Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Odious Pee

I thought she said, "Odious Pee."

I really did.

So I said back, "Pardon me?"

It was during an appointment with a specialist that my doctor wanted me to see. I'm always wary of meeting new doctors because, well, they're doctors. This one was so young - you know you are getting really old when specialists look like they are still wearing a training bra. She came out and called me in, introduced herself and then sat down to ask a whack of questions. I whipped through the answers - letting her into my medical history. Surprising her with having parents still living, surpising her even more with quick, brief, accurate answers to her questions. Then she mentioned the 'odious pee'. I knew I was mishearing her so I asked her what she had said. She looked concerned as this was the first question in at least 50 where I had faltered.

"Odious Pee," she repeated.

"I'm not sure what that is or what you are saying," I said again.

"You know the Ontario Disability Support Programme," she said and I then recognized that she was saying initials.

"I don't get the ODSP," I said.

She looked suprised and said, "What do you do for money?"

"I work," I said.

"Really?" she said, shocked.

"Really," I said angry.

"What do you do?"

"Huh," she said when I described my work.

We continued with questions, I was burning inside. I know that poverty and unemployment define the lives of so many with disabilities. I know that equity is a long way off. I know that many people struggle to have their abilities acknowledge with pay and respect. I know that. But part of the reason there is rampant unemployement is the mamoth failure of imagination of so many people. They can't 'imagine' a person in a wheelchair at work. They can't imagine a person in a wheelchair making a contribution. It's that intellectual blindness that is so frigging upsetting. The automatic assumption that someone with a disability is unemployable.

A few minutes later she put her pen down. Looked away from the computer for a second and said, "I've offended you haven't I?"

"Yes," I said simply.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed," she said.

"No," I said, "you shouldn't have."

"I apologize," she said.

"The only apology worth anything is change," I said.

"I'll remember this," she said.

We went on.

She turned out to be very good at her job. She knew what she was talking about and gave me five bits of advice about preventative healthcare for someone with diabetes that I didn't know. She was entirely respectful in her work with me and she trusted me to know what I needed and to be able to make mature decisions about things. Overall I was impressed. And, I thought she really did get that her assumption, her stereotypeing, was inappropriate and wrong.

That morning, before going to the doctors, I'd been in a meeting with 'The Team' at Vita. We have a representative from the Rights Group on the team and he's a very cool guy with an intellectual disability. Several weeks before he had popped into my office and we chatted a bit. I asked him how he got to the office, did he walk? did he take transit?

"No," he said, "I drove."

I admit it. That option hadn't popped into mind. I didn't see him as a 'driver' and I didn't see that he'd be behind a wheel. A mammoth failure of imagination.

Assumption.

Stereotype.

Limitations.

They're hard to avoid doing to others.

And wrong when done to you.

I hereby publically apologize to him.

But the only apology worth anything is change ... so I'm going to try.

8 comments:

Joyful Fox said...

Thanks, Dave.

I am blessed by the grace you extended to the young Dr. and your public honesty of your own "assumption".

Lately I've been thinking about creed and conduct. It is admirable when those two line up...contributes to integrity...

Can any of us on this earth live a life where the two consistently line up?

Perhaps the journey isn't so much in achieving the ends but in achieving the humility of truth.

Thanks for your honesty...a gift...on a road to discovery.

Belinda said...

Last night a group of people met at our home as usual on Tuesday nights, for a meal and conversation on faith, only this time we were starting a 10 week Alpha program--for those who just want to explore and consider in a "non-religious" environment what faith is all about. One of the people who came has an intellectual disability; she told her staff she wanted to attend and she was picked up and given a ride there and back by two people who were also coming, and participated as fully as anyone in the discussion afterwards. She even baked two cakes--from her aunt's recipe--and from memory, and contributed to the meal. She shattered all sorts of assumptions last night--and no doubt will continue to. She is of another faith to ours, but wanted to understand and consider what is true. Yeay for her. We will all enjoy sharing the journey.

rickismom said...

What I liked about this piece is that the doctor realized her mistake (without you shouting it in her ear), and took the initiative to apologize. It shows character on her part.

Mieke said...

I am impressed too Dave. Needless to give any explanation. I trust you'll understand.
Mieke.

Anonymous said...

Well what I can offer here is a lesson about how one thing can come off many different ways, hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

"Odious Pee", well my first thought was they have thought of a new way to term stinky pee, as in body waste.

Once I discovered the error in my ways and then went on to think about the letters here ODSP, I quickly came to the conclusion that our local group, ODSPN, (Omaha Ds Parents Network) has odor while peein'.

Hope you can see as much humor in this as I have!

Glad you set the doc straight through it all!

Dani

Anonymous said...

Say to look in the mirror Dave.

You sure have had a week filled with interesting interpersonal interactions and opportunities for improvement for all!

Anonymous said...

My apologies....that was meant to be

Way to look in the mirror!

Glenda said...

Dave, I love the line "The only apology worth anything is change." So true.