Monday, March 9, 2009

Hospital Staff needs Sensitivity Training

So I have been quietly (well maybe not so quietly) obcessing over the questions I was asked when I went to ER with Elisabeth. Remember that this was an ER visit due to an injury not a situation where family history would have been germane. I was asked at intake in a very odd fashion if my daughter was adopted. This happened after I was asked if I was mom. After I had produced her health insurance card and my drivers license. Both documents clearly indicate we have the same last name. I swear, i really wanted to say I was married to a big handsome black man but I think Kirsty might have been miffed! LOL And I just feel the comment smacked of covert racism to me. If I had happened to adopt a child who was of the same racial heritage as myself, the question never would have been asked.

How do i know this? My coworker has also visited ER with her son. She was asked as i first was if she was "mom." She was never subsequently asked if she had adopted him. Her son doesn't really look like her. But he is white. She is white. Assumptions were made. And her ER visit was pretty recent so I would have to conclude that the "policy" of asking if the child was adopted (which is what i was told--that it was a field that had to be filled in--should have been in place then as well.)

Why does this bug me? Not because i am ashamed of adopting my children. Not because I want to hide the fact that I adopted my children. I am not, and even if I wanted to "hide" it, that would be pretty darn difficult. I am annoyed because we were treated differently than other patients and I feel that this was subtley racist. And I am further annoyed because I just answered the question. Well to be fair to myself i did ask why she needed to know and told her I thought it odd, but I still answered as though it was the right of the questioner to inquire.

There are times when I understand the need to know and have offered this information. When I brought Robbie to his glaucoma specialist for the first time, I explained that he was adopted and that we had no family history knowledge that would tell us if glaucoma ran in his family. That I had done my best to contact family who might know but hadn't come up with much data. That made sense to me. Glaucoma in children isn't all that common. And like heart disease and other such things, it can be something that is passed down genetically. And the info was initiated by me, not by the physician.

The second thing that happened which bugged me intensely was a comment by the doctor as we were leaving. He looked at my daughter in my arms and said "so where did you get her?" Now the rational part of me knows that this was likely intended innocently. I would like to credit the man with meaning "did you adopt domestically or internationally?" Right now we have styled Elisabeth's hair in braids with beads. It is a very ethnic look (and looks GORGEOUS, by the way!)

However this is the same dr who said he was not the best qualified person to read an x ray so perhaps I am being too forgiving! :-) What it sounded like to me was callous. Like I went to an animal shelter the way you would for a stray cat or dog. Or, as a friend said, like you looked on Craigs List! And what did I do in response to the question? I blurted out the state she was born in (which incidently was all ready on the intake) and left.

So I guess what it comes down to is I am most angry with myself. There is and always will be quiet racism. I need to be vigilent even when I am worried, frightened and stressed as I was on Saturday. Because it doesn't matter where it is, and it doesn't matter how many more degrees people have than I do. They need to be reminded with courtesy of the impact of their words and when and how questions of this nature are appropriate. Right now my daughter is only 2. I know she didn't notice. I know she didn't care. But what if she was 5? She would notice. She would care. And my responses of Saturday would have let her down.

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