“He’s a bit grumpy this one, but we’ll see how he is.” It was just me and the Gen Med APT, as we had chosen to divide and conquer (the patient list). She was a wonderful woman and thanks to her and the rest of the team I had been thoroughly enjoying my rotation with the General Medicine department. I scurried after her (she was much taller than me) patient folder in my hand, as I had by now learnt to write proper patient progress notes without needing to question what needed to be included with every second sentence.
“Hello Frank (pseudonym), how are you?” the APT was a tall blonde woman, a British accent giving away her country of origin. The patient was in a single room with the windows covered. He had sat up as we’d come in, and after flicking a quick glance at me, he now looked at her expectantly. I positioned myself behind her against the wall in the standard furniture position.
“I’m good, I’m good, are you my doctor?” She told him yes, she was. “Oh good, good, I just don’t want one of them oriental doctors you know?” I stifled a snort. He was an old Caucasian man, and frankly I was not surprised. The APT turned to glance at me, eyes wide. I merely grinned.
“Uh well I’ll be your doctor while you’re here is that ok with you?” He waved his hand. “Yes, yes I just had an oriental doctor last time I was here and he was awful, I did not like him, so I just don’t want another oriental doctor this time.”
If only he’d said oriental doctor one more time in that sentence he might have just summoned one.
She shook her head and repeated that he would be seeing her, the interns and our consultant (all of whom thankfully for this fellow were not ‘oriental’) and that they would be doing their best to make his stay as comfortable as possible. She then moved on to the actual consult, and discussed his current issues. I paid attention, but having already had my opinion of this patient lowered by his outspokenly racist comments I was not inclined to participate any further. I wrote my notes, and nodded goodbye as well left.
The door closed behind us and we went back to the nurses’ station. “Oh my god, Priscilla, I am so sorry!” I laughed as the APT put her hand to her mouth, looking absolutely mortified. “I can’t believe he said that, you were right in the room, I’m so sorry you had to hear that!” I shook my head. “No it’s ok, I’m not offended! There are people like that everywhere.” She shook her hand, one hand on her hip. “I just can’t believe-let’s just fix him so we can get him out of here. That was so rude.” We carried on with our day, and I stored the moment away as a story to tell.
Racism is something that so many people experience, and as a Chinese-born Australian who grew up in an Italian/Greek populated area I have had my fair share of offhand comments and confrontations about my appearance and background. This experience (which occurred several months ago) however, was my first as a medical student and it gave me a glimpse into my future.
Recently there was a female Asian emergency physician who posted tweets about patients who had refused her care because of colour of her skin. What baffled me (and many others) was that because she had the audacity to be born a non-Caucasian woman she was refused the expertise and skills she had studied for years to develop. Imagine finding yourself hanging off a balcony and refusing the hand of your Indian next door neighbour simply because his ancestry did not trace back to Europe. All that tells me is that there are some people who would rather die, than accept the aid of someone whose skin colour is not akin to Dulux 15W (for those not much into renovations, that is the number code for the paint colour ‘Natural White’), which for a human whose basic instinct is to survive, seems a bit odd.
What’s hard, I’ve found, is trying to change the mind of a racist/sexist/homophobic (the list goes on) bigot. It is most definitely their loss and some other person’s gain. We’re told to treat each patient equally and indeed if that were the case, I would give that patient my best care. But if they refused it I doubt I’d waste my energy chasing after them. I would ensure someone else took over and not give them another iota of my attention.
Perhaps it’s better, but while I am an aspiring doctor, I am also human.