At the end of last week I had to go to a long waited for appointment with a specialist - nothing serious, just a continuation of the work on getting my leg back to better health. We sat in the 'waiting room,' never was a room more aptly named, and waited. When we were called we went to the room that was indicated for us and shortly afterwards a small troop of people came in. Introductions were done, two of the people in the room were students and my permission was sought for their presence. It was given.
In the discussion I was asked by a woman taking volumes of notes what I did for a living, I told her. She wrote everything down and said, "I meant 'what do you do now' not 'what did you do before the wheelchair.'" I told her that 'now' was the same as 'then'. "Oh, she said, "that's good, so many people give up after they get into a wheelchair." "Oh," I said, not knowing what to think about what she said and the assumption that she had made that I had, or must have, 'given up.'
When, for a brief moment I was left alone with the two students I took the opportunity to talk to them about attitudes and assumptions and that they need always remember that their patients were people. They didn't really take me seriously, at first, because they seemed to think that the idea of the humanity of patients was something that was so obvious that they'd never lose sight of that. I told them that, as someone who works in human services I could testify to the fact that it is quite possible for human service to become inhumane because those that do to, for get that those they do things to are fully and equally human.
"For example," I said, "when I rolled in here, what was your first impression."
Neither wanted to tell me.
"See," I said, "you saw and you categorized and you now don't even want to own up to what happened in your head. It's easy, too easy, to dismiss people as people. Try not to do that."
Then the team came back in with more papers and recommendations and it all went along smoothly.
I always say 'yes' to students, because I figure if they are there as students then need to learn that their teachers aren't always the ones wearing green or white.