Happy birthday, ADA

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act! *blows party horn*

I didn’t know that earlier today. But, I did a little personal ally work in support of accommodation, so I am proud of myself.

The student who is sharing the surgery rotation with me is disabled. She was in a terrible car accident about five years ago, and shattered her ankle and heel. She has some difficulties walking and standing for long periods of time. She has been very successful when assisting on alternating surgeries, but she has asked our attending if she can sit when it’s my turn to scrub in at assist. My attending is fine with her sitting, but occasionally, the OR staff gives her a hard time.

Today, a nurse anesthetist started making really sarcastic comments to her when she sat before the procedure started. “Do you want me to get you a pipe and a smoking jacket?” he sniped. He turned to the one of the other people in the room and said “Is that what it was like when you were in medical school?” He made a few more rude comments. My classmate just glared at him from behind her mask, and didn’t say anything. She feels really put on the spot when those sorts of things happen, and doesn’t choose to make excuses.

After the procedure was mostly over, the surgeon took my classmate to go to pathology to check to see if the sentinel lymph nodes that were removed were negative, and the assistant and I remained to close the mastectomy. Once the incision was closed, and we knew the nodes were negative, I told the whole OR team that was assembled that I had something to say.

“I heard someone saying something to (classmate) earlier about her sitting down. I wanted to let you know that she is disabled. She was in a really bad car accident and her ankle was shattered. She has trouble standing for long periods of time. She has asked to be able to sit in the OR if she is not assisting, and Dr. (Attending) has told her it’s OK. She’s really self-conscious about it, and won’t say anything to anyone who asks her about it. I just thought it was important for you all to know.”

There were some mumbles and grumbles, but no other comments. There were two anesthetists and one anesthetist student there when the comments were made in the beginning of the procedure, and they all kind of look the same with their caps and masks on. One of the anesthetists left before the procedure. I am not sure if the one who made the comments heard what I said, but I hope his buddies go back and tell him what I said if he was the one who left. I wasn’t necessarily trying to teach him a lesson in particular, but I wanted to let everyone on the staff to know that people may sit because they need a disability accommodation, since this isn’t the first time someone has given her a hard time.

Maybe the next time someone sits down, they won’t automatically assume they are being lazy.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Happy birthday, ADA

  1. I can just picture you:)

    She’s lucky to have you on her side.

  2. lpnmon

    You. Rock.

    Seriously. It takes guts, especially as a student, to stand up for someone like that. Thank you. I hope you planted a seed in those other OR peeps, both for others that have to sit and so that they can feel empowered to speak up the next time they see someone treated unfairly.

  3. MomTFH

    Awww, you two are too nice. I don’t feel all that brave, or I would have said something while he was ragging on her. I thought it was appropriate to say as a sort of procedure debrief, however. And, she was gone from the room by that point, and wouldn’t feel put on the spot.

  4. Good for you for standing up for her. :)

  5. Good for you! Way to say something..I think that is awesome especially knowing that type of environment..it can be hard! I hope you are liking your rotation!!

  6. lushka

    Jeebus, I can’t believe he had the – guts? lack of sense? – to say something to her, especially in such a judgmental and mean way. I mean, wouldn’t you just assume that the person is sitting because they have to, not because she wants to? I am sorry that your friend didn’t have the confidence to stick up for herself – or maybe she did but she knew the consequences would be worse than if she just silently accepted it. As a person with a disability I understand that all too well; sometimes I just choose to let things go rather than make an issue, because it’ll be over faster and with less pain if I just ignore it.

    I am a lawyer and I go to court a lot. You are supposed to stand and bow to the judge when s/he enters the room. Any time a lawyer has not been able to stand and bow, I have never seen a negative comment from a judge, court staff, etc. (although those lawyers may have had a private word with court staff ahead of time, alerting them to the fact that they would not be standing for the judge).

    (as an aside the last time I was in court I was 37 weeks pregnant and the judge very kindly said to me, you really don’t have to stand for me, I can see you must be quite uncomfortable. She even let me sit to make my submissions, which felt quite strange when we’re trained to stand during argument.)

  7. Wonderful post! So glad you said something. I hear all kinds of comments because my son is autistic. I try to educate people about “leveling the playing field” for those with disabilities.

  8. Good job. Anesthesiologists often ride medical students, if only to to break the boredom :) Sorry you’re friend didn’t have the guts to stand up though. Her telling them that she has a real issue isn’t making excuses. Its a reasonable thing for her to tell them. Its not like anesthesia will be grading her on that rotation, so it wouldn’t have any negative impact, and probably would shut the hell up.

    Something like –

    ..student limps over to anesthesia drape and pulls up her scrub pants…
    “see that scar?”
    “that where I had multiple surgeries to repair my massively shattered ankle. I can understand how it might surprise you that it makes it hard for me to stand for a long time, given that you do most of your goddamned job sitting on your ass.”

    Well, maybe that would be going too far.

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