The Body Electric: Sick Bodies--Health Care and the Body-As-Machine


Nothing gets a person thinking deeply about health care faster--it turns out--than being home sick with something that started out looking an awful lot like H1N1.

I am newly-insured, and my policy is partialy subsidized by my part-time employer. As a working writer and teaching artist, I am rarely in a position to visit a doctor outside of a clinic or--in more serious circumstances--the emergency room of whatever local hospital has sliding scale fees. When I got sick this week I was able to say "better not chance it"--and what a position that is to be in! As I waited over an hour past my scheduled appointment time to see a medical resident at my enormous HMO, I surveyed the waiting room and thought about the irony that I pay a (relative to my paycheck very large) fee to be provided this sort of "care"--and that I was lucky.

This was my second time in as many weeks to visit my HMO. The week before, I showed up for an unrelated and recurring medical issue that led to an extremely bizarre interaction with the doctor who examined me. When I explained early on in the process that I no longer had breasts, I thought she was going to flee the room (which she eventually did--she did not return with a promised prescription, though I waited for her for fifteen minutes. A nice nurse eventually found me and told me that the doctor had called it in instead).

The doctor's tongue-tied response was not completely unexpected, unfortunately, but stranger still was--in the wake of all the media coverage of insurance companies denying chemo due to a "preexisting" acne condition--the intensity in which I found myself directing her to please please please note in the computer system that my bilateral masectomy was cosmetic, voluntary, and not indictive of any medical condition.

How frightening, how little we trust the people charged with caring for us--from insurance companies who are supposed to be our advocates, to the doctor's who barely know so many of us.

I have long had a tense relationship with the medical community. Pathologizing the bodies of queers and transfolks (Gender Identity Disorder, for example, is still a medically-recognized "problem" that requires a "diagnosis" by many doctors before folks can be "treated" with surgery/hormones/etc.), not to mention women, is a disturbing historical fact that has been getting a lot of attention in recent years.

But, more fundamentally, I find it problematic that the entire set up of a hospital is about the production of health care, not the recipients of that care. Long after being shuffled into a room filled with equipment and posters not designed with my challenging body in mind, and as I watched the doctor treating me struggle to find words beyond, "Well, I've not actually met anybody who has done that," I wondered seriously about what could possibly be done to fix a system that has so little respect for the bodies of the individuals it treats.

We all carry our scars, surgeries, allergies, broken bones, memories, genetics, blood, hopes, and guts with us wherever we go. We are stunning in our uniqueness, and our bodies are the seat of who we are. Of course, we all have the same basic parts, but I wouldn't take a car to any old mechanic or my pet to any vet---I want someone who understands the particular quirks of my engine or that my cat needs to be coaxed gently out of her hiding spot.

We are a country of factories, and factories are not about complexity or the spirit or even quality--they are about quantity. We are a mired in a system that reflects back to us the basic problems of our culture: greed, inequity, and a lack of real integration of all aspects of who we are. The people who embody the diverse faces of humanity from sexuality to gender to race to class--are the least acknowledged, to everyone's detriment. Until we address the root of our ills, we are just cogs in a runaway machine with only degrees of luck to protect us from what is surely a disaster on our collective horizon.


by Thomas Page McBee
View profile »

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

3 Comments Have Been Posted

Earlier you said you live in the SF Bay Area

So, for trans and queer friendly health care I highly recommend Lyon Martin in SF. I believe they do general care as well as trans-specific care for queer/trans individuals.

Hope this helps!

I empathize with you

Sounds like you need a naturopath. There is a small collection of them in San Francisco, and they all provide detailed, personal, holistic care to all those that come to them. They're trained professionals that have the skill and knowledge of what a traditional M.D. has, but takes it beyond looking at your symptoms, and "produc[ing] healthcare" as you put it, and takes on your whole being to treat you to better health. I encourage you to check the growing profession out if you haven't already, and let others know.

bilateral masectomy

I couldn't help thinking that not only was your doctor unprofessional and trans-phobic, but hello, how many women have had 1 or both breasts removed due to cancer??? Would she go "ewww" and run away from them too? The reason should matter as little as the look of it. You're a doctor, and this is what you're employed to do...take a big kid pill, STAT.

Add new comment