Saturday, June 23, 2018

Stupid Question

I successfully completed the first week of my first clinical rotation, and it was exhausting. I always forget how much energy it takes to learn new skills and knowledge. Plus, I felt extremely unprepared from my coursework so I had to hit the ground running. I am in a good situation though. There is another student with me, and we both really like our clinical instructor. Our instructor is kind, supportive, knowledgeable, and experienced. She began pushing us out of our comfort zone the first day, which is good for me because I can stand back, observe, and take notes for forever. What I really need to do is get in there and do the hands-on work with patients.

I am working in a facility that has a lot of older adults in its patient population. There are a million different things we work on with the patients. One of the activities is pretty straight forward and simple. There is a beach ball with different questions written on each colored section of the ball. In a small group the patients toss the ball to each other and read and answer aloud the question that faces them when they catch the ball.

Before ever seeing this activity, I had already noticed the ball. More specifically, I had already noticed one of the questions on the ball. And wouldn't you know it, the first time I led this activity... The patients were taking turns tossing the ball and an older woman I had been working with throughout the week caught it and read the question she saw out loud, "How many grandchildren do you have and what are their names?" Grrrrr... You know this question irritated me. Plus, I knew this woman did not have any children, so therefore she did not have any grandchildren.

She answered, "None," somewhat flatly (or maybe I was reading too much into her response). Anticipating her answer and going off of what I knew about her already, I immediately said, "You told me about your nephews that are so important to you. What are their names?" Her face lit up as she shared her nephews' names and told the group a little bit more about them. Then the game continued.

It was such a small moment, but it stood out to me. I hated that question and I hated that my patient got that question on her turn. I have no idea what her life circumstances were. I do not know if she ever married; I do not know if she ever wanted children. I do not know if this is a painful subject for her. Considering her age, contraceptives were not widely available during her time, so I do not know if she just never had a significant romantic relationship with a man or if she wanted children very badly and could not have them.

It was such a small moment, but it was big to me. I thought to myself: I am never going to hear the end of this, am I? Once people stop asking me if I have children, they will start asking me if I have grandchildren. It was very defeating to me when I was already dealing with my emotions this week over learning a new career instead of raising my children.

I thought it was just me and no one noticed, but, amazingly, my clinical instructor did. The next day she said, "Phoenix, I noticed something yesterday." I figured she was going to give me constructive criticism because I have so much to learn, but instead she complimented me. She said, "Yesterday, with the patient XXX, you were so quick to ask about her nephews when she said she didn't have any grandchildren. That was very sensitive and observant of you. Not many people would have done that." I said thank you, that I had already noticed that question on the ball before ever engaging in the activity with patients, and that I hated it. To my surprise, my clinical instructor agreed. She said, "Everyone always assumes women, especially older women, are married and have children and that is simply not true. I would like to poke a hole in that beach ball and get rid of it forever. When you're out and about this weekend if you happen to be at a dollar store and see a beach ball, feel free to pick it up and bring it in. We need to write new questions."

So that's the first thing I did when I got off work. Okay, well first I showered because I have to do that as soon as I get home after working with sick patients all day. But right after that, I went to a dollar store where I found a beach ball. I bought that damn ball and you know I will be bringing it to work on Monday.


  1. "We need to write new questions." HALLELUJAH! Yes, I wish more people were like your awesome instructor, and realized that those assumptions are hurtful. You were amazing, and I am so glad it was recognized. I bet you made that patient's day. It is frustrating to think of how we'll go from questions about children to questions about grandchildren, that the cycle just never ends. But, hopefully others ask these new questions, and there is a better awareness and sensitivity to the fact that PLENTY of people do not have children for a variety of reasons, not a few of which tend to be painful. It's not the universal experience some would have us believe. Thank you for writing new questions, and speaking up for that patient!

  2. Dear Phoenix, I am so proud of you! And I am happy for the brand new ball!!!

  3. Oh wow, what a difference from your unsympathetic and insensitive instructors in the past, and your clinical instructor now! How fabulous. The two of you sound like a great pair!

    I hope you got to rest over the weekend!

    1. Definitely! What a nice change!! I appreciate finally being in a supportive environment. <3

  4. Wow... AMAZING. I think you're going to like it there. :) ;)

  5. Thank you everyone!! We used the new beach ball with new questions today, and it was a success. I wrote questions that were open ended and required a little description and/or explanation, so we didn't get just one word answers. The patients really enjoyed it! In fact, one man told me that he really liked talking to everyone. I could tell because his face lit up as he described his first car (a '69 Camaro, cool) to everyone. It was a great experience. (And there were no stupid questions!!)

  6. Dear Phoenix, thank you so much for sharing this story!
    Because you were there and reacted quickly in this situation, a small thing changed which will make the life of other childless patients easier.
    Hopefully, step by step, thanks to people like you, we are getting closer to a world that is more tolerant towards people who had to take an alternative path to parenthood.
    I wish you good luck with the beginning of your new career!

  7. Aw I love this. That question on the ball was horrendously unfeeling. I may be sure now that not having children isn't an issue for me, but I confess that I bristle in advance at the thought of my 50s and 60s and beyond, when everyone is banging on about the joy of their grandchildren. My aunt (in her 60s) upset me a few years ago when I was still in the IF trenches when she said her new grandchildren were the lights of her life and "what else is there, at my age?". I have never, ever, ever forgotten that last bit. "What else is there?". F%%% you, I thought. That women will thank you in her heart for changing the focus like you did.