Okay, the title is way more important sounding than this post will be, but bear with me.
Last weekend I was in another state and became very ill. Severely ill. Like, three days of nastiness. While the cause of my disgusting escapades is still unclear (most likely alcohol + woman times + flu), the whole thing got me thinking about sickness and who is in charge of you when you’re sick.
While I was (embarrassingly) throwing up outside of a restaurant at which I was attempting dinner, a friend came to me and continued to insist I “slam water, water is what you need.”
Now, this is fine advice. And probably accurate; being sick is amazingly dehydrating. But it’s not really a great idea to pour a couple glasses of water into an empty, heaving, already queasy stomach. Despite my insistance that water was not really sounding that great and that slamming a glass or two wasn’t the best idea, this friend insisted (and narrowly avoiding it coming right back up).
Grossness of that story aside, it bothered me that this friend didn’t listen to me, emphatically telling him this advice was maybe not the greatest for me at this point in time. Why did he insist? Why didn’t he ask my preferences? Why didn’t he listen even after I was violently ill after following this advice?
There are a number of great websites talking about bodily autonomy, about how women’s bodies are public property, and often denied the right to speak or decide preferences for treatment (especially in our prison system). While important, this conversation neglects the incredible privilege able bodied, well people experience daily. How do we treat our ill and infirm, daily?
There are horror stories of people in comas, with living wills, being denied their rights and wishes (because doctors are not obligated to follow these wishes). Of people denied the right to die how they wish. Of people with chronic or terminal illnesses ignored and discounted because, as sick people, their words, wishes and thoughts count less. Mentally ill people suffer the same indignity; just being open about an illness can lead to consequences across all areas of life, because as a sick person, your words are no longer trustworthy, no longer worth consideration. Again, the horror of being committed, against your will, without recourse for release, is all consuming. You only have to watch this bit of American Horror Story (Season 2) to feel that deep chill of terror. We know its possible, we know it still happens, yet we continue to think only us ‘normal’ people have the right to decide what happens to us.
This is completely unacceptable. And perfectly legal.
A person may be sick, but to deny that person even a say in what happens to their body is wrong. To force our ideas, values and convictions on another is wrong; worse, being ill makes people vulnerable to intimidation, a doubly shameful aspect of this force. How have we come to a point when we default to the doctor always knowing best? When a medical professional does not educate, but overtakes? How can we deny wishes made after the person has all information, and still disagrees with the doctor? Just say the person is too sick to know better.