Humans first?

It might be a fools errand to try and explain why a health professional vilified for sleeping strikes a chord with so many of us. For me it exposes a false dichotomy and a suspicion I have about public perception. In any case, I’ve never not been called a fool so here we go.

Some of us felt like one of our own was being attacked on social media, for a very human weakness (sleep). Comparisons were drawn to other hard labourers with unforgiving hours who do not get to sleep. I can’t stress how incredible this comparison is.

For one thing, it’s very “there are bigger problems/starving children in Africa” in its composition. Other humans having it bad is not grounds to be quiet about having it bad. If I get genuinely worried about getting home after a 24 hour call sometimes and all my friends have near miss (or actual hit) stories, I am afraid. Period. An occupational hazard is a hazard nonetheless and should be treated and discussed accordingly.

I acknowledge that false dichotomies make arguments easier. Your side is deified, blameless and herculean in its righteousness. The other side has to be villains with pitchforks, the worst case scenario prevails (see: “what if…” ) and they obviously have the very worst of intentions.

I’ll never know if that woman in the picture was exhausted; a product of our system or straight up lazy and unhelpful. Either could be true, I admit that. While I absolutely doubt that there was an emergency (that would warrant a picture of a health professional sleeping through one) because I believe that in the event of one, anyone would have the presence of mind to wake her. I can’t be certain that the photographer wasn’t an emergency or at the very least felt like one.

I do think that the outrage around a human sleeping, who’s job was not being disrupted by said sleeping, is evidence of a suspicion I often have: people are not seeing a human. A tired human sleeping shouldn’t irritate anyone. A human who is not in her bed in her home and on standby is on call. She is all these things: A tired sleeping Human On call. and the expectation of no human weakness fuels my suspicion.

Ask yourself this: which professional would be happy with providing a service that could result in a waiting time beyond belief? And what that waiting time implies is happening from the “service provider” side? There’s a false dichotomy of us vs them when it comes to the Health Care system despite our near constant insistence that we are victims of the same system. We are as acutely aware of and outraged by the many shortcomings and inefficiencies of the system as anybody.

Do you know what I hear most commonly among my junior doctor colleagues (second only to complaints 😂)? : I wish I had the time/energy/means to be the doctor I would like to be. I wish I had the 15 min to give to talk you through this major seeming thing that’s happening to you that unfortunately doesn’t qualify as an emergency after midnight but I can spare maybe 5. That rationing and triage of time that ideally wouldn’t be part of the job. The manual, emotional and psychological labour is real (even if its not winning any trophies for Worst Job Ever) all while fending off service delivery expectations against a stacked deck, long waiting hours & paucity of empathy complaints and the looming threat of a picture/video on social media: our generational weapon against modern day villains.

I’m aware that this doesn’t make me a hero and I know that this won’t convince anyone who doesn’t want to be. It’s easier to paint the idea of rich arrogant crybabies in BMWs, our gilded tears falling on the heads of miners and other professionals who are paid a pittance to work long hard hours. I’m not even saying I don’t fall victim to arrogance or self pity because of course I do (friendly humanity reminder). I don’t need pity but I never thought I’d have to ask for empathy.

If our humanity is a forgone conclusion and we have reverted to the stereotypical arguments so that the dichotomies fit, I’d recommend conversations with people who can’t escape our humanity: parents, friends, significant others and even (in my case) observant neighbours. It’s gets a little grey after that.

2 thoughts on “Humans first?

  1. “I don’t need pity but I never thought I’d have to ask for empathy.” Hectic. Struck the deepest of chords. To the point where I avoid chatting about struggles to non-medics because the judgement is tiresome and hurtful. I think this was a brave thing to write about. Proud of you chommie.


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