Chaplain visiting patients.
Over the past two decades, I have assumed each of these roles countless times. And I have come to question all these titles.
During the early days of my illness, I read a report a research physician had done on a lung sample taken from me and sent to her lab across the country. She wrote, “In this clinical setting, it is likely . . .” I read that phrase over and over, finally grasping that I was “this clinical setting.” The event crystalized what I had been experiencing during the long process of my diagnosis with a rare heart and lung condition -- that it was the condition that mattered and not me. That day, I whispered words that became a mantra I still use today:
“I am not a case.”
Each of us has felt objectified at times. We have experienced being regarded as one dimensional, without regard to all the complex intricacies that form who we are. Sometimes, we feel as though we are simply a means to an end, as when someone needs to sell us something or get our vote.
Occasionally, we even become an obstacle for others in their minds, getting in between them and something they desire.
We are objects, not subjects.
And a significant danger of healthcare and wellness care is its tendency to position some persons as subjects and others as objects. The language we use to describe these roles itself indicates that they are often transactional; they involve someone giving something to someone else, someone caring for another person. Doctors and nurses examine and test patients. Caregivers provide care to those in need. This leads to relationships that are often entirely transactional.
The roles cannot encompass the fullness that is possible in each human interaction. For example, I frequently leave a session with a hospice patient or a spiritual direction client feeling as though I have been the recipient rather than the giver. And, as a patient, I have had countless interactions with medical professionals during which I ended up supporting or counseling them -- even through their challenges with giving me difficult news.
In the most inspiring of these, I have known I was connecting with another person subject-to-subject rather than subject-to-object. And have been transformed by such interactions.
It is possible for each of us to move beyond objectification, beyond transactional relationships and into the realm of transformational companioning, no matter what our specific role.
Stay tuned . . . we will detail some ways to provide care that is:
Creative, rather than fixed and routine, approaches to care
Attentive -- to both your loved one and yourself
Responsive rather than reactive
Embodied instead of disconnected