CW/TW: sexual assault, being disabled and a woman, ableism in the medical field, being disabled and a woman (b/c that needs to be said more than once)
Just came from the doctor. He told me that the next time I see him, I’ll be getting a cortisone shot. After telling me what it is and why I need it, I asked him about the side effects. Without missing a beat, he answered, “Blindness.” A laugh startles out of me as I sit there in front of him, my cane propped up against the wall to my right.
Honestly, I don’t know how to deal with him: he’s funny, easy going, and engages me in conversation—the opposite of every interaction I’ve ever had with a doctor—or in a doctor’s office. But he’s also very, very physical. Not affectionate, but business like. Which isn’t a problem—because he should be touching me; moving my body to see if I’m healing properly, seeing if I’m in any pain, making sure I’m on track in the healing process…
But he never tells me that he’s going to touch me, going to move me, going to grab and turn and flex and press down. He’s just there, his hands—palm and fingers—are there, on me, demanding and forceful, encircling my wrist, moving my arm, forming around my elbow, without warning, without a second for me to brace myself for his touch.
And isn’t that like every doctor I’ve ever had?
Only with him, it’s different. He notices me, he speaks with me, directs questions and comments to me—not my mom or dad or brother or whomever I happen to be there with—he looks at me.
I had a primary physician completely ignore me, direct everything to my mom and refused to change. She would instruct my mom on what she wanted me to do (have her step over here, have her sit there, etc.), stare at me with fascination, and completely focus on my eyes instead of focusing on my body. I was vocal in my anger and my body movements were blunt and unapologetic with annoyance.
I know how to react to those who ignore or dismiss me; I am used to that. Being blind, my disability will, most of the time, be the main reason for being treated as less than. I can react with anger, sarcasm, or annoyance, my tongue quick with a comment, my voice clear and defiant, and my body still and firm. I am prepared to be left behind or denied a seat; I am always at the ready to defend myself.
But when I am touched—moved, placed, pushed, and grabbed—my tongue is too clumsy, my lips thin and flatten or curve and freeze into a smile, my shoulders hunch towards my ears or loosen and relax.
Just as my body flinches from those who incircle my waste when I am at the store or library or mall, I flinch from my doctor.
I have told him, a few times, to tell me when he’s going to touch me. I told him that today, in fact. However, I didn’t realize just how quiet my voice is, or how my body is always faced away from him, or just how much I flinch from him.
I know this is one of my work-in-progresses; when it comes to me inserting my right not to be touched—I am timid, no longer clear and concise.
Being firm with others when it comes to your body and the treatment of it is a never-ending fight when you are disabled. The public is doing a great service by stopping the blind girl from crossing the street by startling her with a “STOP!” and then yanking her back from the curb—even though she has been crossing the street for decades without help—or bringing her to the customer service counter by slipping your fingers through her belt loop—even though she’s making her way to the deli, as she’s been doing on her own for a few months now. The public is numb to the irony and hypocrisy of shouting out the dangers of and stats on sexual assault, all while ignoring the disabled body casually and frequently being touched and abused by their own hands and actions.
He’s a great doctor, he seems to know what he’s doing, his staff raves about him, my mom and brother like him a lot. These are not reasons why I won’t give him an attitude when he, once again, ignores my request to tell me before he touches me—the truth is….
As foolish and ridiculous as this sounds…. I’m scared. Scared that I’ll lose the friendly atmosphere, that I’m overreacting, that it would be rude for me to be forceful with him because he’s so nice and talks with me instead of about me to others.
And isn’t that the biggest problem?