Saturday, October 13, 2007


Everyone was a little bit shocked. They all looked at me like I was an unreasonable, errant child. "Well, if that's what you'd like," she said as she got up and left the room. The nurse, who sat across the desk from me sat waiting an explanation.

What had happened was this ...

I had just spent about an hour with the endocrinologist who had asked me a thousand personal questions ... including about my pee pee ... and I sat answering all of them, uncomfortable and shy about some, upfront and forthright about others. She sat writing things down in my file showing little or no reaction to anything I said. Well, except maybe mild disbelief when I told her that the rise in my blood sugar was not related to diet. I've been quite rigourous and my sugar had been well under control until the last six months when no matter what I ate, it was high. When she was done, I was scheduled to see the nurse who would teach me how to give myself insulin injections.

That meant another wait in the waiting room. An elderly disabled woman had a bit of a heart thing and then when that was settled returned to her book. Joe did his crossword and I sat there thinking about how my life had just changed, yet again. I had desperately wanted to keep the diabetes undercontrol with diet and pills but that had failed. I don't like needles particularly and could not imagine giving myself one.

The nurse came, bent over me as I sat in my wheelchair and said, "Well, we're going on insulin are we?" I was immediately annoyed. Firstly, 'we' aren't 'I' am. Secondly why should everyone in the waiting room know my business? I said nothing and we all trooped down a long hallway to an oddly shaped office at the end.

There was the nurse, then Joe beside me and a woman I had not met and did not know sitting in the chair behind me. The nurse launched into her spiel without introducing either herself or the woman sitting behind me. I put my hand up indicating for her to stop. She did, a flash of anger crossing her face. "Who is the woman sitting behind me?"

"Oh," answered the woman behind, "I'm a nurse from the hospital and I'm just here today to see the services offered through the diabetes clinic. I'm just sitting in, if that's ok with you."

Well, it might have been if I had been introduced to her and been asked. It might have been if the nurse had even bothered to introduce herself to me. It might have been if the nurse hadn't blurted out private information in a public forum. It might have been if she was sitting where I could see her. It might have been if I was doing anything but learning how to give myself a needle and was afraid I was going to weep like a toothing child.

"No, it's not," I said, "I value my privacy."

All eyes looked at me in shock. Even so, the observer left. And the nurse began again, a little more careful know, seeing that she had a patient that wasn't in awe of it all, wasn't captituatling to everything.

I put my hand up again. She stopped. "Who are you?"

"I told you I am the nurse," she stated.

"Surely you have a name."

"I already introduced myself," she said.

"No, you haven't."

Introductions over we continued.

There is so little room for personal control as one enters the world of disability. So little room to assert what's yours. So little privacy. So little respect for boundaries. I was tired when we left, but was glad that I'm a cantankerous old guy who still knows how to speak his mind. I'm glad that I left with a little bit of me preserved, untouched by question, unobserved by prying eyes, undocumented in a file.


e said...

wrong wrong WRONG!!!

I work in a pharmacy...a large, retail, 1000/day discount pharmacy...and this is the place where you would EXPECT a lack of privacy...

but no

not here

not on my watch.

"I was HPPA..when HPPA wasn't cool." is my motto.

Birth Control Pills and any stock bottles (factory bottles with the name of the medication printed on it in bold letters) are all bagged under the counter...where they cannot be seen by those nosey neighbors whose tongues wag like my labrador's does.

Conversations are moved over to a private door...questions answered there.

Not only what that nurse did was wrong...IT WAS ILLEGAL!

Good for you for calling them on it!

Patients need to take their OWN treatment, into their OWN HANDS!

Read the Patient Privacy Act...KNOW THE LAW.

THEY know the law, and they also know when they've been busted!


great post...the public needs to know.

lina said...

I don't know if that is part of becoming disabled, or anytime your personal care is in the hands of another - a professional so to speak. I have had very similar experiences, more than once, while in care in a hospital - where I was left feeling very much like cattle. Patients lined up, all together being informed of their procedure for the day, being asked private questions, in this cattle format.
But I didn't do what you did, I was vulnerable, scared at what was about to happen and couldn't even begin to focus on my rights-although there was no doubt in my mind that they had just been severally violated.
Well - not ever again! I don't hope to have to be in a similar situation anytime soon - but being human I know it will come and I do promise, not only for me, but for the rest of the human/cattle in the room to speak up, and not tolerate it!
Oh my God, I just remembered a time I went into a hospital for a routine procedure - I happened to walk down the wrong hall and there were people lined up waiting to be seen, and I made the mistake of aksing for direction. The nurse replied 'well you had a positive result on your pap so you have to be tested here'. I did not have any such result...I think I was asking for directions, and even though she was inaccurate, I was appaled - but said nothing!
hmm, you really got me going - but I think my point here is this isn't about becoming disabled - this is about anytime your care must be entrusted into the hands of 'professionals'. Well I won't sit quiet again!
(sorry for the long reply - early in the day and three coffees already!)

Anonymous said...

Maybe you gave that nurse something to think about, I certainly hope so. I am really glad you spoke up. I will remember that next time I am in that type of situation and speak up for myself as well. We all deserve respect.


andrea said...

I HATE the "we" thing! It triggers the polite tone with snarky words, such as, "Well, I may be. So, are YOU having X, too?"

Sometimes that stops people short. But often they keep on going obliviously ...

Have to say, my pharmacists are very good about the privacy business, for which I am thankful. So are my current doctor & staff -- which is one reason WHY they are my current doctor & staff.

Casdok said...

I too have had similar experiences when taking my son to see health professionals. I feel like they are putting him on a show.
And are horrified when you say no!

Betsy said...

Even worse is when they speak of you as if you weren't there. My daughter is non-verbal, but she still has a name, and she is still a person - and even more than that, she undergoes a LOT of medical intervention that cannot be explained to her.

I expect, and demand, every person who will be touching her, studying her, pondering about her healthcare to introduce themselves to her and to speak to her by name.

In Ottawa, the hospitals are all teaching hospitals, and I never have a problem with medical students learning from us, but one of the most crucial lessons they may learn is bedside manner

Jenny said...

I've had that too! Since getting pregnant and having to see more doctors (OB, diabetes center, fancy eye doctor, etc), I get wary of nurses and doctors whom I've never met assume I know who they are, and what their role is. I always stop them and ask their name, and who they are.

One thing that makes or breaks whether I'll see a doctor/professional again is whether they bother to shake my hand when we first meet. It's such a small gesture, but it goes a long way.

I had a nurse once who was preparing to take some blood, and didn't even bother to tell me what it was for!

Good for you for sticking up for yourself. And can I ask how the insulin shots went? I am very afraid of having to take them before the pregnancy is over. :/

Jodi said...

Hey Dave, I wanted to share this with you today:

I'm glad you spoke for all of us today

Jacqui said...

Good on ya Dave!

Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm sorry at this blatant disregard for your right to confidentiality. You may want to call back to get the correct spelling of the nurse's surname, and contact the College of Nurses to lodge a complaint. She (and all others who use the title "nurse") pays a fee each year so that the public can be protected against unprofessional and unethical behaviour.
I'm sorry for your poor treatment and hope that your complaint will stop it from happening again!

Lane said...

This is a serious issue, and sharing our personal experiences of this kind of maltreatment is crucial to reminding ourselves/each other that we have the right to be treated with respect in medical situations.

I'll never forget the day I went to see a new medical doctor about a very clearly physical complaint and the first words out of her mouth after she entered the exam room, before she introduced herself or even checked to make sure my name matched the one on the chart, were "Now, what's your psychiatric diagnosis?"

I told her (calmly, firmly) that not only did I have plenty of people on my team working on that part of my life, but it was also none of her business and if she didn't want to talk to me about what she was trained to talk to me about, would she please find an available practioner who did and send them in.

That stopped her cold. She looked at me for a long minute, turned around, walked out the door, closed it, knocked on the door, and then came back in, asking my name and then introducing herself as a prelude to starting the exam like the previous conversation had never happened. It was odd, and far from perfect, but I stood up for myself against someone with a lot of power over me, and that felt good. And things changed a little.

Thank you for talking about these things. It's important.