Last week I had an appointment with a doctor I see every six months. He has been my doctor for the last ten years, ever since we moved back to
For some reason, “Doc” and I just clicked, I rather liked his blunt way of answering my questions, and I always felt I was in very capable hands. This was particularly comforting when I had a recurrence of cancer 3 years ago (yes, right at the same time I found out my son was gay). And it was at this time that I also realized that the man really was very caring and compassionate, in spite of the tough guy veneer he put forward. But something happened my last appointment that I cannot stop thinking about. It was subtle, but clear: even tough guys fear what they do not understand.
I keep wondering how I should have handled it since I basically did nothing. Doc’s regular nurse was not in that day and in her place was a young male nurse. Within seconds I strongly suspected (actually no, I knew) this young man was gay. His name was “Michael” and he was adorable. I asked him how old he was, guessing he was close in age to my own sons, and he told me he was 20. I immediately wanted to hug him. He was just that kind of kid – huggable. He was all smiles and energy – a very welcome change from the usually somber almost wake-like atmosphere I usually encounter in that office. He truly lit up the room with his cheerful personality, heck he even made a blood draw an adventure. Michael just seemed to be the breath of fresh air that office, with an average patient age of 90, needed.
BUT it didn’t take long before I realized that not everyone in the office thought Michael was great to have around. The minute Michael left the room it became very clear that Doc was extremely uncomfortable with this young man. The under-the-breath comments started flying virtually the second the door securely closed behind Michael. Doc seemed to feel an urgent need to make it clear to me that he was not happy with his regular nurse’s replacement with comments like “I don’t know how I am going to get through the day today with HIM” accompanied by an eye roll towards the door through which Michael had just exited. And he continued on with more comments, each reflecting a little more disdain and a little more discomfort than the last. I was taken aback, but managed not to show it.
I simply did not expect this behavior from the normally very professional doctor I had come to know and respect over the past decade. My initial reaction was speechlessness. My second reaction was anger. How could Doc have so confidently assumed that he could make those comments to me and not offend me? And why did he think that I would just automatically agree with him? Obviously the possibility that I might have a gay loved one didn’t occur to him, but shouldn’t it have? How could such a smart man be so threatened by this 20 year old kid? And with his medical training how could he be so damned stupid about homosexuality? I was stunned into a silent stupor.
Yes, lame, I know… I am still beating myself up. A fricken opportunity to make a difference and I blew it.
I wanted very badly to say something profound to him. But my mind just could not work that fast. My very first thought was to just blurt out that I had a gay son, but I could not bring myself to do it, and not because I was ashamed, but because I did not want to shame him. I have never believed in teaching by shaming or embarrassing. But an even bigger reason for holding back was that I was carefully weighing and measuring responses because I did not want our doctor/patient relationship to slip into an uncomfortable place that would make future medical conversations difficult or impossible to have. Don’t get me wrong, there was an abundance of responses rushing through my head at lightening speed, but the need to analyze the potential repercussions ultimately paralyzed me into a stupid silence. And I simply sat there like a stunned idiot whose face felt on fire.
I left the office that day really shaken. I left there feeling heartsick. And I left there feeling I had betrayed my son and “Michael” the nurse. The doctor who’d been my hero when I was sick fell down a few notches in status that day. He became a human with as many frailties and imperfections as the rest of us mere mortals. I was so sad and disappointed. But the biggest disappointment was with myself. I left his office that day knowing I should have done more, but still not knowing exactly what. Maybe I just have to start accepting that there will always be people who will hate or feel discomfort with that which they do not understand.
On second thought, NO I’m not accepting anything. Doc and I need to have a little talk on our next appointment.