Blindness v. Medical Profession

First there was the eye. Then there was the trachea. Two different body parts and two distinct experiences one atop the other making their disparity so apparent even a blind person noticed. And I believe that was the reason for the difference – my blindness.

Eye Doc came into the office, didn’t quite know how to shake my hand, and spent some of the appointment looking away from me focused on paperwork. Pulmonary doc entered the office, introduced himself with a normal handshake, had a conversation with me about the situation, and then paged Trachea Doc who was in the office within fifteen minutes.

Trachea Doc’s handshake was natural and he sat next to me for our conversation. Perhaps position or some other audible queue indicated with 95% certainty that he looked directly at me as we spoke. At the end of the consultation, Pulmonary doc personally guided me back to the waiting room. That usually doesn’t happen.

The time came for procedure explanation and my endless questions. Because of my vast amount of medical exposure, I am not your standard patient nor is my body typical. Eye Doc was impossible to reach, seemed unable or unwilling to recognize I’m not your average patient, and was uninformative. Trachea Doc sat next to me and explained everything answering all my crazy questions. After I have explained that medical procedures tend to have odd results, he obviously registered this information because he referenced it later in conversation. When he realized I have parents will be very concerned about the situation, he offered to call and speak with them directly.

Both Eye Doc and Trachea Doc came to see me in pre-op, but Trachea Doc hung out in the operating room before I was put to sleep. While he assembled supplies, he stood next to the table and distracted me with Small talk. In all of my twenty-something surgeries, I cannot remember this ever happening. Ever.

While I am not done with follow-up, I already have some data. The day of my trachea surgery, I ran into Pulmonology Doc in the hall. He greeted me by name, knew enough to tell me his name, and was aware of my surgery that day. Eye Doc has warmed up to me slightly and our handshake is less awkward. He also seems to find me more interesting to study than paper. Trachea Doc gave me his email address, repeatedly has told me to call if I ever have a problem, and made it crystal clear he considers any concern I have to be worth his time.

Treating physicians rely upon staff and other medical professionals who have a myriad of reactions to me. Eye Anesthesiologist listened to my concerns proving it when he concluded our conversation with a summary of the salient points. He then did his best to distract me as I had requested. Trachea Anesthesiologist seemed to hear what I said without it quite registering. Although I expressed my visceral fear of oxygen masks, a result of having them held over my face as a child, she not only insisted upon using one, but I think she put some downward pressure upon it.

Eye Nurses were ill-equipped to interact with a blind person. The worst problem was continually having them come into my cubical and start doing something without alerting me to their presence. Then they would leave without letting me know. A friend tried explaining the problem and asking that they at least announce their comings and goings, but it had absolutely no effect.

Trachea Nurses largely seemed comfortable with a blind person and those who were uncertain addressed the issue directly. Because of my Eye Nurse experience, I made a point to tell the Trachea Nurse-in-Charge to make certain people announced their arrivals and departures which might explain the difference in behavior.

Here’s the thing: Eye Doc is supposedly one of the best in his field practicing at an eye clinic with a stellar reputation. AS part of the same medical center, I am certain Trachea and Pulmonary Doc aren’t slouches either, but I have no objective data. I thought age might have something to do with the difference, but Eye Doc and Pulmonary Doc are equivalent in maturity. I’d chalk it up to human variation, yet Trachea Staff consistently behaved better. Honestly, I have no explanation for the disparity.

I would like to point out one thing. By the nature of their patients, Eye Doc and Staff have a better chance of encountering blind people in their daily work. You would think it would show in behavior.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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