Children, Doctors and Consent

As I’ve said before, my time in the ICU was not my only time in the hospital. I was born sick and was a sick child, who had many surgeries.

This one is not going to be about the ICU. It’s going to be about the time I spent in the hospital after my major surgery when I was a toddler.

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“Rain rain go away, come again another day”, I sang out to a doctor as I slid under my bed.

He commanded me to come out, but I refused.

He wasn’t even my doctor. I didn’t even know him, but he wanted to learn from me, and I refused. I would not come out and my mother refused to make me.

Instead she responded by saying “she may not be 3 yet, but she has a right to say ‘no’”, and told him to go.

As a hospital staff member, you might be reading this thinking I was a brat. As my mother was telling me this, she laughed thinking how cute I was.

I’m not a brat, and I never was a brat.

Before you judge a sick child’s brattiness, consider what it is like to be a sick child, and what you want that child (all children), to know about their own bodies, an boundary’s.

I was almost three, small for my age, and in my own way saying “no, I don’t want you to touch me right there, right now”, and I had a perfect right to do so.

I understood I was sick, and that I had been sick all my life. At almost three, I was a medical veteran, who had more medical procedures, surgeries, medications, doctor’s visits, sick sleepless nights, and pain than most adults have ever had in their lifetimes.

At that time I was saying to a stranger “no, not now, you can not touch me”.

My mother was making people respect my right to say “no”, and to have control over my own body. My body wasn’t a learning tool for some resident who wasn’t even part of my surgery team to look at, prod and learn from. I wasn’t a textbook, or stethoscope. I was a developing child, whose mother recognized was learning about how to be a person and eventually an adult from that moment. She was allowing me the privilege of saying “no, you can’t touch me”. And she was absolutely right.

It doesn’t matter than she was inconveniencing and even angering medical staff. They are adults. They’ve already learned their bodies were their own, and about consent. They weren’t being asked to be touched, and examined and have medical gowns pulled away to expose bare skin. They were not the ones in their formative years.

My mother was teaching me what consent was and that saying “no” to being touched is ok.

Maybe thinking about consent with a toddler is, uncomfortable to think about, but sick toddlers grow up to be adults, and if those children have learned as toddlers that they don’t have a right to say “no”, and that they can be touched when ever and where ever a stranger wants to touch them, and that they are “brats”, if they don’t concent, how are they going to apply that when they are adults?

If your a child who has already been told your consent doesn’t matter, how will you respond to a pedophile?

If you’re a teen who has learned as child that you can’t say “no”, how is that going to affect sexual exploration?

If you are an adult, who has already learned, that you don’t have control over your own body, how is that going to affect your ability to distinguish abuse from normal adult relationships?

Children are growing, learning and understanding the world around them. They are not little science experiments, or textbooks. They are not work places.

They are people, who deserve the right to grow up, in control of their own bodies. Do not break their spirits in an attempt to fix their bodies, or worse, learn from their bodies.

If you work with children, in a hospital or medical setting, remember that. Please see your child patients as developing and learning from everything you do, and ask yourself “what you do want them to learn from you?”.

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