autonomous futures

Stuck in the middle of institutional medicine & schooling
April 8, 2008, 4:53 pm
Filed under: reflective log

It started on Wednesday March 27th when I went for a haircut.  The hairdresser found two bald patches that I had failed to notice.  He said it looked like alopecia and was probably due to stress.  I knew I was stressed, but I thought I’d been doing quite a good job of keeping up with everything – so long as nothing in my schedule was thrown out of whack it would all work out.  Apparently my body didn’t agree and had decided to try physically manifesting the stress so I’d notice.  Still, things needed to get done so I made an appointment to see a doctor and kept on going.

The next evening completely destroyed my tenuous hold on things.  Playing a game at a drumming rehearsal, a friend fell on me and we both fell on my left wrist.  Swollen, bruised and sore, I couldn’t even hold a pen properly.  Xrays were done and I was assured it was only soft tissue damage.  Just give it time, ice it and take ibuprofen regularly.

But I didn’t have time.  The pain was making it difficult to sleep, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t write and I could only type one handed.  Suddenly everything was overwhelming and seemed completely impossible.  I was angry at myself for getting hurt and didn’t know what I was going to do about the essays I was supposed to be writing or the gathering I was supposed to be organising.  And then there was my rent…

I wrote an email to Paul letting him know that I thought I would need an extension.  He told me that would be fine with a doctor’s note.

Meanwhile, there was the doctor.  First I told him about my bald patches and he told me about a barrage of tests he would run, though it was unlikely anything would turn up.  It could be one other thing, but he didn’t think I was the type to have it: syphilis.  The man delegated to get to the bottom of this mystery didn’t think I looked like the kind of girl to contract syphilis so he wasn’t going to test me!  Even though he was already sending my blood work to the lab!

Next it was my hand.  I told him I hadn’t been able to write or type and had essays due.  I’d been to Accident and Emergency, but it was just soft tissue.  Ibuprofen, he declared, and told me to keep using it despite the pain.

Still without the doctor’s note needed and having lost almost a week of work on my essay, I broke down.  What the hell was I supposed to do?  Here I was trying to write an essay about the many failures of institutional schooling and the potential of alternatives, filling my brain with the likes of Ivan Illich and Paulo Friere, whilst simultaneously trying to adhere to rigid university deadlines.  I wanted to be doing the work.  I was trying.  But unless I could convince some random doctor to declare me ill, I would be punished with late penalties.  It was very different than the DIY health message promoted by Becs a few weeks earlier.  Autonomy?  Self-empowerment?  Self-management?  Not so much.

A few days later I went back to the office to get the results of the blood work.  First, my hand.   I had done what he said and tried to keep working, but after a day taking notes in the library the bruising along the side of my arm had increased and my range of motion had lessened.  He looked surprised, as if he thought I had been exaggerating or something, admitting it must be worse than it seemed.  Are you sure you’re taking the ibuprofen?  Yes.

And then onto the bald patches.  The tests came back fine.  No thyroid problem, not anemic, et cetera.  “You think it could be stress? ” he asks, and I start crying tears of frustration.  Finally he’s prompted to write a letter:

Miss Stephens has asked me to write to you to confirm that she has been attending the University Health Service here in Edinburgh as a result of a stress related condition.

Clearly you will have an overview of this student’s academic performance but if it has fallen below that expected I am sure you would wish to take the above into consideration.

I wonder how much my stress levels increased due to this whole debacle?


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