10/25/11: a complaint

I am writing this in order to reflect on a recent event; I’m sharing it because it is worthy of reflection.

I’ve been accused of hurting someone. I’ll withhold the details to protect privacy (this happened at work and involved a person I provided health care services to); but the complaint was serious, this person regarded my actions as an “assault”.

Of course to cause pain in the act of providing health services—well, that is not at all unusual. Of all things that evoke a compassionate response from me, seeing anyone in physical pain is the most powerful. If I cause pain (for example, in giving an injection), I am able to do so by holding in my mind the individual’s consent to the injection; the potential benefits of the intervention; and mainly, that pain from a shot is usually brief and easily forgotten. It does not cause suffering per se.

But I don’t reject this complaint; suffering is in the mind of the sufferer. I have had more than one medical encounter that has persisted in my memory as awful, or performed with inadequate compassion. I also clearly understand that the possibility of confusing a medical procedure with abuse or assault is always present. When I was told about the complaint (which was delivered in writing, I had no sense that the person felt this way during the encounter), I immediately felt that sense of deep shame that, however unintentionally, I’ve hurt someone in a way that created a lasting sense of harm.

I realize that we can’t always know when our words or actions cause pain, and how often very common actions or words offered in the present may be confused with assault or abuse that has occurred in the past. Still, when confronted with the situation, I am the one who must beg forgiveness.

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7 Responses to 10/25/11: a complaint

  1. Laurie Clemens says:

    I am sorry Risa. For you and for the patient who misperceived your intent. In your field there are so many challenges that what is, perhaps, most surprising is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. Patients are assaulted by so much beyond their control (disease, pain, mental and physical stress, financial worries, etc.) and so often health care providers can become the unfortunate recipients of all that they carry. It is easy, also, to forget how much the health care provider, too, must carry. Who is left to care for the carer? Take care of you, please.

  2. Linda Spalding says:

    This is distressing Risa. Your poems and writing convey an acute awareness of all that occurs in your life. That you are a provider of healing, I think this complaint would pierce you to the core.
    I’m glad you wrote of this as I and others who enjoy your writings, can send loving thoughts. May peace come to you.

  3. So sorry. Thank you for explaining how you handle the pain part of the healthcare giver/patient relationship. I admire the compassion, integrity, and thoughtfulness here, and it makes me reflect on healthcare professionals I’ve met and witnessed through the years. I wish you well with this.

    • Thanks Kathleen, I wanted to share this because it is something for me to take seriously, but also because it is a hidden, but real, consequence, of an impersonal medical system. Forming a healing relationship is not done in 15-minute increments with strangers, particularly if you meet them for the first time in a paper gown, but this is typical of many health care encounters.

  4. kathy says:

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this, it is in a real way a kind of assault on you, though not intentionally, either.

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