My ex-husband and I once had the occasion to rush our then four-year old to the emergency room for treatment of a deep gash in his forehead. Although the wound was cavernous, and watching the technician place the stitches was practically un bearable, an abomination of another kind occurred while at the hospital.
Since the accident happened so quickly, and we were terrified that the injury could have resulted in long-term residuals, we scooped our son up and rushed him to the emergency room. In doing so, obviously neither my ex or I took time to put on ‘the Costume.’
You know…the makeup, suit, heels and hair that supposedly mark our membership in the professional ranks and make us immune from the disses, slights and insults tossed our way like so many chewed bits of gum. All in my mind, you say? Let me recount the story and you be the judge.
As we arrived at the hospital holding bloody towel to the forehead of a limp toddler, an emergency worker yelled at us to enter through another door: “This entrance is for emergency personnel only!!” He bellowed. In my natural plus-size lawyer Barbie mode, I’d have taken him out in one breath, given that I’m not one to back away from anyone’s mistreatment. In my fear, however, I just ran down the walkway and went through the other door.
Once inside, given the circumstances, the usual triage protocol was expedited, and my son was immediately taken to an emergency bed. That should have been the end of the story, but that’s where the real atrocity began.
The emergency room physician introduced himself and the suture technician. I found his relatively matter-of-fact demeanor reassuring.
As he described the procedure to close the wound and the lack of findings on the x-ray, I felt more comfortable that my beautiful baby boy would not be physiologically impaired or horribly scarred by his accident. When he asked if we had questions, I asked: “Will the wound granulate up from the muscle tissue, or will it close from the skin down?”. He looked at me, took a breath, and asked: “How do YOU know that word?”
I explained that I was a medical malpractice attorney at one time, and that I spent many years working as a disability attorney. He then launched into a lecture about how they disliked treating the children of attorneys, and how hard trial attorneys made it for them. I stayed nice and calm, and explained that I was only there in my capacity as a Mom.
I understand that the average urban hospital ER physician meets dozens and dozens of people who may have little or no exposure to medical terms or concepts, and that with curlers, dirty t shirt and shorts, I surely wasn’t wearing the usual symbols of my profession.
That said, what would have happened if I’d taken offense at his question, instead of internalizing the pain that it caused? What was the implication to be taken from his question? That someone who looks like me is so inherently ignorant that I should be patently unable to comprehend anything he had to say? Was I rendered unworthy of a straight answer because I hadn’t had time to put on the ‘face’ that morning? The little indignities that we hurl at one another all add up to a monstrous truth: We make assumptions about each other based on superficial factors, then back up those assumptions with hurtful or harmful actions. Because America’s social hierarchy still clings to the value system that places people of African descent at the bottom, we continually inflict harm or suffer. When will it stop? When can people connect to each other spiritually without regard to race or class? I have no answer, and since this is not a polemic challenge to the system we live in, I’m posing these questions simply because our survival as a species depends on our ability to take stock of our collective pain, get past these issues, and develop more compassionate, loving ways of dealing with each other.