The Risk of Questioning Doctors, Nurses, and Other Healthcare Practitioners

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

December 25th, 2008 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

While my mom was in the Intensive Care Unit, she received outstanding treatment.  Not only were the nurses and doctors competent and efficient, but so many of them were downright loving. I felt safe every night when I left my mother in their care.

Then a nurse whom we’ll call “S” came on the night shift.  I went up to him and introduced myself with a friendly hello.  Not only was his response cold, bordering on hostile, but something about him felt downright creepy.  In addition, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was intentionally trying to intimidate me, given the way he was moving when in my proximity and the way he was responding to my questions.

To his credit, he was the one nurse who let me stay while changing my mom’s bed and moving her to a different position.  (Since my mom was unable to move, the nurses had to move her body every two hours, so that she would not get bedsores.) 

As part of this routine, “S” took off my mother’s leg pads (which pumped up and down every couple of seconds, to keep my mother’s blood circulating).  He then threw them on the floor, along with the sheets. While the sheets went into the soiled linen bin, “S” began picking up the pads and moving them back in the direction of my mother’s legs.

“Those were on the floor,” I protested.  “The floor is clean,” he replied. “It gets washed all the time.” Are you fucking kidding me?  A hospital floor?  Clean?

Here’s the thing, and it’s the same damn thing I have dealt with in every messed-up doctor interaction: When we are patients, we are vulnerable. Our health and very lives are in the hands of the doctors treating us. It doesn’t necessarily matter how we question something – ie, sweetly or antagonistically.  Many doctors get ticked off that we’re questioning them at all.

And the last thing you want to do is antagonize a doctor.  Or in this case, a nurse.  Especially when your mother is going to have to spend the whole damn night in his care. So I chose my words carefully.  “It doesn’t seem hygienic,” I answered. “It’s standard procedure,” he insisted. 

What could I say to that?  I had not been in the room when any of the other nurses changed my mom’s bed.  For all I knew, they all were throwing the damn pads on the floor.  So I didn’t say anything but cringed inside, as “S” put the pads back on my mother’s legs.

I’m too tired to continue writing now, but I will continue the story tomorrow.

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