Sunday, May 24, 2009

Another Kind of Hospital Advocacy

I have had the opportunity to accompany many people through their doctor visits and hospital stays. Each time I am permitted to take this journey with the patient and / or their family, I treat it as an honor they have bestowed upon me. After all, I am not a medical professional. I never went to school to learn medicine, medical terms or alternatives to medical care. I am there to support and advocate for the family and the patient to help them with that bridge from confusion, fear, loneliness, embarrassment and, of course, harm. For this I have trained for over 10 years. I want what is best for the patient and being alone or with someone who may not act as an advocate, is usually not what is best. Family should love the patient. I will quietly sit (as someone recently described my services) in the background and be there when and if I am needed to assist in the course of the patient’s safety. No one, in my perfect world, should ever be alone in the hospital but being the “right” person is important too.

Nothing has opened up my eyes to the healthcare system as this experience with William. I will call him “William” or “Will” because for those of you who know me well, you will probably know who this story is about. For those of you who do not know me well, it doesn’t matter who Will is. I have Will’s permission to tell his story. It is important. I have learned and am proudly always learning from the people whose lives enter into mine but Will is special, for many reasons.

Will is in his forty’s, handsome, gentle and very funny. He dresses well and has many friends. He is athletic, active and busy with his work. Will goes to school to advance his education and volunteers for the community ambulance corps. Will works as a technician in a heart hospital. He gets along well with his colleagues and is well liked. He is sensitive to his patients needs and his gentle kindness follows him from patient to patient.

Now Will needs surgery. He goes for the pre-op exam and is very aware of the staff’s discomfort but he tells me “they are respectful and kind”. At the doctor’s office he sends me a text on my phone that he hates it there. He doesn’t like to be alone. I wish I would have gone with him. I feel now like I belong with him through this.

Will, to many people, is different. He is going for a hysterectomy. Not too many men have hysterectomies but then again, not too many men are born with a female body. To look at his face, hands or masculine physique, you would not know he was born a female and only recently began his “transition” as he calls it. He sometimes comments that he is different, but do we really know how many people were born this way?

Allowing me to be part of this experience with Will has opened my eyes to places I have never before explored. As his friend and advocate, in this experience, I will be more observant about privacy, prejudice and different, possibly unusual needs that have not been addressed. He looks and sounds like a man but his ID bracelet says F for female. Would anyone question the possibility that this is in error? How does one explain this in a shared hospital room?

Is staff trained and sensitive to the growing needs of the transgender community? Are patients asked about their own modesty before being asked to disrobe – male or female?

I am no more concerned about Will’s safety than anyone else’s but I am focused on new things to help him (us) through this. I am lucky to do what I do and even luckier that people like Will can slip into my life almost accidently. And on a personal note, I will be hoping that the next surgery Will gets, we will all be rejoicing together.


Anonymous said...

Awesome, Ms. Ilene. Your work is so important. In sharing this story, I know you will touch many. My heart and my thoughts go with Will through his journey. Your presence will make a tremendous difference in his experience. Having an objective person as advocate in healthcare will enable his family and friends to simply be there for him,to love and to care. You will hear information differently as an advocate... and will question authority as you do so well! This is needed ....-Priscilla G.

Anonymous said...

You go girl!!!!

Go Ilene!!!