I Felt Safe From Judgment in Hospitals. Then a Stranger Changed That.
I’ve had people stare when they see my scars from my past open-heart surgeries or when I have a coughing fit and have to take medication. But I’m lucky that in the town I live in, most people are aware of all my health issues and know it’s a part of my everyday life. When people stare, it reminds me that the medical life I’ve known since the day I was born isn’t normal. I don’t know what I’d look like without my scars because my first open-heart surgery was done at less than a day old. When people stare, I’m reminded what I think of as normal is far from it.
Going to hospitals as often as I do, I’ve always felt like it was my safe place — a place where I didn’t feel different. Sadly, that changed about a year ago.
I was just given a type of heart monitor that’s worn over a 30-day period. After the monitor is full (it holds up to six readings), you have to use a landline to call it in. I’d had this kind a handful of times before and I knew exactly what to do and what to expect. Again, this was a part of my normal. I was in Chicago for several days with several appointments and testing scheduled within this time period.
I was in the waiting room to have an X-ray done and saw my heart monitor was full. I walked up to a desk and asked if I could call in my heart monitor. They gave me an empty desk to use as I called it in. The thing about this monitor is when you call it in, it makes a noise. Think how it sounded when you used dial-up and would sign in to AOL. That’s how it sounded. It’s a definite throwback to the ’90s.
I knew other people would stare and wonder what I was doing, but I didn’t mind. It’s a strange sound. When I told the person on the other end about my symptoms after manually pressing the button, the people around me had an idea of what I was doing and stopped staring — except one woman. She looked so upset that you’d think I did something horrible to her. She ended up moving to the other side of the waiting area. I thought for sure I wouldn’t see her again. Sadly, it’s something I have to deal with from time to time, but this was the first time in a hospital this had ever happened.
About 45 minutes later, I went down to the Walgreen’s pharmacy on the second floor to pick up some medications for my breathing treatment. I looked for a seat and I found that same woman in the waiting area. I wanted to find a chair that was far away, but anything open was in earshot of her.
Soon after sitting down, I had to manually press my heart monitor because I was feeling tachycardic heartbeats. When I do that, it makes noise for 15 seconds or so. The woman facing me, now on the phone, rolled her eyes when she heard it and started telling the person on the other end about me. How I was being very rude to other people around me. Not caring for the image I display to others and how I should have had the courtesy to wait until I got home to do whatever it is I did while calling it in.
I didn’t know what to say. She was looking right at me when she said it, so she knew I heard her. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. Most of the time people stare and have a concerned look on their faces, but this woman, it’s like she hated me.
Then her named was called to the desk and as she walked away, she said, “Finally, I don’t want to catch what she has.” She only saw me as a weak, sick young woman. I had the heart monitor, the face mask and had used an inhaler while around her.
I wanted to so badly stand up to her and asked how she could judge me like she did, especially out loud. Up until this moment, I always felt like the hospital was the one place I wouldn’t be judged or stared at. While having a congenital heart and lung defects makes me different, when I’m behind hospital walls, I feel more like people inside than outside.
I know I’m lucky in that this is my only truly bad experience with staring, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I wish I had the guts to explain to her what I was doing, and I hope she never acts like this again. My feelings were hurt badly, and the rest of that entire day it replayed in my mind. She made me feel different in a bad way.
I wish I could say that there’s a big heroic ending to this, but there isn’t. It’s just heartbreaking to me that people judge others because some are different. Judging others when you know nothing about the person or situation isn’t a fair response. I often tell people that instead of staring, ask me a question. I’m quite open with all my health issues. I know I can’t speak for other people with health issues, but I’m sure they feel the same way.
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.