When I was in Anchorage for some medical training recently, I was trailing a Diabetic doctor as she saw patients. She looked kind of like Annie Lennox if Annie Lennox maybe had a hard life instead of the assumed easy one I think she must lead.
One of the patients had Down Syndrome. We went through all the initial questions. What has your blood sugar averaged this month? What are you eating? (Her husband had been forcing her to eat ice cream, literally.) Are you physically active? Do you still have a membership to the Y? Are you competing in the Special Olympics again? No? Why not? (Not enough money to pay the $10 fee at the Y) Are you taking your medication?
The woman was managing her diabetes well. She had a really sweet demeanor. She was thoughtful before she spoke.
At the end of the visit, she told the doctor that she had brought something for her. She pulled out a plastic bag and from it, she presented an orange hooded sweatshirt. It was a plain sweater. There wasn't a logo or some obnoxious advertisement on it.
" Do you remember when I was here last, how you said you liked my sweater that I was wearing? Well, I brought it for you to have," she said.
The doctor struggled. She looked at me, and in her eyes was a warning and a fear.
The doctor said, " Oh . No sweet heart, I liked it on you. You shouldn't give it to me. Thats very sweet though."
You know what I thought? Inside my head were legions of cells I thought were long-dead, screaming for the doctor to take the sweater. Take it and try it on. Model it in the hallway for colleagues, and gush over it... and maybe THEN decline for some lame ass reason. The pauses between them were too great, and the moment.. the opportunity to make this huge leap of trust and acceptance had passed, and now we were all treading water in a place that no one with any kind of compassion or position of judgment wants to be in.
So, in the awkward silence I told the patient, "It's an awesome sweater, but if the doctor wears it, she's gonna look way too orange."
The clinical visit is over, only I hear sobbing coming from the room as the young woman waits for the pharmacist to come and straighten out her meds. (Alaskan pharmacy students have to wear United States Naval Uniforms now, and probably 2/3 of their clients are intimidated by it.) That fact has nothing to do really with this scenario.
I call the doctor over and motion into the room.
The door shuts and traffic backs up. Patients waiting to get their consultations over with.
I wish I could tell you the specifics of the reason why the young woman was upset. Suffice it to say, that she was a victim of abuse, and she didn't have the tools to deal with it like others do.
The doctor made some calls to social workers and a ball got rolling, and there's no telling where that ball is now.
I don't think this occupation is my calling, but I do know one thing.
If the doctor had tried on that fucking sweater and acted pleased for like 2 seconds, that young woman would have gained some strength and a sense of importance that she was obviously accustomed to being denied. I think , she needed the hospital AT LEAST to show some interest in her grace. Some might argue, that acknowledging personal needs like this can really trouble the integrity of a physician/patient relationship. And to that I say, Suck a Billy Jack. Use your goddamned head. People need to be treated like people.