A few weeks ago marked an unexpectedly eventful chapter in my life when what began as an introduction to bouldering swiftly transformed into a visit to our local emergency department. Amidst the whirlwind of medical procedures and unexpected challenges, my keen awareness, fostered by the work we do at Culturally Committed, influenced me to closely observe the dynamics unfolding around me.
Throughout this unplanned hospital visit, I found myself attuned to the subtleties of the healthcare experience. From clinicians introducing themselves (or not), to the interactions between other patients and hospital staff, and even the discernment of signs of stress or fear, I remained watchful. As someone committed to cultural sensitivity, these observations took on added significance, contributing to a deeper understanding of healthcare delivery.
A couple of days later, I found myself lying on a gurney outside an operating room–gowned, bonneted, with personal belongings scattered across my lap–anticipating the journey beyond the doors. The surreal ambiance heightened my senses, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. A reassuring conversation with the Anesthesiologist and my surgeon eased my nerves before being wheeled into the operating room. The transition from IV insertion to the mask on my face blurred the line between consciousness and oblivion, and the next moment unfolded in the recovery room.
Upon returning home, a conversation with my friend and Culturally Committed Advisor, Jenn Smith of Tlowitsis First Nation, provided an opportunity to recount my experience. She delicately inquired about my perception of the care received, prompting a reflection on the interactions with hospital staff. I shared that, despite the circumstances, I felt well-cared for; the staff was consistently friendly and engaged. Jenn, in turn, shared her contemplations about my experience and recounted her own feelings during past encounters with hospital services.
This dialogue opened a window into the intricacies of patient experiences, transcending the clinical realm. Jenn’s poignant question about my confidence in receiving good care underscored the significance of trust (and mistrust) within the healthcare system. The ensuing conversation not only deepened our understanding but also revealed the diversity of perspectives individuals encounter in their interactions with the healthcare system. Jenn shares her perspective on the conversation in the following text:
"Recently, over a six-month period and after a few visits to the ER, an abdominal ultrasound, and a referral to a specialist, I finally reached my surgery date for a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal). The journey to my surgery date was far from easy. Unfortunately, I was never followed up with regarding the results of my ultrasound, and I ended up back in the ER after experiencing another gallbladder attack. The doctor referred me to a specialist; however, months passed without any communication. Taking matters into my own hands, I decided to research specialists in my area. Fortunately, I located the one who would be performing my operation. She promptly reviewed my ultrasound, and within minutes, I finally received a diagnosis – gallstones.
On the day of my surgery, I found myself feeling nervous and extremely vulnerable. It was my first surgery since childhood, and entrusting my life to the medical staff was a daunting thought. During the early morning preparations for surgery, I moved through each step, greeted and treated with respect by the medical staff, which was a comforting experience. As the minutes passed, my anxiety about the surgery intensified. Just before entering the operating room, I was on a gurney outside the OR, having my IV set up by a nurse named Art. He put me at ease with his gentle words, saying, “Don’t worry, my dear; we’re going to take good care of you.” I felt an immediate sense of relief and expressed my gratitude.
Upon entering the OR, my specialist introduced me to the entire team involved in my operation. Still nervous, I laid down and quickly drifted into an induced anesthetic sleep.
In the weeks that followed, I had ample time to reflect on my experience. The hospital conducted a follow-up to assess the quality of my experience, and I was grateful to share my positive feedback. After hearing horror stories about the healthcare system in this country, I harbored a deep fear that I might not be treated with respect. It went beyond the common apprehension about potential complications during surgery. As an Indigenous person, I believe there is a pervasive fear that goes beyond the individual, reflecting a broader apprehension about the treatment of Indigenous people in general.
Upon learning about my friend Kim's accident, I was curious about her encounter with the healthcare system. She graciously shared her experience, and I inquired if, even for a moment, she had concerns about receiving the care she deserved. Her response was no. Reflecting upon the difference in our apprehensions, the term "white privilege" came to mind. It’s a concept is rooted in the idea that systemic racism and historical inequalities have led to the creation of social structures that disproportionately favor individuals who are perceived as white. These advantages can manifest in various aspects of life, such as education, employment, housing, criminal justice, and overall societal treatment.
It’s difficult for me to say that word in connection with anyone I know and I make this acknowledgement with a good heart and good intentions. It's important to understand that it does not imply that every individual who is perceived as white has had an easy life or has not faced challenges. Instead, it highlights that, on average, individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups may face additional obstacles and systemic disadvantages that those perceived as white may not experience.
I am relieved that Kim is on the path to recovery and I am grateful to be in good health. Our shared journey in reflecting on cultural safety work allows us to bring awareness to systemic disparities and promote understanding. While it may not be easy, we recognize its necessity in fostering positive change and ensuring equitable experiences for everyone."