One Thoughtless Comment…Kelly Arora, PhD Nov 24, 2020
I was at an infusion center to receive my monthly dose of medication for an autoimmune condition. I’ve followed this routine for over 20 years. Last year the infusion center where I receive treatment was expanded to accommodate more patients. Prior to expansion, I had developed personal relationships with the nursing staff, and I could count on at least one of them being present when I was there.
But expansion of the physical facility led to staff turnover. Now I meet a new nurse on almost every visit. The nurses are pleasant and skilled, but typically they are too busy to get to know me as a person.
During a recent experience, I engaged in small talk with a new nurse as she started my infusion. I was keenly aware of the rapport we developed as our conversation focused on a shared interest that was deeply important to both of us. Those few moments stood out to me because it was now unusual to make a personal connection with a nurse at the center.
Unfortunately, this good feeling didn’t last.
When my treatment was complete, the nurse returned to remove the needle from my arm. As she bandaged my arm, the center administrator made a loud announcement to all nurses in the room that another patient was waiting to be escorted to the infusion room for treatment. My nurse yelled back, “I’ll get rid of this one, and then I’ll go get them.” The room went silent as we all realized that the nurse was referring to me as the “one” she was “getting rid of.”
The nurse and I looked at each other, facial expressions only somewhat obscured by our protective masks. Eyes wide, the nurse apologized. I said I was glad the nurse immediately recognized the faux pas, and I trusted it wouldn’t happen again to me or with another patient.
In the mere seconds it took for this exchange, I viscerally felt the shift from person/patient to thing/task/”one” – a cog in the day’s conveyor belt of patients to be hooked up to IVs, monitored, unhooked and sent back into the world.
One automatic, thoughtless comment changed the nascent relationship between the nurse and me. It also deeply saddened me by reminding me of an embedded dehumanizing culture in biomedicine where people are treated like dysfunctional machines in need of repair. When healthcare providers aren’t aware of this embedded value system, it can surface inappropriately, like it did in my experience with this nurse.