I Use a Wheelchair. And Yes, I’m Your Doctor.
December 18, 2017 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Cheri Blauwet, MD, a former Team USA Paralympic medallist, three-time winner of the women's wheelchair division in the Los Angeles Marathon, and two-time winner of both the Boston and New York City marathons, writes about representation in medicine, her clinical experience as a doctor who is also a wheelchair user, and her relative privilege in the New York Times: "In my busy outpatient clinical practice, I witness the spectrum of patients’ reactions when they find out that their doctor is, herself, disabled. Typically those first few seconds after entering an exam room — before the patient’s guard goes up — are the most informative."
posted by mandolin conspiracy (7 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Ireland's best loved GP is also a paralympian.
posted by smugly rowan at 2:00 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Awesome! I think it should be a requirement that every year of medical school there is a class taught by people with illness and disability. I am astonished that so many doctors don't know how to deal with sick people.

I would be overjoyed to have a doctor with a visible or invisible illness or disability - because it means they have likely dealt with the same crap I've gone through and won't repeat it on me.

In the course of my past years of illness I've had some of the most awful doctors. I asked one if there was a social services department at the hospital that could help me navigate ADA with my job as I was too ill and was missing a lot of work. He said "Oh, you don't need that. You don't want to be one of THOSE people." As if I had a choice. Well Dr. Fuckhead. I left my job 6 months after that and have basically been homebound since. I wish I would have gotten a start on learning my rights and had help back then.

On the other hand, one of my absolute best doctors has a video on his website talking about a time where he had medical problems and was a patient. He realized how terrifying it can be. I nearly cried in his office twice with how supportive and encouraging he was and how much his treatment plan helped after so many doctors gave up on me.

We need diversity in all fields. We need doctors who understand and advocate for disabled and ill people, not just brushing us off, lest we become "one of THOSE people."

And while the ableism is horrific, it's encouraging that she's seeing a shift in the younger generation. That gives me hope.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:22 PM on December 18, 2017 [26 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I thought it was a great article.

Blauwet's discussion of how her success as an athlete helped her be seen as one of the 'good' disabled people was eye-opening to me. I've not thought this through before; I've definitely had 'good for you' thoughts when I've seen athletes competing in wheelchairs. There's real condescending ableism in that attitude, something I need to address.
posted by medusa at 7:59 PM on December 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

I would be overjoyed to have a doctor with a visible or invisible illness or disability - because it means they have likely dealt with the same crap I've gone through and won't repeat it on me.

This is something I've struggled with a lot already (I'm a medical student; I've spent only a year practicing full time in a clinical setting). I have never revealed my invisible illness/disability to a patient; I've taken care of many patients who have the exact same diagnosis and surgeries as me, as well as serious complications I've dealt with. At the end of the day, I think every time I've wanted to share this information with a patient, it was ultimately more about my own emotions than about theirs.

In particular, I think about the patient I saw in the ED who was dealing with a complication I had faced in the past. He and his wife were catastrophizing, and my supervising physician wasn't familiar with what they were going through (certainly not in the way I was) and thus not being as reassuring as I felt he could have been. I took care of that patient for almost my entire shift, watching his labs and imaging like a hawk, badgering his consultants, giving them hourly updates, and every time I walked into his room I thought about pulling up a chair and sharing that I had been through the same thing. I saw them spinning out and wondering if the worst was going to happen to them -- more surgeries, more pain, more complications -- and it killed me, because I kept thinking, "I'm right here! Look at how well you can be doing when this is over! You're going to make it through!"

I stepped away to grab lunch after maybe eight hours of this and while I was eating I started mentally rehearsing what I would say. The more I thought about the actual words that would come out of my mouth and the actual reassurances I could provide, the more I remembered the truth -- my condition, and relative ability, is largely luck. I've had great physicians and nurses take care of me and the love and support of my family and friends, but some people do well and some people don't. I could show him that "some people" do well by sharing my story, but I had no reason to believe everything was going to go smoothly for him in particular. I hated to watch him and his spouse worry in the way you hate to see anyone worry, but especially because their worries were my worries and are still my worries.

As I said, I didn't share my history with that patient, nor have I with any patient. I like to think that I took great care of him and advocated for him in a way that was informed by my identity and experience and he benefited in that way. Ultimately, I'm still figuring it out.
posted by telegraph at 12:06 PM on December 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

Telegraph, you might be interested in this interview on White Coat Black Art with Paige Church, who treats spina bifida and has it herself. She only recently began disclosing that information to patients, parents of patients and colleagues (available as an article and podcast episode).

She also wrote about it in JAMA.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Telegraph, your insight that your "condition, and relative ability, is largely luck" is a profound perspective that will benefit every patient you work with. It comes from your combination of personal experience and training. Your awareness is another example of what disabled people contribute to medicine.
posted by Jesse the K at 2:35 PM on December 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Very cool. Cheri is my cousin, nice to see her on the Blue.
posted by sanka at 6:32 PM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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