Hey Doc, I’ve got a name and I’m not bloody stupid
Carl Thompson is a 21-year-old with cerebral palsy and scoliosis who is undertaking honours in marketing. He writes for ABC’s Ramp Up, DiVine Victoria and blogs here.
My right hand was yanked from my wheelchair control stick by a serious looking plastic surgeon.
“He has severely deformed hands,” she remarked, as an older gentleman professor reeking of poorly concealed cigarettes grabbed my left hand and agreed, “yes, he indeed has a pronounced deformity.” Boy, I’m glad they got the pleasantries out of the way.
Yeah, I get it. Surgeons want to talk about surgery, not chat about the weather over tea and biscuits. They have limited time available to spend with their prospective patients, and normally I wouldn’t mind. I suck at small talk - I’m scared of appointments at the hairdresser. But even I expect some warmth to be shown by the surgeon.
Okay, maybe not warmth per se, but I don’t expect to be dealing with a bona fide dickhead either.
Tact on the part of medical practitioners is especially important when they are dealing with children. I’m an adult now, so I can handle idiots (up to a point). But it’s so much harder when you’re a kid receiving worrying medical news.
It’s no fun needing a bone scan at the age of 10. It involves the use of huge, cold machines that look like robots. You’d think those conducting the scan would take this into consideration, and perhaps try to make their patients as relaxed and comfortable as possible, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.
As my parents once carried me to a scanning table, the doctor remarked that I “looked very weak!” As if her point was not already made, midway through the scan I was told “You have very brittle bones. It is a wonder you haven’t had more fractures!”
Sadistically, there was genuine excitement in her voice - what appropriate comments! I left the appointment extremely upset and was in tears in the foyer. At that point I was pretty sure my parents wanted to put the doctor’s own bone strength to the test.
And no, it wasn’t a once off. Doctors without a modicum of social decorum exist everywhere. Can you imagine the repercussions on the emotional well-being of children these callous doctors and surgeons have when they talk without thinking? I can’t count the amount of times I was told that my “...spine keeps getting worse, doesn’t it?”
Yes, there are good ones - some doctors even say hello when you arrive and goodbye when you leave! Still, I survived my appointment-filled childhood without too many emotional scars. Though surgeons have nonetheless given me a few physical ones over the years, at least I signed up for them.
I thought I was done with it all, no more arduous appointments with specialists and a welcome end to the countless consultations with elitist surgeons. How could I be so wrong? Just last month I was compelled to sign myself up for an appointment with a diverse group of clinicians.
I thought it was an opportunity not to be missed. Many specialists were there; plastic surgeons, orthotists and physiotherapists to name just a few.
This is where my “severely deformed hands” and the closet smoking professor come into the picture. My hands are strange, and yes, maybe even slightly deformed - but I much prefer the term unique. I was there voluntarily after all, baring all at the mercy of eight professionals.
“What’s your name?” asked the coordinator as I entered the appointment room after waiting patiently for 45 minutes. Carl Thompson, I replied. “And your age?” Twenty one.
After the cursory and insincere formalities, it was straight to business - “Can he flex his index finger?” asked a plastic surgeon out of the blue. I paused; was that a question or a request?
Luckily, a young, reserved (and nice!) physiotherapist then piped up and sheepishly said, “Carl, can you please try to flex your index finger for us?” Oh, so it was a request! Who would have thought?
Unfortunately it didn’t improve; “He would enormously benefit from Botox, for someone in his condition it may be the only way.” Did they not realise I was less than 30 cm away from them?
Maybe they just didn’t care. I’d had enough by then, and as my age should have indicated to them, I was obviously no longer a child, so should I tolerate being treated as one? I asked the surgeon sternly, are you referring to me? I received a terse response of “Yes, of course.”
“But aren’t you a plastic surgeon?” Her response was more defensive this time, “Yes, and I have been for 10 years.”
I simply replied, then surely you must have a definite bias towards Botox and other plastic surgery, as opposed to non-invasive procedures?
Taken aback, she squeezed my hand noticeably tighter but said nothing. The other plastic surgeon then offered to put me in touch with “success story” clients. I asked whether they were paid a commission. He didn’t give me a straight answer.
They didn’t refer to me in the third person after that, they called me by my name - they called me Carl.
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