More Thoughts on the Ultrasound Incident

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

June 18th, 2011 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

(Written on Friday 6/17) I’m still suffering the consequences of today’s visit for an ultrasound. I went in because I might have cancer, a potentially life-threatening illness. I started off by telling the technician I needed her to be very gentle with me because I am hypersensitive. “So does that mean no tickling?” she joked.

OK it’s funny, and I’m a fun-loving gal. The problem is that it set the tone of palling around. I mean, if I answer something like that in a very serious manner, well, first of all, it’s not my personality to be a kill-joy, and second of all, it would set an air of tension with this person in whose hands I was about to put my body.

It’s all jumbled and confusing, because on the one hand, she was a lovely woman – funny and seemingly caring – but at the same time, there was an undertone like I was making a big deal out of nothing. Purportedly because she could not see anything “wrong” with me.

She kept repeating this refrain, “everyone gets grey hair and wrinkles.” I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say. Was she trying to put me at ease? Was she trying to give me unsolicited counseling on not making a mountain out of a molehill?

It’s happened before, and damn it, if it wasn’t so charged and triggering to write about stuff I’ve been through, and if a decade of my life wasn’t sopped up by surviving the fallout of what doctors did to my body, and if it weren’t more important to me to haul myself out of a pit and move forward than to write about the past, I could have written the detailed stories about what happened.

All I can say now is that it has happened numerous times before that a doctor or body worker was so busy having fun with me, my story, my pain, that I ended up injured. Because they were not present and paying attention to what they were there to do, and they were not approaching their job with the appropriate seriousness.

Yes it’s a serious job, taking care of people’s lives. And we put our bodies in your hands to do just that. I do not go to the medical center to pal around with people. I go to cafes, meetup groups, or friends’ houses to do that, thank you very much.

And this tech kept saying how you have to have fun on your job, how she doesn’t want to be in a position where she just goes, “Next!” I hear that. But here’s the thing: I’m there in the capacity of a patient. It’s very different than going to a bank teller for money or going to get my car repaired. My body is what’s being worked on, what’s being handled. Handle with care, as they say.

This technician kept chatting and saying funny things (which made me laugh out loud) and asking me questions (which I felt rude not to answer, at least very briefly) while the test was in progress – therefore making my throat move, and creating sounds that easily could have been picked up by the ultrasound. So now I may need to go back and get another test.

I am going to say something I have said or alluded to before, and I’m going to say it loud: It’s enough that patients are dealing with whatever crap landed us in the doctors’ offices. Trust me, we do not want to be there. We’d rather be swimming, dancing, playing with our kids, riding our bikes, having sex, watching the movies, or hiking the Himalayans.

Again: We have enough on our plates dealing with cancer scares, chronic pain, surgeries, or whatever the fuck else is going on in our lives – the reason we are there with you. Unless I initiate a joking tone, please do not joke around with me about the reason I’m there or my request for you to be super gentle with my body. I need you to be paying attention and thinking how to make the space safe for me, thinking about how to give me the test or treatment I need so that I get out of there safely, instead of with some new issue.

Examples:

My mom was in the hospital, predominantly unconscious, unable to speak, unable to open her mouth, bones broken throughout her body, lungs punctured, brain damaged, blood everywhere, neck in a brace, hands tied to either side of the bed. And what does her head doctor fucking say? What does her doctor fucking say? She gets a patronizing, sarcastic tone and tells my mom she did a really great job messing herself up.

Like the doctor is some fucking comedian and my mom is going to burst out laughing, “Yes, hah, you’re so right doc, I really did a doozy on myself, didn’t I? Gotta make that note to self not to fall FIVE FUCKING FEET on my head next time around.” >Insert playful punch to doctor’s arm.<

I wish I wrote down the exact words the doctor said, but again, these things are so devastating, so emotionally traumatizing and therefore charged to revisit, that I have not been able to write about most of them along the way. And trust me there are a million examples.

Gd bless my mom, who in her near-death state still had the presence of mind to scrunch up her face into a snarl from hell and shoot this woman a rage-induced look in the eyes that shouted, “If I had one move left in me, I would strangle the fuck out of you, you demented imbecile!” I was so proud. That’s my mama!

I was afraid to say anything, because my mom’s life was in the balance, and you don’t want to piss off the head doctor when you’re mom’s life is in the balance. But I had to say something. So I quietly requested, “Please do not talk to her like that.” The doctor turned her head and shot me a look like I was the asshole. She was clearly pissed at my audacity to challenge her authority.

The intimate – emphasis on intimate — insanity that goes on in the medical world is just shocking and appalling. And those words are too weak to describe what goes on. It’s one of the best protected secrets, like the rampant forms of child abuse in families. We persevere with this deluded notion of the Leave-It-to-Beaver family and happy-go-lucky healthcare team that is there to serve you and has your interests at heart.

Bullshit.

Have you seen the ads for nurses? The ads are not about attracting people who care and love and provide nurturance for people who are hanging between life and death. The ads tout how a nursing job is stable in a bad economy. How a nursing job will get you health insurance and a stable paycheck. What kind of nurses are those ads going to attract? The kind who end up killing people and not caring, that’s what kind.

And doctors? People go to medical school for a whole host of reasons. I’m willing to bet hard-earned cash that most medical students want to become doctors for any reason but helping people get well — prestige, money, parent-pleasing. They don’t give a rat’s ass about their patients.

And so we get healthcare practitioners on power trips and people who expect their patients to entertain them and all this bullshit.

In other words, get this: When our lives are falling apart; when we live in terrifying uncertainty about our very survival – whether physical, financial, or spiritual; when we do not know what’s going on with our bodies; when we are in our most vulnerable, weakest condition ever, this is when we go to put our bodies and lives in the hands of people who are there to make money, impress the parents, drive fancy cars, and have people obeying their socially-determined authority.

Talk about sick.

So back to the situation today, to recap:

Fun, lovely, very nice tech. Would pal around with her in a nanosecond in another environment.

Not appropriate to make jokes about my communicating something very serious – namely, that I have a hypersensitive body, which means a lot of things in terms of how you work with me, and which I might add took me about a decade to have the knowledge and courage to communicate.

Not appropriate to get your jollies off palling around with the patients. Get it from your colleagues and your friends. Or work in hi-tech, not bio-tech.

And do not, ever, not even once, spray in someone’s presence something as toxic as alcohol, especially if the person has indicated that she is hypersensitive.



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