I had lump in my breast. So why did the radiologist focus on my disability?

by Susan S. Turner, Washington Post, 1 January 2017

Ms Turner contracted polio as a child, and now uses crutches and leg braces as mobility aids. In this article she describes how her disability affected her treatment for a completely unrelated medical condition.

In what is only 15 minutes but feels like an hour, I hear the door squeak open. I look up. In walk the X-ray technician, the doctor and a nurse.

Why a nurse? I ask myself. It must be bad news, and they think I might fall apart. Wrapping the paper gown around me more tightly, I hear it rip in the back.

The three of them stride over and look down at me. The young doctor is tall and pale and wears a white lab coat that’s too tight on his bodybuilder shoulders. He holds a file folder; the room is totally quiet except for the tap-tap-tap of his forefinger on the folder. The nurse and technician hover right behind him.

“The tech tells me that you had polio,” he says, his tone professorial. “I never met anyone with polio.”

I am speechless. The nurse and technician move in closer.

“Didn’t you get the vaccine?” he continues.

“What? What?” I say. I start to shake, and my breathing grows rapid.

“Didn’t you get the vaccine?” he repeats, more loudly.

Suddenly I realize that I’m not cold anymore. The bright fluorescent ceiling lights seem to burn into me. With an effort, I hold back an angry retort.

“I got it in 1952 when I was 6 years old,” I respond in a staccato voice. “The vaccine came out in 1954.”

Inwardly, as so often before, I feel again like the little girl who was always afraid of the doctor. The little girl who always answered people’s questions so that they could learn. Once more, I am the child who wanted to please. Now, as then, I want to scream.

I sit up tall, pulling back my shoulders and not caring what happens to the paper gown, and suddenly feel a gust of cool air against my back.

Looking straight into the doctor’s eyes, I speak loudly and firmly.

“Stop with the unnecessary questions. What about my breast?”

“Oh, that,” he responds dismissively. “It looks like nothing to worry about. See you back in six months.”

No. I won’t be back to see him ever.

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