A number of times in the last few years, I've found myself in the position of experiencing some of the very things I've set out to study. In a way, it's comforting that there's a very generalizable set of experiences that my friends and I have had, as women who have semi-regular contact with the medical system for preventive care. But it's also unnerving to theorize about something and to also experience it firsthand.
In the last week, I've been a bit of a guinea pig, as I've seen 3 doctors, for three different conditions/concerns, as well as taken more prescription and over-the-counter drugs than I've taken in years. I've also developed hives -- perhaps a secondary research effect, from working with so many holistic believers, I have started to feel uneasy about filling my body with pharma's best. In addition, I purchased an over-the-counter (pharmacist controlled) medication that I'd never taken before, and one that I've read an amazing theoretical article about. It's strange to find myself part of that very political struggle and to think about the significance and power of having access to certain drugs in certain contexts. This is perhaps a point that I'm uneasy writing about -- when do I reveal and discuss the personal in my own research? Does my own experience strengthen or diminish the power of the argument?
At one of the doctor's offices, a sports medicine practice, within a teaching hospital, I had to sign a waiver, giving up my right to claim any financial benefits should they discover anything commercializable with my tissues or genes (as I like to send you to The New York Times for good examples of these sorts of things, of course, I have an article to point to, about the "tissue industrial complex"), allowing the physicians to have student doctors accompany them, and a whole other slew of apparently waivable rights. What choice does one have? You can choose not to receive care there, but many of the other physicians have some version of these waivers. I did, in fact, get a couple of residents who accompanied my physician, as they watched him rotate my hips and my legs and expressed amazement at my range of motion. They each got to move my leg around and tried to re-capture the spot where it hurt me. All three were men, and I could tell the residents were uncomfortable. I kept thinking of Terri Kapsalis's really phenomenal book, Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from Both Ends of the Speculum, which is one my favorite social analyses of medical practice and culturally inflected experiences of the body. (The first few chapters, in particular, address gynecological practice and history like no other book or article I've read.)
At the ambulatory care center that I went to, two days after the sports medicine experience, I listened as a man couldn't get his insurance to admit that he had coverage under his wife's plan, and then for the offices to have closed before he could get approval for a much needed scan. The administrators decided to go ahead without pre-approval, since they said it was important. God knows how much that's going to cost this man. And then, I went in and found a lovely old doctor, who spent an amazing amount of time with me, wrote me extensive prescriptions for my bronchitis and any possible pain I might be in as a result, and he even gave me his card with his pager on it. What doctor allows you to contact him without an appointment these days?
Then, there was the dermatologist. The medication I'm on has (over the years, as I have taken it a couple of times in the past) grown increasingly strict about women not getting pregnant while on it. There are now many hurdles to getting access to the medication (also due to people committing suicide while on it), and all sorts of pre-approvals and blood tests. Because my pregnancy test was more than a week old, I had to go back and get a urine test. One of my favorite parts of the new "iPledge" system is that I have to announce my birth control methods. My dermatologist had wanted me to take the pill, but I refused. I have to have two birth control methods, and apparently it is totally within the realm of the system's logic for my first method to be "abstinence" and my second method to be the "diaphragm". Like with federal documents for identification, there is a hierarchy for birth control methods. The first method can only be a few things -- for example, one can't choose a barrier method as the "primary method" -- no condoms or diaphragms. Though I can choose abstinence, if I promise to also use a barrier method. The inanity is hilarious to me.
Anyway, it's strange as I swallow the various pills, take advantage of social advances, political gains, and my incredible wealth of knowledge and education around this topic, to have had this condensed week of medical adventures. None of them terribly serious or traumatic, but still revealing. It's not so bad being my own research subject.