First, Do No Harm: Marital Status At the Doctor’s December 14, 2010Posted by Onely in As If!, Everyday Happenings, Food for Thought.
I walk up to the grandmotherly office manager and explain that I have a 9:30 new patient appointment. Betty finds my file on the computer, making last-minute adjustments before checking me in. She looks up and asks,
“Are you married or single?”
Nine-thirty in the morning is not my best time of the day. I stare at Betty through raggedy, unwashed bangs. I’m here to see a specialist for a (knock wood) non-fatal chronic illness that is nonetheless kicking my ass, and so I’m nervous and cranky, and I really want to just answer her question and go see the doctor. But because I write a blog deconstructing single stereotypes and marriage mythology, I feel obligated to engage Betty further on this topic.
Such is my dedication to you, dear Copious Readers.
“Can I ask why you ask if I’m married or single?” I say. I’m nice. I smile.
“Oh, everyone in the medical field asks that,” Betty says. She is nice. She smiles too.
“Oh yes, I know.” I say. (It’s true–I’ve been asked this question at several other doctor’s offices.) “I was just wondering why.”
“Well–I actually don’t know.” She looks surprised, perhaps at my question, or perhaps at her own ignorance.
“I was just curious,” I say. “It’s ok.” She is kind, after all, and it’s not even 10 a.m., far too early for forcing people to rethink entrenched paradigms such as the relevance of marital status. Or is it?
She wants to reassure me, also. “It’s just something we like to know about you.”
All my instincts tell me not to antagonize the office manager at my first appointment. If this doctor is the one who can help me, then I will need Betty on my side too. But I can’t help asking again, “But why?”
Slight irritation in her voice. “It’s just part of your demographic.”
Yes, I think, a small part. My demographic comprises my age, income, sex, race, socioeconomic status, education, cultural background, religion, and other traits, including, yes, my marital status. So why aren’t doctors’ offices asking me, “Are you Buddhist or Pagan?” or “Did you go to college?”
Answer: They don’t ask because it’s largely irrelevant and none of their business. Yet no one questions whether marital status is relevant and is their business. This is just another sign of the arbitrary worship attached to marriage, a privileging that would never fly if applied to any other element of a demographic. Can you imagine over a thousand federal laws based on religious status, the way over a thousand laws are based on marital status (and largely discriminate against singles)?
I hate singlism, but I hate mornings more. I stare at Betty, the stare of the exhausted, the confused, the inarticulate.
Betty gives me a concerned look and says,
It doesn’t mean a whole lot one way or the other.
OH SNAP. Copious Readers, what would you have said here? Remember, you’re in a position of unpower because you can’t piss off the intermediary between you and the doctor who may be able to stop the stabbing pains.
“Single,” I sigh.
Betty thinks my face is red and my lips clenched because I’m agitated about my appointment. “I know you’re probably scared because you’re going to a specialist,” she says. That’s not untrue, and she means well, so I decide to let her live.
“It’ll be ok,” she says, “Just have a seat.” So I do.
Photo credit: Cindy Woods