Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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I Almost Cursed Out an Attending Physician

Hey there. Been a while, huh. Almost a year to the day. I’ve thought about writing more over the past year, as my goal was to document experiences I’ve had as a medical student living with a disability. And I’ve even got several drafts of things I’ve written over the past year that never got finished. It’s certainly been a busy year, but it hasn’t been without time to breathe.

In order for me to get things done, they have to make it to my massive task management list. It’s something I review regularly and it’s the only way I can get anything done. More about that at a later date, but the short of it is, I’ve decided to set a regular deadline for myself to write something here every few weeks. It’s something I really want to do, and that doesn’t seem an overly-impractical goal. Granted, who knows if I’ll be able to pull it off. But that’s the plan. So without further ado, here’s the first.

In late February 2011, I started my third year of med school (M3) with a couple months on neurology and psychiatry. One morning while writing a patient note during my psychiatry rotation, an internal med doc sat down next to me. He said, “Hello!” in a familiar way.  I had no idea who he was, but he sure seemed to know me. The man asked, “you don’t remember me, do you?”  I looked at him somewhat quizzically and shook my head. He said, “one morning, crossing the walkway…” And I knew exactly who he was.

I’ve written in the past about the strange interactions I’ve had with people – but that was mostly about people telling me I need a bell (I don’t), or that I should get a speeding ticket (I don’t go THAT fast), or that I’m quite adept at moving “that thing” (and you’re quite good at working those shoe “things” you have, thanks). One story always stuck with me, but I haven’t written about it before.

One morning I was hurriedly rushing to class at 7:50am, trying to be there by 8:00am. I took my normal route, which happens to pass through one of our teaching hospitals. As is the case for me, I was in my own world. I approached a walkway that had a slight incline, and started to go up it.  As I moved forward, someone asked if I wanted help.  I politely said, “no, thanks.” I wasn’t struggling, and it only takes 5-10 seconds to get up the full length of the incline.

The person again said, “here, let me help you.” And I again declined the offer, albeit not quite as politely as before. But the person persisted, and started to grab on to the back of my chair to push.

Now, imagine you’re walking up a ramp. Imagine someone asks if you need help, asks again after you decline, and then picks you up and starts to carry you. You’d be pretty ticked, right? You might even feel your personal space had been invaded.

I grabbed my wheels and squeezed my hands tightly to lock them in place before turning and angrily telling the person to stop, as I’d said several times I didn’t want help. I came very close to cursing at the guy, as this was very invasive on his part, but better judgment prevailed and I avoided it. Finally, he got the message.

And now, while entering my patient note into the computer two years later, here was the same person sitting right next to me. Wearing a white coat. Oops. Good thing I kept my tongue in check that morning.

We talked for a few minutes, and he told me how the brief, chance interaction early that morning, coupled with a story he saw on TV later that evening about an individual living with a disability, changed how he views and interacts with people living with a disability. He realized that, although well-intended, forcing assistance on people wasn’t the right idea. He realized that a big part of living with a disability is being able to retain control over the aspects of one’s life that one actually can still control. And that when people force help on you, it serves to take away certain parts of that.

He felt quite a bit of remorse for how he’d acted that morning, which was even evident two years later. And we ended up having a nice chat. We’ve since run into each other around the hospital any number of times, and it’s worked out to have been a positive experience for all parties. And every time I see him, I think how happy I am that one summer morning, I didn’t unleash a tirade that would have made a sailor blush.

You never know when you might cross someone’s path again.

Edit 2011-07-06: This post was recently selected by Doctor Fizzy for inclusion in Grand Rounds. To new readers, welcome! Have a look around and I hope you’ll come back and stick around for a while!

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