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Groundbreaking programs at San Francisco General Hospital may well change the way the entire U.S. health care system deals with domestic violence. To understand why, you have to understand Dr. Beth Kaplan.

Wednesday, Apr 18 2001
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Pictures of the victim -- which Kaplan kept -- say as much. More, actually. They show a nude, mutilated body, nearly tiled with more than 30 separate, severe burns. A close-up of one burn, on the stomach, shows an off-purple welt the size and shape of the iron itself. Others show similar marks on her chest and arms. And legs. Then there are the panned-out shots, where you see each individual burn in relation to the others, and you wonder how these two people stayed married for six years. The photos are almost impossible to look at without cringing. Although, having looked at them for two years, Beth Kaplan can.

Today, Kaplan is sitting in her car, which is parked in S.F. General's 23rd Street garage; she's ready to head home. There are pale rings around her eyes, rings pronounced enough to be visible even through the dirty-blond hair that lightens as it falls in front of her face, while she looks down at the photos.

The shift she's just completed was intense, but relatively typical, complete with a standard flow of half-conscious junkies; the homeless "regular" the whole staff thought was dead who showed up for treatment; and the woman who had been run down from behind, on the sidewalk, by a sport-utility vehicle, leaving her with a broken back and leg, a crushed pelvis, and tire marks across her abdomen. She is, very likely, paralyzed for life. (Kaplan, of course, had the privilege of sharing this diagnosis with the victim's husband and child.)

Kaplan's is a hard job, and not one that lends spare time and energy for research on the side. I ask her why she continues to pursue domestic violence as a medical issue; she gestures toward the Polaroids of the former Mrs. Zachary.

"I keep these," she says, pulling the car out onto Potrero Avenue, "so I remember."

About The Author

Jeremy Mullman

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