Et Tu, Medicus? You too, Doctor?

Near the end of Summer in 2012 I was getting ready to begin a counseling internship that was required in order to graduate and then earn my license in counseling after graduation. I was so beyond excited to begin this internship as it was so difficult for me to obtain one. I will write about this difficult journey in a different blog. However, for this blog I want to focus on a situation I went through with a medical doctor – a general practitioner I believe.

As part of the on boarding process for the internship with this particular company I had to get a TB test as well as a physical with a doctor’s office that was listed by the company. The doctor was to conduct an exam and sign off on paperwork provided to me by the company that I was to return upon completion. Cool. My mom and I went on a Saturday, I believe it was an urgent care facility as well. We had to wait somewhere around an hour to be seen – which was fine. And when I was called back for my appointment, my mom accompanied me as was my general practice or routine up until that point. My mom had always gone with me into almost every doctor’s appointment. She never really spoke, just sat there. Except for when I started seeing doctors for PAP smear exams… Yeah I was good to handle those all on my own.

So my mom and I are waiting in the little exam room for another 20 minutes and my mom is growing increasingly impatient as she has a tendency to do. My mom can get bored very easily. Finally a female doctor enters the room to begin and the examination. I am sitting on the exam table and introduced myself as the patient so clearly I am the patient. I am highlighting this because the doctor seemed to either miss or not care about this point. Or maybe neither of these things happened and it was worst than misunderstanding or not caring that I was the actual patient in the room.

You see, every the time the doctor asked a question she would address it to my mother. Then, as my mom was the one to whom the question was being addressed to, would respond with an incorrect answer. I would immediately jump in with the correct answer and the doctor would write down my answer after scribbling out what my mother had just said. This cycle of the doctor asking my mother another question, my mom giving the wrong answer, me correcting the answer, then the doctor continuing to ask my mom more questions about me continued for about 10 minutes.

To say I was fucking flabbergasted would be a huge fucking understatement. I could not fathom or understand why after being told that I was the patient she addressed her questions to my mom. Nor could I comprehend why she would continue to address the questions to my mom even though I had to correct every single answer my mom provided. By the time the doctor walked out to go review my TB test and promising to return within a few minutes I was furious. I don’t know that I have ever been so angry in a public setting.

The issue I have when I get this angry is that my body doesn’t know what to do with this sudden increase and swell of negative emotions. So my body responds with a hot pouring of uncontrollable tears for about two minutes straight. I am not an angry person and I tend to let most annoyances and frustrations go pretty immediately because anger is not ever something I like to hold on to. Once I process the negative emotions I almost always let them go.

Obviously my mother was quite alarmed and taken aback by my sudden rush of tears. I don’t cry very often, but when I do it is usually in the privacy of my own company. My mom immediately jumped up to stand in front of me and tried to put her arms around me while asking what was wrong. While I appreciated her desire to comfort me I did not want to be touched at that particular moment. I was just realizing how poorly and negatively the doctor had treated me based solely on the fact that I have a physical disability. Now, one could argue that because my mom was in the exam room with me the doctor assumed she was my caretaker but since this exam was for employment purposes and I continuously corrected the answers, I do not feel as if there was any excuse for her to treat me like I was completely incapable of speaking for myself.

This is the part that really gets me. Are you shitting me right now? You are fucking medical professional who has spent years studying the things that can go wrong with people. While I have never been to medical school I have absolutely no doubt they provide you with enough education on physical disabilities to know what parts of the body they can affect and what parts of the body they do not necessarily affect. And yet here we are with you treating me with as much ignorance as someone who has never seen or interacted with a person with a disability. Just because a person has a physical disability does not necessarily mean that they have any kind of cognitive impairment. Sometimes this assumption occurs, but it is your job as the medical professional to assess the actual patient in figure out the correct way forward.

Your bedside manner was atrocious.

When I was finally able to catch my breath – I told my mom I was upset due to the doctor repeatedly asking her questions instead of speaking directly to me and how disrespectful and insulting this was to me. I also scolded my mom for continuing to give answers when she gave multiple incorrect answers. I angrily asked her why she kept answering the questions that I should have been answering. Because the doctor asked her.

I was still highly upset and angry when my mom left the room in a flurry. I am not quite sure what she said in the hall because she had shut the door but what she told me later was she snapped at the doctor, “Hey! You get your ass back in here. You make my daughter cry! You fix it!” I have no doubt that being scolded by my little mom in such a fiery way, and likely in front of onlookers, did wonders to kick the doctor into gear.

The doctor came in in a hurry and immediately began apologizing while trying to put a comforting hand on my arm – which annoyed me. She had absolutely no idea what she had done wrong. An apology without any accountability is shit. It took me a few seconds and a few deep breaths for me to finally raise my voice enough to tell her, “Do not touch me. You are a doctor and you have completely disrespected me as a person. You should know better and you should be ashamed of your ignorance.”

She tried apologizing again but I wasn’t willing to hear it in that moment. I was done and my emotions had been spent on this situation. I wanted my test results and I wanted to leave immediately. She signed all my paperwork and gave me all the information I needed. Part of me thought she was afraid I might sue her, for what I’m not sure, but that’s really not the kind of person I am anyway.

The point of this blog is: as a person with a physical disability you always had to be cognizant and aware of how you are being treated. This was the first time I had ever immediately stood up for myself and defended myself against the prejudices of physical disabilities. Sometimes, even those who we assume have the knowledge to be insightful and aware of our shortcomings, but more importantly aware our capabilities, can still be ignorant. The ignorance that affects the way people treat us can hurt more than words can say. The important thing is to try to gain strength and awareness for future experiences so that you have the tools necessary in order to stand up and advocate for yourself even to those individuals who we would think would have more understanding.

Until next time.

-Lorraine

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