15
Apr
10

Balance of Power

Certain people are inherently in positions of great power, even if they don’t realize it or have become so accustomed to it that they don’t think about it anymore.

Certainly, physicians are among that crowd, and are on my mind as I sit in a waiting room at the local hospital. They hold, quite literally, our lives in their hands even with the simplest surgical procedures, and so there is often a serious imbalance in power, wherein the patient feels like he or she cannot ask questions or challenge the regular protocols.

But I have been reminded today of how people who seemingly have less power still can make situations uncomfortable for those in vulnerable positions. Because ironically, it was the physicians who were the more empathetic this morning and talked down a bad situation filled with anxiety.

It was the nursing staff, however, that sparked some of the initial flames. Because in having an anxious patient, who wanted many details and wanted to be treated as a human being, they reacted badly to that, and adopted a dismissive and off-putting attitude.

I was, at one point, tempted to shout, “We can hear you clearly, we know you’re talking about us, and your attitude leaves a lot to be desired.”

But I didn’t, and the physicians came in to talk and explain and humanize things, and other, subsequent nursing personnel, apparently having had enough coffee and prior warning, were very cordial and flexible.

I don’t say any of this to slam nursing professionals, but rather to point out that at all levels of an organization or process, we might be in a position of power over someone, even if they aren’t wearing a gown that shows off their ass and reduces them to a an almost childlike level.

Whether we know it or not, people around us are subject to our power, and our moods, and our missteps. They may be a church congregation, they may be children, they may be clients or patients, They may be employees or they may be co-workers. They may be people of differerent cultures or ethnicities.

Regardless, we need to remain aware of those situations in which we have power, and be prepared to use it responsibly. It’s hard sometimes, but necessary, as it can make all the difference in the life of someone near us, whether they are close to us or not; whether we know it will make a difference or not.

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9 Responses to “Balance of Power”


  1. 1 Big Man
    April 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Thoughtful post, food for self-reflection.

  2. 2 Inda Pink
    April 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I hate hate hate hate hate those #$%&*@$! hospital gowns. They’re calling them johnnies now where I’m at. How about where you live?

  3. April 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    I avoid doctors like the plague after having one to many bad experiences. But, some are very good, as are the nurses. They see so many people each day that some get abrasive, forgetting that the person they see may only need help once in a blue moon and is worried. Well, hope you feel or get better.

  4. 4 Deacon Blue
    April 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

    @ Big Man,

    The whole situation got me to thinking, in part, about Little Girl Blue and how…while I do need to be “menacing” sometimes in my demeanor as a parent…I could do better in not over-expressing my authority at times. There are probably other places in life where I should more closely watch how and when I use my power, too.

    @ Miz Pink,

    Yeah, the nurses told my wife to put on the “johnny.” I don’t know when it stopped being a gown but it needs a serious redesign regardless.

    @ Kit,

    I’ve done medical/healthcare/pharmaceutical writing for most of my journalistic career, so I’ve encountered tons of healthcare professionals in personal interactions. Overall, they’re as normal an/or effed-up as anyone else. Probably a slightly greater trend among physicians to be arrogant and domineering, but not as much as most people probably think.

    But I will say that over the past 10 years or so, the subject of physician-patient communication has become a lot more prominent in med school and residencies.

    BTW, I feel fine. Mrs. Blue got the surgery, and she’s doing well, though in a fair amount of pain.

  5. April 16, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    the rudest people i have ever had to deal with were bottom rung peons who worked for lesser important city agencies. they NEEDED to throw their weight around and show just how vital they are to the workings of the system. i dealt with them by being polite to the point of obsequeiousness. the law firm i was working for couldn’t figure out how i managed to get things done when no one else could. i just let these jerks play their games and nodded and smiled while they made everyone miserable.
    conversely, some of the BEST people i’ve dealt with were also bottom rung peons who were just nice and devoted to their work, real believers in what they were doing and the system. they got their gratification and satisfaction needs filled elsewhere and shared the wealth.
    and yes, i’ve noticed that nurses are no longer a breed of saints.

    prayers for you and Ms blue

  6. 6 Big Man
    April 16, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I have something that somewhat connects to this post coming on Sunday. I think you’ll like it.

  7. 7 Deacon Blue
    April 16, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    @ robyn,

    Yeah, extreme politeness can be such a useful tool at times. It has served me well indeed.

    Co-sign with you on your observations, too.

    @ Big Man,

    I look forward to it. Really liked your cognitive dissonance post, too, though I couldn’t think of anything to say worthy of the use of the comment function.

  8. 8 societyvs
    April 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I hear ya, been thinking about this one for a little while now. People can use their jobs and positions in society as control tactics over others. I am finding this more and more as I see some people follow cold and calculating policy over and above human consideration.

  9. 9 Deacon Blue
    April 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I wasn’t in a position over other people (directly) long enough to be forced to choose very often between the “cold and calculating policy,” though I certainly got my first taste the first time I had to be part of the employee review process, and had to deal with the “rules” about what I was allowed to do. In other words, there were limits on how well I could review them.

    On the bright side, I moved on to another position before I had to go through that again.


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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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