Laying on of Hands? 2: The Rest of Us

A Suggestion — A Question — and A Request:

Part 1 of Laying On of Hands focused on doctor and patient, the emblematic relationship of the healer and the one needing healing.

It seems to me, though, that all medical professionals who encounter their fellow humans at a time when those are weak and vulnerable have the potential to hold a privileged position. In varying degrees, that would include physician’s-assistants, nurses, and EMT’s, perhaps even medical technicians and many hospital staff, who may not ordinarily regard their position that way.

And what about the rest of us? Patients, broadly speaking: which ultimately includes everyone, because at one time or another all of us, whatever our profession, will be ailing, weak and vulnerable. Do patients have obligations, responsibilities, opportunities, as professionals do? Or are we simply to be passive and “done to”?

I conclude with a request from M, who relates a disconcerting experience she had while recently undergoing medical testing. It’s an ordinary enough situation which all of us have probably been in. Beneath the flurry of questions with which she ends, however, I sense one or more different, larger questions, for any of which she is looking for feedback. Or illumination. Or something. This is her story, in her own words.

The posture was uncomfortable: chin on a plastic tray, forehead pressed against the plate, patch over one eye, knees pressed uncomfortably against the machine.  Two technicians were there, a trainee administering the exam, a more experienced one guiding, correcting, and readjusting tray, plate and eye patch. Once I was settled and pressing the remote to indicate my perception of various light flashes, the two began an animated discussion of office procedures, absent colleagues and the meanings of the “X’s” appearing on the screen.

I did my best to concentrate on my task, and when it was complete, they announced I had done well.  I reproached both of them, saying that their chatter was disconcerting and unprofessional, and for all I knew might have invalidated the test, as I never knew whether I should just tune them out or listen for another instruction, which distracted my attention from the flashes.

They apologized, and said they never did that sort of thing without asking, but had simply forgotten in my case.

As the older technician (30, maybe 40 years younger than I) escorted me to the next waiting room, she reached behind me and rubbed my back in an uncomforting and ineffectual way, saying that it had been necessary to talk during the exam since she was training the other technician.  The touch was unexpected, neutral, and I did not draw away.  I simply commented that the technical direction was fine, office chatter was what I objected to.  We left each other in silence.

As I waited for the next round of exams, I thought of her touch.  Did she think I needed comforting?  An old crotchety lady, perhaps?  Was she asking forgiveness?  Did this mean, please don’t tell the doctor what we did?  We’re friends, right?  Perhaps she needed to “touch” me in a way that her verbal communication was not accomplishing?  I’ve been told that I can come across as very cold.

So. Over to readers. Feedback for M? Illumination? Or something?

And what do you think about the laying on of hands and the rest of us? Obligations? Responsibilities? Opportunities?

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2 Responses to Laying on of Hands? 2: The Rest of Us

  1. DJE says:

    This is very important and needs to be expanded into a formal article. I don’t have time now to comment that much more– but you have opened a Pandora’s Box. It should be a rule not to talk about extraneous things to one’s assistants during a surgery or a procedure — it is just rude. It dehumanizes a patient. On the other hand, is it the patient’s responsibility to “educate them?”


    • Touch2Touch says:

      That certainly is a crucial question. Whose responsibility is it for “educating”?Not paying attention to the person in front of you is rude enough in ordinary everyday situations (although it happens often in stores and waiting rooms, etc). But as you say, it becomes serious dehumanization in medical encounters that ought to be privileged situations.


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