I can’t be the only person who has, at times, felt less than human.
I can’t be the only one who has felt repeatedly reduced to a number, or a set of numbers, by an institution. I can’t be the only one who’s invested significant emotional energy into the pursuit of a goal, be it grades in school, better health, even weight loss, only to ultimately be defined by a few lines on a piece of paper.
Large institutions such as hospitals have their own unique way of removing humanity from people at some of the most vulnerable points in their lives. Arguably, these vulnerable points are when preserving someone’s humanity should matter the most, however the medical system often rejects this in favour of efficiency.
If you’ve ever been to an emergency room, then you’ll know this next bit off by heart: triage, registration, wait. You do a lot of waiting in hospitals. You arrive and begin by standing in line, already becoming a nameless member of a mass of broken bodies. The severity of your problem is assessed, you’re given paperwork, and you wait with the group again. Finally, you’re given a number and a wristband, used to identify you throughout your time in the building. This band will be checked time and time again: before every medication, every procedure, every needle stick and every blood pressure measurement.
While useful in ensuring that everything given and done to you is in fact intended for you, preventing mistakes in a system that deals with hundreds of people at once, hospital bracelets lie at the centre of an incredibly dehumanizing experience. Over time, to me, they’ve come to represent a loss of individuality.
When stuck wearing one of those bands, I am, in the eyes of the people surrounding me, little more than a number and a set of complex health problems. The only information about me that the people caring for me can access is effectively a list of my problems and some numbers, and that list is accessed through my bracelet. My progress is measured in numbers on test results; numbers upon which my life and freedom depend.
Eventually, it begins to feel like I embody the numbers on my medical chart. My sense of self and my health issues become inextricably intertwined as I spend more and more time in medical establishments, until one day I too, despite my best intentions, have reduced myself to a set of problems. I let myself become less than human, and finding my way back is more difficult than I could ever imagine.
I have, however, chosen to carve my own path back to my humanity. I have found so much life outside of the hospital rooms that worked to give it back to me, and I never want to waste it. I have a second chance to define myself, and no paper band on my wrist can take that away.