Friday, June 26, 2015

To the Nurse Who Thought I was Sleeping

To the nurse who thought I was sleeping,

"What happened to her face?" I heard you ask - and not in a friendly tone.

Even though I was still very groggy, I briefly opened my eyes.  I was still in the procedure room and your team had just adjusted me from my stomach and returned me to rest on my back.  The anesthesia I had been under was wearing off in a record time.

Closing my eyes, I thought, "Did I just dream the nurse's question?  I must have."  But it my gut, I knew it hadn't been a dream.  The question hadn't been created as a hallucination from the anesthesia that my brain and body were emerging from, and neither was my feeling of hurt.

The more I woke up, the more I was confident in what I heard you say...and the more it made me feel terrible.

As hospital staff parked my bed in a room in recovery, I asked my two anesthesiologists who accompanied me for confirmation, "Did I just hear one of the ladies in the procedure room ask what happened to my face, or did I dream that?"  Instantly the man responded, "Yep - you heard her correctly!"

"Oh," I told him, "You can tell her it's just a birthmark.  I don't mind people knowing what it is.  I actually write about my birthmark and story on my blog, and I am a public speaker on the issue."

Continuing in conversation with my anesthesiologists, it took all I had to not express my frustrations as I mentally processed the experience and tried to understand how exactly I was feeling.

Once my doctors finished checking on me and doing all that they had to do, they went and told my mom that she could come back to see me in recovery.  Just seconds after she entered the room she asked me, "What's wrong?  You're not acting like you, even the 'you' coming out of anesthesia.  What happened?"

I tried to brush it all aside and denied that anything was wrong - but mothers always know better...Especially my mom.  (You should meet her one day, she's pretty great!)

My heart felt heavy.  I felt frustrated.  I was hurt.  I was tired.

You may not know why I was in the hospital, why I was having a procedure done.  After all, you don't know me.  You don't know my story.  However, walking into the hospital that afternoon, I checked in to have a procedure done on my neck.  Two years ago I was in a car accident that injured my neck and shoulders.  The experience has been long and tiring. To help with the pain and symptoms I've been experiencing for the last couple of years, my doctor recommended that I have injections in my neck joints - six injections in total.  This procedure was (and still is) my new sense of hope to escape the ongoing pain.

Today, a week later, I finally talked directly to your manager.  We had a good, 45 minute, detailed discussion.  I told her that I was hurt, that I was frustrated...That I was there for my neck - not my face.  Your words, and the attitude in your tone, were not the first thing I wanted to hear after a painful procedure.  In fact, that's the last thing I wanted to hear.  She understood, and she was equally as disappointed in the situation.

My amazing mom.
Your manager then explained that she reviewed my file to figure out what happened, and to figured out it was you who made the comment, you asked the question.  (No worries - she didn't mention you by name.)  She explained to me that when I entered the room to have my procedure, I had one nurse that I met beforehand.  When the procedure was finished and I was prepping to leave the room, I had a different nurse due to a shift change...I had you.

You had no way to know that when they turned me from my stomach and onto my back that my face wouldn't be the norm.  According to your manager, since you switched mid procedure, you didn't see much about my file, nor were you informed about any medical conditions that I have.  You went in blind, without any "warning" about my face.

I'm guessing that you probably thought I was still asleep.  You probably thought that I wouldn't hear your words, I wouldn't remember them.  But I was awake...I do remember.

I guess it's also a possibility that you meant your question, "What happened to her face?" to translate to, "Is she okay?  Is she having some kind of reaction?"  But it didn't.  Not with your choice of words and tone infliction that you combined together.

Bluntly: It translated to an unprofessional, careless attitude, and sounded as though you were just being nosey.  Also? Your words have affected me.  They have hurt...But they inspire me.

You probably don't read my blog, for if you did, you wouldn't have asked the question that slipped through your lips.  You'd know my story, name, my face, my experiences.

I want to let you know that you're not the only one to choose the wrong words on occasion.  (Not to excuse what you said.)  Within just 1 1/2 years, and with other hospital employees in a variety of departments, I've been asked if my birthmark was face paint.  Another woman asked if my birthmark was an allergic reaction to the flu shot, and during a hospitalization, another nurse (while I was awake) rudely asked my attending nurse, "What happened to her face?!??"  When I started to react, she pretended like I wasn't awake and sitting in front of her when she continued to ask my attending nurse (still attitude infused), "Oh, is it something she's had for a while?"  She never addressed me.  She never talked to me.  I was invisible.

A few weeks later, during a time when I was incredibly sick, a receptionist recommended that I switch makeup brands so I can hide my birthmark better as, "it probably bothers other people more than it bothers you".  (You can read more about my experiences on my blog entries, It's Just a Birthmark!, Exchanging the Negative for the Positive, and Worth more than Gold.)

That's just the hospital setting alone, completely excluding my experiences at the dentist office, at college, online, and when I'm out with friends.

Knowing the words that have been said about me and to me while awake, I don't want to know what may be said about me behind closed doors - or when I'm asleep having my gallbladder removed or during a third ankle surgery.  I don't want to know what has been said when I'm not awake, the things I don't hear, what I don't remember.

Your words hurt, but they inspired me.  Your words refueled my desire to make sure that a change is made in health care services, regardless of the hospital and organization I'm in.  People (phyiscally different or not) should feel safe in a hospital setting...but lately, I don't.  After experiences like this, I'd be tempted to start wearing makeup to surgeries if I knew my doctor would allow it.

You'll probably see me again in your department in the weeks to come.  This time, I'll be there for a different reason.  I'll be there to talk about my story, to explain situations I've been in and why my experiences are not okay - and why.  But I won't just focus on the negative aspect.  I'll be teaching you and your coworkers better responses and friendlier ways to address certain issues.  I'll also be reminding you that I'm more than just another patient, I'm also human - just like you. And just like you, I have a story.  I have feelings.  I am more then whatever "happened to" my face.

Please know, though, that I don't remember who you are or what you look like.  I won't be there to target you or to make you feel awkward.  I won't single you out.  In fact, I don't even remember who you are.  Although I blog about my experiences, I probably wouldn't be able to recognize the people who created the experiences - even if I sat in a room with them.  I strive to remember the situations, the stories, the quotes - but work equally as hard to forget who said it.  Who said it doesn't matter, what was said does. Your ability to grow and learn matters even more.

You're not the first person to say hurtful words.  You're not the last.  But you can learn.  I can't change my appearance, but you can change the way you handle situations, your attitude, and the words you choose.  You can remember that all your patients are more than just an ID number waiting to be "serviced".  You can remember that patients aren't always asleep, regardless if their eyes are closed.

The Travelin' and Inspired Chick,


Do you work at a hospital and have an interest in having me come lead a sensitivity training at your organization? Let me help your organization's patients avoid similar experiences like the ones mentioned above.  Feel free to contact me!


  1. I am sorry that the nurse made such a harsh remark. One would think in healthcare, we would be more sensitive. (I am a hospital social worker). I think it's awesome that something good like you educating staff will come out of that situation. My son is only 3 and most think he's had a burn of some kind down his arm and neck. He will say, "Its just a birthmark!!" Keep up the good work Crystal.

    1. My mother often tells old stories about people accusing her of burning her baby. I guess when I was a new born, a cash register saw me at a store and stared. My sister (7 years older than I) got so frustrated at the way people reacted to me that she yelled, "It's a birthmark!! JUST A BIRTHMARK!" My mom and dad were in shock at her reaction.

      Anyways, yeah. I get that people are human. Even hospital employees. I have even laughed off a couple of the situations that took place (the one about being asked if my birthmark was an allergic reaction and when someone asked if it was face paint)...They were funny at the time. But these situations just keep happening, and they aren't on the funny side anymore. Hospital employees are human, but they should still be professional and kind. They can ask and be curious in kind ways, and I'd be okay with that. After all, they should expect different people to walk in through there doors - different in personalities, walks of life, in physical appearance and health needs. They should be expecting people like me to walk through their doors, at least, to an extent.

      If I don't raise my voice, who will? After all, I am always my best advocate.

      Thanks again for your comment! I always enjoy and look forward to your comments. :-)

  2. I think you are an inspiration to us all. My granddaughter has SWS and I would much prefer people to ask politely what it is rather than give long harsh looks or make silly comments. You are doing fantastic work, your confidence is amazing. Keep it up - you WILL be able to change people's attitudes.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement and thank you for reading! Yeah, I really don't mind that people are curious. In fact, I encourage people to ask questions if they have any. My only request is that they're curious in a kind way...Especially adults, and even more so - adults working in the medical field. Kids are a completely different story as the are still learning how to ask and are usually hilarious as they try and figure out ways to ask about it. (Oh the stories I could tell!! Haha.)

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  4. My dear beautiful and brave girl,
    Even though you are so much younger than I, I wish I could have half of your inner force and poise in life. You are indeed a brave girl and only those who have the same "different" aspect as you have truly know how brave one must be to cope with others' stares and malicious remarks without makeup on.
    I, for one, do not dare face the outside world without my makeup on. I wish I was as brave as you...
    A long time ago, when looking for my first job after my college graduation, the employer said that even though I was the perfect person for the job I still had to present a doctor's statement in which he would say that the "problem" I had was not contagious and would not affect others. When I went to the doctor to ask for that statement, he said he could not help me because he was also horrified by my problem and he was not sure it was not malignant, even though I said to him it was only a birthmark.You can imagine how that terrible episode affected my self esteem...
    People can be so mean... words are not enough to describe how much people make us "different" people suffer.
    I never had the support you have from your wonderful mother. My mother has always been embarrassed by my looks and by my birthmark and never provided much support.
    Having said that, the only thing I ask of you is to continue being the beautiful brave girl you are... You truly are an inspiration, my dear.

    P.S. As you probably have noticed, English is not my native language, and, therefore, please forgive me for any mistakes.

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