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  • davikath8

No Time for Terror: Observations from Provincial Cancer Land

There is no such thing as shorthand for human relationships.

During my sojourn in cancer care in Alberta, I have watched and recoiled as medical professionals attempted, with varying degrees of success, to use shorthand for human relationships. 

One male doctor grabbed my hand and rubbed it against his cheek during every appointment I had with him. He got in my face and repeated the same banalities he used with every other female patient. He meant to be charming, funny, and comforting, but as he didn’t have the time or the energy to be real with any of his patients, he was fake, fake, fake. There was no actual feeling behind his sayings and gestures, and his reliance on grabbing and stroking women, instead of grappling for the right words, was simply appalling. 

One female doctor never sat down during the many times I consulted her. From the beginning of every visit, it was clear she was already on her way out; she was positioned to escape even before she said hello. I might be mid-sentence, but she was edging toward the door.

Terror, no one had time for. Terror is often not respectful of the clock. It spills when it should be contained. It runs instead of sitting. It is demanding, not accepting.

I make sure that I am not too needy. I am always aware that other people’s time is valuable and that I must not waste it. I prepare carefully for medical visits, behave respectfully, and limit my questions to the most urgent.

And still I was for the most part something to be managed, something to be dealt with and set aside as soon as possible. I could always sense the movement of the second hand as my heart sped up and I tried to get my concerns addressed in the shortest time possible.

Cancer is difficult enough without feeling like a pawn in an overtaxed and underfunded system. The doctors may be doing their best, but not enough to make up for the fact that efficiency trumps all other values.

Emotional violence is violence even though the marks are invisible; nevertheless, it can be deadly. Seeing the doctors as victims as well as the patients does not achieve change. There has to be momentum for change from multiple sectors of the public, multiple communities who refuse to be treated like so much baggage. A communal spirit that rebels against being bodies on an ever quickening assembly line of triage and repair.

I am using writing, one of my best skills, to communicate these thoughts and feelings in the hope that change for the better is possible, when the sick and the well become companions on the journey, when enough people demand the resources to make time more accommodating to those who are faltering and perhaps failing, to those who deserve all the help they can get.



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