Presenting as a Well Person
Last month I experienced what they called “seizure like activity” - we’re still trying to figure out what happened- which resulted in me wandering around my street, unable to communicate or remain lucid. I was stopped by some Good Samaritans and, as they explained to my family, they first thought I might have been on drugs but then decided not as I was "dressed nicely". I was outraged that they presumed I was high given it was 1 PM on a Tuesday, but I guess I understand why they might think that (I had blue lips and pale skin, couldn't form words, and kept trying to pass out). What really began to infuriate me was that they helped because I was dressed nicely. Their assistance was determined by my outfit, and had I not worn a blazer or carried a nice handbag that day they might not have stopped.
There’s a larger conversation here around race, gender, and education level in influencing care levels, but this isn’t the first time that my outfit has determined my medical treatment. I've gone to the emergency room a fair amount, and I’ve seen more doctors and specialists than most; I know the difference in attention when I'm wearing more expensive clothes than when I'm in loungewear. I have been grateful for the days when I’d gone straight to the hospital from my job because my business attire would mean I was taken seriously. (It’s very hard to get yourself to change into something presentable when you feel like you’re dying.)
I was talking recently with a close friend about how chronic or lifelong diagnoses decrease your treatment for everything else. We’d both noticed that once someone’s reviewed your medical history and sees there are already issues, the urgency and attention over the new symptom is less important. You’re asked to deal with it, because you’re already dealing with something else. I wonder if as a doctor knowing you won’t be restoring someone to 100% feels like less of a priority. So by looking like I need to get back to work - wearing my work wear in the emergency room - I can try and show that I really am worth fixing. I’m not a burden on the health care system, I’m not wasting their time, just please make me feel better and I’ll get back to functioning just like everyone else. I’ve heard nurses talking about patients they’re not worrying about because they’re “always in here”; I once was rushed through tests because the medical staff knew I was trying to get to a wedding that day. I understand that people try to help because they’re sympathetic about what I’m missing out on, but does not having things to miss out on mean I don’t need treatment as quickly? Does the sympathy disappear if they can’t see themselves in me?
I love fashion, I love trying to refine a perfect simple style that projects how I want to feel, but I also feel prisoner to needing to wear things to show that I'm okay. I'm afraid that my unwashed hair and joggers might write me out of normal existence; everyone else is functioning in the world and I need to keep up. If I look like this is all abnormal and not something I’ve resigned myself to I will get better care. I will get doctors that concentrate more on fixing me and I will be rescued from wandering into the street. Unfortunately I have bad, painful days where all I want to do is throw on a hoodie and not bother with brushing my hair. If you’re more worthy of being “fixed” if your next step is to go back to a healthy full life, what happens if that’s not the case? If you’re just going to go back home in your vomit covered sweatpants, is there just no point?