72: Grab Bag

72: Grab Bag

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Grab Bag

I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity.

~Julius Erving

Standing at her bedside, the doctor asked my seventeen-year-old daughter, “Piper, do you like school?” His crossed arms revealed his agenda to discredit her physical complaints and discharge her from the hospital. It wasn’t our first experience with this line of questioning.

I knew what he was implying, and as her mom I ached to jump into the conversation to protect her, but I needed Piper to answer for herself. After all, I wouldn’t be able to safeguard her from such accusations all her life. I waited for her reply. Don’t raise your voice, I thought, or he’ll accuse you of defiance. Don’t falter, or you’ll appear unsteady, anxious. Don’t cry, or he’ll label you depressed. And, most importantly, don’t give him approval through silence.

She made eye contact with the man in the lab coat looming over her, and she said, “Of course I like school. I take advanced placement classes at a private school to challenge myself, so I can get into a top university after I graduate.”

That’s my girl, I thought. Nice defense.

But the doctor refused to back down. “Do you find yourself missing a lot of classes?”

“Are you kidding?” she said. “In AP classes, missing one day is like missing a week. I’ve only missed two days this entire school year. I hate to fall behind.” She looked at me, and I smiled because she remained self-assured.

She could’ve told him how she darted from classes throughout the day to vomit in the restroom and then quietly returned to her desk as if nothing had happened. Or she could’ve mentioned that before the first bell, while her friends chatted about last evening’s events, she marched to the nurse’s office to give herself a heparin shot in the stomach. And that during lunch, she returned to the nurse to swallow one of the many handfuls of pills she had to choke down each day that enabled her to attend school in the first place. But she knew better than to provide him ammunition. The more facts she reported to the man in white, the increased likelihood of being labeled a malingerer, a faker. She had learned to say as little as possible.

“Maybe it’s just your monthly visitor,” he blurted.

Stunned, I looked Piper in the eyes and saw a flicker of temporary confusion turn to disbelief.

Obviously, he thought her weak, unable to handle pain.

If only he’d witnessed Piper’s disappointment when she couldn’t pass the ROTC physical. How bravery and courage fueled her desire to defend our nation, but migraines, seizures, joint pain, numbness and tingling in her arms and legs, blurred vision, dizziness, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, memory loss, and vertigo dashed any hope of donning a military uniform. Denied a future as an Army warrior, she still possessed a warrior’s spirit.

I stepped in to teach my daughter yet another lesson in handling misogyny.

“Do you really think she’d go to the ER for her period? You realize she was transported here by ambulance from another hospital, right? If it were her menstrual period, the other hospital would’ve laughed at her and sent her home. They thought her condition severe enough to admit her here.”

I waited for our punishment. How dare I question a doctor? A male doctor at that.

“Well, they were wrong. She can go home.”

I flinched. “Does she get the courtesy of a proper diagnosis?”

“I think it’s a flu bug,” he muttered.

“She’s been vomiting for months. Does the flu last that long?”

I braced myself, knowing I’d crossed a bigger line by challenging his diagnosis. But what did we have to lose?

He shook his head.

“Could you at least palpate her abdomen to see where the pain is coming from? Like I said, this has been going on for months.”

He glared at me. “That won’t be necessary. She can get dressed and go home.”

He handed her an eviction notice.

I turned toward Piper, who was on the verge of tears, and gave her the don’t-give-him-the-satisfaction-of-crying look.

And home we went: a place devoid of judgment, sarcasm, eye rolling, and degradation.

Knowing that she had a chronic disease and would have more encounters with indifferent medical doctors in months to come, Piper and I developed a plan.

“Can we just get up and leave when they’re so rude?” she asked.

That thought had never occurred to me, being raised by parents and grandparents who held doctors in high esteem. With this question, I realized she did not believe that doctors were almighty and all-knowing. Why not leave? As paying customers, weren’t we entitled to respect? Why would I continue to allow healthcare professionals to belittle, chastise, or question my daughter’s character? Or to infer she faked an illness when she suffered every day, all day?

We devised ground rules: We would no longer entertain their talk of a school phobia, hints of gender weakness, accusations of malingering or faking, or the labeling of a mental health diagnosis without sufficient cause. The most important rule: We wouldn’t be rude or disrespectful in return. We would uphold our dignity.

“I’ll follow your lead,” I suggested. “It’s your appointment, so I want you to call it when you feel the doctor crosses a line. Your line may be different from mine.”

“Let the games begin,” she said.

First up, a visit to a gastroenterologist for her continued nausea and vomiting.

“It could just be related to ovulation or, perhaps, anxiety.” Wow. A double whammy.

I watched for a signal. Piper reached over, grabbed her school bag and stood.

The doctor’s eyes widened.

“Thank you for your time,” she said. “Mom, are you ready?”

I followed her lead and plucked my purse from the ground. “The only anxiety she has is when a doctor doesn’t take her pain seriously. And I don’t think she’s been ovulating every day for months. But thank you.”

As the doctor tried to process our boldness, we walked away with confidence in our decision. We no longer rewarded disrespect. We no longer paid for incompetence. We no longer argued against an archaic establishment that continued to blame the chronically ill who sought help in hopes of alleviating their pain and suffering.

Next up, an allergist. “So, you’ve had Lymes disease in the past?”

Ouch, I thought, and waited for Piper’s decision. She grabbed her bag, signaling the end of the appointment. “It’s Lyme disease. Not Lymes. If you don’t know how to say it, I don’t know that you can treat it. Besides, there’s no cure, so I still have it.”

The doctor straightened and looked at me for a second opinion, and I nodded. Piper and I high-fived all the way to the car.

We now treat the first doctor’s visit as an interview, deciding if the physician’s views and knowledge of Lyme disease are compatible with Piper’s needs. Based on the interview, we either hire or we fire. Our treatment for curing a doctor’s arrogance and rudeness? We grab our bags and take our dollars elsewhere.

~Cathi LaMarche

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