Sunday, July 26, 2015

Medical "Elbow-bumps"

Dear Friends,

The Muse continues to sulk, and has left me dependent entirely on my own uninspired resources. The consequences, in turn, are that you are left today with the bedraggled remnants from an odd week. The week itself obstinately refuses to yield much more than a sequence of events at this time; clear meaning from the week’s experiences has yet to emerge.

However, the week included a routine doctor’s appointment that included something worth thinking about that I’d like to share.

The practice to which my doctor belongs has been engaged in a year-long project to insure that patients coming into the waiting room do not infect others. There are large posters about covering coughs, and other similar safety measures. Doctors themselves have stopped touching patients’ hands in greeting or at departure as, presumably, a safety measure for the physicians themselves.

Picture with me this scene: I manage with cane and some assistance to seat myself in the assigned examining room where I am to wait. After a short interval, there is a light tap on the door and the doctor enters.  He says “Good morning,” then offers his elbow—yes, his elbow—for an “elbow bump” in place of a handshake.  He sensed the confusion and social discomfort in my response (I am quite unpracticed in doing “elbow bumps”).  Feeling awkward himself, he added some phrase about safety that was intended to bridge both my discomfort and his own, sat down and opened his computer. 

It was only this morning as I sat down to write that I discovered how disconcerting and disorienting that moment had been. 

The moment embodied for me a sharp disjuncture of symbols, an incongruity so stark and uncompromising that my sense of reality experienced a momentary tremor.  I was with a doctor—my doctor—wasn’t I?

This morning I can say in words what I sensed then.

For this young physician, touch has become dangerous; he views touching a patient as risk of contamination he must avoid.  I suspect that he has no conscious awareness that the act through which he sought to keep himself safe was injurious to me.

My limbic system recorded his act of self-protection as a judgement of me: I was “unclean,” an “untouchable,” an object to be examined through the safe mechanical extension of stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff, an object whose “vital signs” were data to be entered into a computer file.

I wonder: did that young doctor’s discomfort stem (hopefully) from his own inner questions regarding the protocol he was following? Or (frighteningly) did he regard the awkwardness of the moment as purely a by-product of the “un-cool” social limitations of an aging patient?

I am still thinking about this.

But for the moment, I am reading again throughout all four gospels the stories in which the authors recorded specific instances of Jesus bending and touching the sick, reaching out and touching the marginalized and disenfranchised, and—embodied grace—welcoming the touch of the “unclean” who reached out to touch Him.

Thinking with you in a profound, grace-filled absurdity of gratefulness: there is no record—anywhere—that Jesus practiced “elbow-bumping” in His contact with an unclean broken world.  He touched them—and they went away healed.

See you next week.



1 comment:

  1. If this is the second near identical post, forgive. This blasted system doesn't like my posts. I am a few years younger than you, Gay. Although Annie Beth, my all knowing 13 year old might disagree, I do keep up with what the younger set is doing. I have NEVER EVER seen anyone elbow bump. If someone should ever attempt that with me to keep himself safe from the germs that swarm around me, I will lean down and LICK his or her elbow.