Yours Sincerely,
Dr J. J. H. Beek
B.Sc. (Hons)., M.Sc. (Physics) M.B., B.S.,
Cert F.P.A., Dip R.A.C.O.G.

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