Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Appropriate behavior of medical personnel.

I find it fascinating to observe how the medical staff relate to me as a patient. This week, I've had an interesting experience that I'm trying to figure out how to handle.

In the radiation treatment room, there is a small dressing area, around which one could, if one wanted, pull a privacy curtain. There are also gowns and towels. Because I only need to take off my clothes from the waist up, I never bother with any of this. I probably would if I still had the right breast, but since I don't, and since I'm going to walk 12 feet and then open the gown and remove the towel, it seems silly and actually somewhat complicated - I'd have to wrap and clutch or tie the gown, or hold the towel in place while hopping up on the table. I don't know if the female personnel have ever felt uncomfortable with this, but they are always busy doing whatever it is they do - readying the table for the next patient or for me - while I am getting dressed/undressed.

But lately, there is a new radiation therapist, and he is a man. That's not really an issue for me - but he's a man who seems to be in need of a clue.

The first time he was there when I was there, he came into the room after I was already on the table. While I was getting dressed, he turned away to protect my privacy. The second time, when I arrived, the privacy curtain had been partly pulled. I took this to be a reflection of the presence of the male therapist, and I thought about it, and I thought about my usual procedure, and I decided that maybe I needed to mention what would otherwise be an elephant in the room. So, I said to him, "Look, I really don't bother with the gown/towel. I hope that won't make you feel uncomfortable." He seemed surprised, and said, "Oh! Well, what about how you feel?" I said, "There's nothing there, so I feel fine about it."

Now, I can understand that this might not be how the average patient reacts, and I can also understand that he might still have felt uncomfortable, but from my perspective, at this point, this falls into the category of Not My Problem.

The reason I mention this is because I am wondering if this had anything to do with what happened next.

At the end of my treatment, the table I have been lying on, which has been raised, needs to be lowered so that I can climb down. I was lying on my back, and had brought my arms down across my chest, resting them while I waited to be fully lowered. And, as the table was moving, this therapist was holding onto the side of it in such a way that his bare forearm was touching my bare arm. It was not a case of "oops, sorry, didn't mean to brush against you." It was a constant presence. And it felt deliberate. It felt as if perhaps he thought it was a buddy thing - or a way to show dominance. I really don't know what it meant or why he did it, but I do know that he was aware of it, because we both glanced down to see that our arms were touching. It was not an inappropriate touch in that it was not sexual, but it seemed inappropriate for him to be touching me at all. I didn't fully get this until later - at the time, I was too busy thinking, "hmm, this seems odd," to react.

Now, as a patient, I get handled a lot. Some of this handling is unpleasant, such as when someone incompetent is drawing blood or taking my blood pressure. Much of it, fortunately - because this is certainly not the case for everyone - has been gentle and/or generally unremarkable. But never, with the exception of one clear violation years ago, has it been this kind of unnecessary touching.

There is no reason to touch the patient, particularly a patient in any stage of undress, unless it is medically necessary.

The next day, this same therapist leaned over me - not once, but two or three times - to check a measurement. He was standing on my right side and needed to lean over to see the measurement, but in doing so, he leaned ON me, not just brushing my body but actually LEANING on me.

At best, this seems to show disregard for me as a patient, wouldn't you say?

But there's more. I have a pair of wire earrings; these were sitting on top of my clothes on the bench. He saw them and complimented them, and remarked that he could probably make them himself. Hey - he probably could. I'm not offended by that. But he said this while holding them. He picked up my earrings without asking. Further, I found out today that - still without asking or even notifying me - he took one and made a photocopy of it while I was on the table with my head stuck facing the other direction. His plan, another therapist told me today, is to try to make a pair of earrings like mine.

More power to him. Had he asked me if he could photocopy the earring, I would have said sure. But he didn't - and so now, I think I will have to speak with his supervisor about the lack of respect and of good judgment this therapist has showed to me as a patient.


Lana Wood said...

Not ok, yes metion it to the supervisor, and insiston another radiation therapist.

RE: skin care. My Mom helped my Dad with skin care when he had prostate cancer, and we all helped him when he had lung cancer. Both times, we used Balmex for the skin care during radiation. It helped him a lot with the discomfort.

I am glad things are moving along for you with this process, no boob sweat, and one dry armpit too! Way to go with the silver lining!

Anonymous said...

I think you SHOULD mention this to the supervisor and politely ask for another therapist (preferably a female one)......

Its just plain odd why your therapist would do that and this cannot be shunned away by thinking maybe you were the one taking it seriously....

Green said...

Absolutely not cool of him to have taken your earring. Hell, he shouldn't have even picked it up without asking, let alone going to copy it while you couldn't see him taking it away. Please DO tell.

He may think "she's cool with being topless, so she's probably open-minded about other shit too", but it's not within his rights or his role at work to act on that.

I don't know how you feel about this sort of thing, but my mother feels there are some situations where a man needs to be brought in. Even though she was the one with a degree in education, there were certain school meetings about my brother or me where she wanted my father sitting there, in a suit, next to her.

If I believed in what my mother believes in (and I'm not sure whether I do or not), I would say "Perhaps you'd like to bring your husband with you next time.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I did report it. I don't feel good about it. I keep feeling sorry for the guy. But I think it was the right thing to do.

(Green - it's not really a situation where you can bring someone else in; they all leave the room b/c of the radiation. It would be awkward and inconvenient, since these are daily treatments.)

~Macarena~ said...

Good for you for reporting him! In speaking up for yourself, you probably helped others.

If you look at the order in which he did things, he ignored your, and what should be his, boundaries and escalated his behavior.

Someone who ignores boundaries has a plan for handling would-be protectors.