Pin Cushion: Reflections on Patient Passivity

Friday morning, I was awoken around six by the voice of a middle-aged woman. I opened one eye just enough to see that she was sporting delightfully over-the-top scrubs, the kind with a cartoon motif that assistants in pediatric dental offices wear.

“I’m from the lab, sweetie; I just need to draw some blood.”

Of course you are. Of course you do.

After looking at my hospital bracelet to verify my name, she poked my arm, filled a few vials, and left as quickly as she had come.

Before drifting back to sleep, I realized that I had no idea what that blood was for. Not that I cared, really, but I could have, and that was the point.

That afternoon, I was reading when someone came to my bedside pushing a cart carrying a machine sprouting various cords.

“I’m here to do a test of your heart,” the technician announced.

She didn’t take the trouble to explain to me what the test was (an EKG) or why I needed it (no idea: my heart, though icy cold, seems to otherwise be working just fine, as far as I can tell), and I didn’t enquire. Rather, I obediently lay back, lifted up my shirt (as she asked me to—I’m not in the habit of randomly baring my chest), let her place the stickies (technical term), and, test complete, retrieved my book and picked up where I had left off.

It’s funny how being in the hospital can make one—I assume not just me—so passive when it comes to needles and scans and whatnot. In the “real” world, I’d never go for a blood test or an EKG or, as I did a few weeks ago, a chest X-ray without being sure what its purpose was, but here I just assume that there’s some good reason I’m being turned into a human pin cushion/removing articles of clothing in the name of medicine/being exposed to radiation.

My specialist, incidentally, is generally very good about presenting treatment options, explaining the pros and cons of each, and giving me time to do my own research before making any major decisions—I really appreciate his approach, which makes me feel like I’m part of the process and, in turn, makes it more likely that I’ll comply with treatment plans that involve medications with nasty side effects.

It’s just these random tests that bother me, if I stop to think about the issue for too long. If you want my blood, tell me why!

I suppose that I could take the initiative and be a more active agent in my care. Or else I could keep sleepily offering my arm, rolling over, and falling back asleep. Either way.

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