- Category: Science & Technology
- Created on Tuesday, 26 January 2010 17:40
- Written by Mike Ely
I opened the New York Times Science section and found short anecdotes excerpted from Times' bloggers.
As I read one of them, I realized that it was a casual, very personal story of how people of the upper classes make their claims for special privilege. It is told with a completely unapologetic sense of entitlement.
The author describes how her husband was injured. In the hospital she was carrying out a strategy of connecting with the nurses -- seeking special attention for her husband by pointing out that she too was a medical professional.
And (the humorous twist in the story) she discovers that she didn't need her own strategies, because her husband's job (as a physicist) already qualified him to be treated "like a rock star."
Here is the key passage:
"His job as a physics professor ended up mattering in a way I never expected: the doctors all treated him like a rock star. They respectfully called him Professor, shyly admitted to struggling in physics, and guardedly said they would treat him as long as he didn’t ask them any physics questions. Who knew? I thought our ace in the hole would be that I’m a nurse in the same hospital system, but my husband’s profession trumped any cred I could have brought to bear. And the truth is, that was kind of a relief. Because that night, I realized, I didn’t want to be there in the emergency department as a nurse, I just wanted to be a wife."
We are supposed to read this story as a heart-warming memory. Everything worked out for the best. The special treatment came to her husband automatically, without her having to push her own position. She could relax. She had just been planning to connect with the nurses (her peers), while her husband had tapped into the doctors (his peers).
This story operates by creating a void, where everyone else is anonymous and invisible. But let me ask the unaddressed questions:
- What happens to people who are not medical professionals, or rock stars or physicists?
- What kind of treatment do they get?
- How much of their treatment decided by unspoken measurements of social status and social worth?
- If a white physicist or a rock star get that wonderful special treatment, what does a homeless Black woman get? Or a rural waitress?
Think about this passage: "The doctors all treated him like a rock star."
Ok, how exactly did they know he was a physicist? Because he told them, because that is how it works. People with class privilege tell those with power "who they are" -- and then they get special privilege. And everyone around the professor gets the message. And his wife can relax.
And what happens if you have to tell the doctors in Spanish "I have no money or insurance. I work day labor when I work at all"? And what happens, in that case, if you are the spouse of that patient? Can you relax? Can you be confident you are in kind and loving hands?
There is a brief discussion where the patient and doctors joke about the required questions about abuse. Ha ha. "My husband got the joke." Of course there couldn't be abuse (after all, he is a man and a physicist).
But what happens if you are undocumented and answering questions in that emergency room... are the doctors' tones so reassuring? Can't the whole experience suddenly become a nightmare: can't this nurse suddenly "dropping a dime" on your life. Ha, ha.
Aren't official questions in the emergency room funny -- just part of a privileged man quickly finding his rightful place within the American medical system.
Final thought experiment:
How might such things change if America actually got socialist medicine?
* * * * * * * *
Complete, as it originally appeared.
In a Family Emergency, Nurse or Wife?By THERESA BROWN, R.N.
January 20, 2010My husband, Arthur, fell the Sunday before Christmas. He was walking the dog and slipped on a patch of black ice about a block from our house. Luckily, someone with a cellphone walked by and called our home.
Our 13-year-old son took the call and then told me, in an oddly emotionless voice, “Dad fell and we need to go get him.”
And so it began. I jumped in our van and started driving. It was dark, but Arthur’s orange Gore-Tex parka stood out where he lay on the sidewalk.
“Oh, oh, oh,” I said. Man down.
The first thing he said was “I think I broke my shinbone,” and my immediate reaction was “No, you did not.” I didn’t want to think about him being hurt, and I really didn’t want to think that a fall on ice could so easily break a healthy bone. We want the people we love to be invulnerable, and we want to be invulnerable ourselves.
Turns out he broke two bones — the tibia in two places, the fibula in one — and tore loose the membrane that holds the tibia and fibula together at the ankle. It would take more than three hours of surgery to fix him, but we knew none of that at the time, only that he was in pain and cold and couldn’t stand up.
The stranger with the cellphone called an ambulance, and our son took the dog back home. All three children went to a neighbor’s house where we were expected for dinner anyway, and I followed the ambulance to the hospital.
The emergency medical technicians had placed him on a board and fitted him with a cervical collar just in case he had a spinal cord injury. They unlaced the boot on his left leg (which hurt) and then stabilized the leg with an inflatable splint. All I wanted to do as I drove to the emergency room was cry, but I told myself, “Don’t cry — it won’t help right now,” so I put my game face on instead.
“Who was I now?,” I wondered. Nurse or wife? “I’m a nurse,” I told the nurse in the emergency room, “but I’ll try not to be annoying.” She laughed, and then the medical resident said, “I’ll try not to be annoying, too.”
Then they got to work and cut the boot off his left foot, took his vital signs and gave him some intravenous narcotics. They also cut off his jeans, which were dirty and wet, and carefully got him into a hospital gown.
During all this we got treated to the gallows humor of the place, and it actually made me feel at home. The admission nurse asked if Arthur had any alcohol before he fell. “Well, no more than his usual fifth of scotch,” I answered. She laughed and then said, “You’d be surprised.”
Then she asked him if he felt safe at home, if I’d ever threatened him or hurt him. These are standard questions intended to screen for spousal abuse. “No, nothing like that,” Arthur started to say before she interrupted him, “Well, come on, we know she did this to you.” My husband got the joke. “Oh, except for this,” he said, playing along.
Meanwhile, he was worrying about when he would finish final grades for the premed physics class at the nearby university he had just finished teaching. He is a conscientious guy, or maybe that was his own denial, his wanting to imagine that his injury wouldn’t really slow him down.
His job as a physics professor ended up mattering in a way I never expected: the doctors all treated him like a rock star. They respectfully called him Professor, shyly admitted to struggling in physics, and guardedly said they would treat him as long as he didn’t ask them any physics questions.
Who knew? I thought our ace in the hole would be that I’m a nurse in the same hospital system, but my husband’s profession trumped any cred I could have brought to bear. And the truth is, that was kind of a relief. Because that night, I realized, I didn’t want to be there in the emergency department as a nurse, I just wanted to be a wife.
We always say that if you go to the hospital you should take someone with you who understands how modern health care and modern hospitals work. In general it’s good advice. But the staff in that emergency department knew their jobs — they didn’t need me or any other nurse scrutinizing everything they did.
When the X-rays came back, the doctors decided to “reduce” Arthur’s fracture, meaning that the orthopedist would realign his leg while he was sedated. The resident, the same one who had said he would try not to be annoying, gave me the oxygen to put on Arthur. “People feel better when they can help,” he said. I agreed with him, but then had a devil of a time getting the tubing to fit the right way.
I was too distracted and scared to be good for much in the way of nursing. But maybe because I am a nurse, I could see how competent they all were and could relax just a little.
Waiting for the surgery, I stood at the head of Arthur’s bed and absentmindedly ran my fingers through his hair. “That’s the best thing you can do right now, stroke his head,” the resident said. Then he added, “And you’re the only one who can do it.”