I had a gum graft last week. No fun, but not as bad as I’d anticipated. In fact, I was made more comfortable during the procedure with the help of a healthy dose of nitrous oxide. It’s a good drug, even if “laughing gas” is a bit of a misnomer. And, it’s not nearly as “magical” as the medication they administer intravenously so that one’s colonoscopy is less fearful than the preparation for it. But, I digress. The point of my story is that I had some insights during my “twilight time” to what it might feel like to be a student with a disability – restrained, movement limited, and in some cases (like mine, yesterday), basically unable to communicate. I couldn’t “do”; I was “done to.” I was at the mercy of the periodontist and his assistant. I trusted in their expertise, but couldn’t help wondering in the semi-paranoia induced by both the nitrous and the situation, if they knew what they were doing.
I amused myself by focusing on what I might say about this in a blog. That diversion helped to make me somewhat objective about the complete vulnerability I felt. Here are some observations.
• Sometimes touching a student’s body in the course of securing him or her cannot be avoided. Be aware that you’re doing it. Say something that recognizes and apologizes for what may constitute a privacy intrusion.
• Assume that the student is hearing and understanding every word you say to another person with whom you’re working. I happen to think my periodontist is a terrific guy, and I really like his assistant, but I didn’t want to hear even a little bit of conversing about their holidays – I wanted total concentration on my mouth.
• Soothe the student with reassurance that everything is going well. At the end of the procedure, Dr. Thomas said “You did awesome,” to which I replied, “How did you do – that’s the important thing!” In the course of the hour long procedure, I might have liked to know what stage we were at. I might have been glad to know that there was very little bleeding – an indication that I was unlikely to have the excessive bleeding reflected on my post-procedure instructions that would require extra care. You get the point. I’m not enjoying reliving the experience, and you probably don’t want to read more details about it. So, getting back to the student and the CSRS – It may seem obvious, and even patronizing to say “You’re all secure and ready for a safe ride,” but it can be very reassuring to the student.
Anyway, it might be valuable for you to reflect deeply about what it must feel like to be at the mercy of another. I highly recommend reading Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, an award-winning book about a teenager who is “glued to his wheelchair, unable to voluntarily move a muscle-he can’t even move his eyes.“ Narrated by the fictional boy, it will add to your vision of vulnerability, much as yesterday’s experience added to mine.