Where is the Love?

It was inevitable. Here’s roughly how it went down (as close to word-for-word as I can remember):

(As I listened to the patient’s heart, he reads my name on my white coat)

Patient: “Are you Indian?”

Me: “No, I’m actually Pakistani.”

Patient: “You’re what?”

Me: “Pakistani.”

Patient: “Oh, ok, your name sounds Indian, so that’s what I thought.”

Me: “That’s understandable, my name actually has an Arabic origin.”

Patient: “Well…just as long as you’re not one of those damn Mozlems (sic).”

Me: (silent, not in contempt but in acceptance of a situation I knew to be inevitable)

Patient: “I hate those damn Mozlems!”

(deafening silence)

Patient: “(mumbles inaudible words) burn a Koran…(continues mumbling)…religious fanatics, they’re the reason the whole damn world is going up in flames!”

Me: “Okay…can you sit up for me sir? I’m going to listen to your lungs.”

And that was that. It was at a hospital; he was only the second patient I’d taken care of during my Internal Medicine rotation. Did I do the right thing by remaining completely silent? I think so. In the current politico-social climate that we Americans find ourselves in, I knew that it was just a matter of time until my religious/ethnic background would come to the forefront of patient interaction.

Even with the awkwardness of the situation at the time, I’m glad it happened. I have been hazed so to speak, and perhaps I’ve now learned how to deal with similar predicaments. The litmus test was that he thanked me and was appreciative of the care he received. Despite the bigotry I may face in the exam room, I hope I am able to fulfill the following principle:

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

– Modern Version of the Hippocratic Oath

*Baby Watch: Approximately 70 days until the arrival of our baby boy, Sufyan! (pronounced soof-yaan )

19 responses to “Where is the Love?

  1. I need to credit fellow-blogger, Andy Dworkin, with this comment, Yassar, but I agree with him that you displayed incredible grace in this situation. A true physician.

  2. Thanks Jennifer and Mark (and Andy!). I think it’s fascinating that the physician-patient relationship is about so much more than medicine.

  3. I echo Jennifer and Mark. Your level head and tolerance of intolerance show just how fine a person you are, and what a great physician you have already become.

    Silence is often the most powerful tool.
    I salute you.

    And congrats on your baby; welcome, Sufyan!

  4. I am a phlebotomist, and we have had a few times when a patient would refuse to allow someone to draw their blood because of their origins. It is our policy that a patient has the right to refuse a blood draw, no matter what the reason, except in unusual circumstances, such as a hold. I applaud your discretion with this patient. You showed great professionalism.

  5. You handled the situation so great and I assume it was hard not to say more to the patient. But you are the professional.. so, good job in showing that!! I am from Romania and often I deal with circumstances regarding my accent and patients stereotyping people from that country. But can’t really take it personal coming from patients. Comes with the job?? Keep being the professional you are!!

  6. What profound, painful and learning experience. The examples of patient biases speak to the heart of our ongoing need to educate the public about human differences and commonalities and radicate hatred masked by ignorance and fear.

  7. Reading your patient experiences has inspired me even more to continue my research on:

    Politics and Cultural Identity: A Qualitative Study of Challenges Faced
    by Immigrants Psychologically, when his or her nation of origin is branded
    “the Axis of Evil”? or in this case, religion.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  8. Thanks Mina, I agree wholeheartedly that education is the solution to erasing biases that both a provider and patient may have.

    I just finished listening to Chimamanda Adichie’s speech that you kindly posted. She made several pointed statements that I connected with, particularly the following…

    “Stories matter…stories have been used to dispossess and misalign, but stories have also been used to empower and humanize” and “…that when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

    Aurora, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with uncomfortable situations because of stereotypes. Perhaps the public may be exposed to more than just a single story about Romanian people through your care 🙂

  9. Being from a diverse background and was in the medical care arena. I must say that Dr handled himself well. Congrats for maintaining your integrity, and respect for human life, which is truly what oath so many take but do not exercise it as they should. Your children will learn greatness from what you have done from this.

  10. Excellent job…Thank you for sharing your experience, and reminding us all we can effect change. I’m thinking that patient has been given something to think about, albeit unconciously, and he may have a different interaction next time he encounters his own biases. 😀
    Congratulations on the impending birth of Sufyan 😀

  11. Thanks. Although in all honesty, I posted this story more as a reminder to myself. Your encouraging words are greatly appreciated though!

  12. I think you dealt with this situation like a true gentleman and professional. Sometimes silence is golden. I speak from personal experience my friend.

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