Wednesday, January 6, 2021

After a Nurse Was Flippant About My Facial Difference

Woman with purple birthmark on her face wears a face mask, looking to her side.
The other day, my phone rang. It was right before Christmas and I noticed my doctor’s office was calling me. Knowing I didn’t have an appointment for a few months, I was confused as to why they were calling.

In October, at this very same doctor's office, I had met with a nurse who I had seen nearly every month during 2020 at my specialist's office. She knew who I was. She even knew my story. But this crisp day in October caught me off guard. 

As she was helping me that day in the office, her forehead quickly began to wrinkle. Pointing to her face, she began to speak. Without a voice of concern, she instead nosily and rudely asked me, "What happened to you?"

Knowing it wasn't my first time there, nor our first discussion about it (not to mention that it is listed on my medical chart), I quickly became annoyed but tried to maintain my patience. This wasn't my first experience of this kind in a doctor's office. It isn't the worst, and it won't be my last.

Caught by surprise, I only replied on the spot with, "It's a birthmark. A port wine stain."

Flippantly the nurse replied, “Oh, that’s right. I guess I forgot.”

After this situation occurred, I went back to this doctor’s office and let my next doctor know about what happened with his coworker. I informed them that they need to know which patient they’re seeing before they walk into a room to properly treat them – and to show basic kindness and professionalism. 

"I'm secure in who I am," I explained to the man who stood before me, "But as an advocate with a facial difference — I can tell you that sadly, that's not everyone's story. I've ready stories about women who are forced to wear makeup to bed by their husband's because their husband's don't want to wake up and 'see that.' A birthmark like mine is so common, it shouldn't of been handled so flippantly because the person behind the the skin matters. Emotions and the stories matter. Every patient matters. It's also a simple thing to just check the medical chart before walking in the room."

For weeks I never knew what occurred after I shared about what happened within those four walls.

Yet, the biggest gift was given to me when my phone rang that December morning.

Answering my phone, it was the very same nurse who saw me that day. The same nurse who had seemed so flippant about my facial difference. 

"Hello?" I answered.

"Hello, is this Crystal?" I heard a female voice ask.

After confirming that it was, she went on.

"It was brought to my attention that I didn't handle our interaction very well last time we saw one another. In fact, I put my foot in my mouth and I chewed on it...And it makes me sick to think about it. I apologize."

She. Apologized.

Out of all the situations I've ever experienced in public, with doctors, nurses, on social media...This doctor is the first to ever apologize. 

"I became a nurse because I care about people, and I have compassion about others. You didn't get me on my best day and I didn't show that to you, and again, I'm sorry."

Within our 15 minutes on the phone, we had a sweet conversation together. It was important to me to readdress some of the issues I told the doctor, because I wasn't here to just "complain." I was hoping to teach and educate. To hope for a difference and to share why this experience mattered to me.

But also? It was more important to show her forgiveness. Grace. I had no desire to sit in bitterness or frustration of this situation, and she needed to know.

"Out of all the situations I've ever been in," I told her, "You're the first to ever apologize. Whether it's in a doctor's office or not. You've gone above and beyond. Thank you."

Before we ended the call, we both ended the conversation by agreeing that we hope to see each other and work together again in the future.

I'm now 29. The last thing I ever expected was a call from this nurse to offer me an apology...And to show a willingness to learn. To understand.

Yet, this was a sweet reminder to expect the unexpected. To remember that kindness is still out there, even when it's not expected.

There is hope.

The Travelin' Chick,

Crystal Hodges