05 May 2010

Why 89: Medical Maladies, Malpractices and Mistrust [3 of 7*]

I was distraught when my girlfriend injured her knee a month ago; she was alone in our condo. I was out of the country then, so my relatives were the ones who came to her rescue. But I was more distraught over the fact that the hospital might not recognize my relatives' help because technically, my girlfriend is not their relative.

So My Tita brought her to the hospital under the pretense that my girlfriend was her niece, just in case they asked. Good thing the hospital didn't question their legal relations much so my girlfriend went ahead to the emergency room and got treatment. We were thankful that the injury was minimal and grateful that my trusted relatives were there to help out.

Yes, we are out to everybody as a couple. I have brought my girlfriend to different family functions and in turn, she has brought me home to their province to meet her family as well. And since her immediate relatives are far away from us, I stand as her only relative in the metro. So when it comes to our relatives helping us out, there's no question about that.

But it's another case when it comes to the outside world, especially when it deals with medical cases like the one above.

I'm actually glad that the hospital didn't question that legality so much, whether my Tita was a blood relative of my girlfriend and all. I know that scenario might change if the situation was worse. For instance, what happens when I get hospitalized? During visiting hours, non-relatives could visit for a while. But who gets to stay with me when visiting hours are over? The only willing candidates who will take care of me and stay with me there would be my mother and my girlfriend. Of course they'll allow my mother; she's my mother. But what about my girlfriend? I'm sure they'll send her home, because she's not related to me, even if we have been sharing a life together for more than two years now.

In Canada, New Zealand and some European countries, it's perfectly alright if an unmarried couple stays together under such circumstances, meaning one of the couple could legally be permitted to stay with the sick partner. There's a term for unmarried couples which are already applicable to LGBT couples as well -- common-law partners. I love that term, "common-law." Somehow it binds a legal bond between couples, loving couples, in the society. So if one gets sick, there's no question that their governments allow loved ones to be together in their times of troubles.

But not in the Philippines.

In the US, President Obama just introduced the concept of letting hospitals
permit LGBT couples to be with each other in hospitals to take care of the sick partner. Prior to that, though, other US states like Maine already have in effect a law which permits patients to assign whoever they want to assign as their legal representative or caretaker while confined. This law clearly could apply to LGBT patients, then. But what about the other states? Well, we get sob stories.

Just like in the Philippines.

Here in the country, it's very "easy" for the medical profession to be discriminatory against LGBT patients. For one, some medical practitioners are not sensitive enough to the needs of LGBT patients. But like I said, it's "easy" for them to be discriminatory against us because prior to being LGBT, they discriminate first on people's general behavior, LGBT or not.

For instance, I still clearly remember the first time I went to an
OBGyne when I got a yeast infection in my nether regions during my early twenties. I wasn't an enlightened lesbian yet during that time, and I had a boyfriend. The female OBGyne--who was dressed more like a conservative preacher from some fellowship center--asked what the problem was, so I told her. Her next question to me was "May boyfriend ka na ba?" to which I honestly replied "Opo." And then she proceeded to examine me while shaking her head in disagreement. I thought she was seeing something disagreeable in the area she was looking at, but that wasn't the case at all.

After, she told me that I indeed have yeast infection of some sort, but it was a common thing to get for women, she said, especially women who are engaging in sex, and then she continued to shake her head in disagreement. That was when it hit me -- oh, she was disagreeing because she assumed I was having premarital sex with a guy! Aysus! And she just said it like that, without even asking me, without confirming first, if I was indeed having sex with my boyfriend; she just assumed, and that was that. So imagine if straight women got this kind of judgmental crap from medical practitioners on a daily basis. Imagine the kind of judgmental crap LGBTs get from them.

In 2003, the lesbian community was plainly enraged when the president of the Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecologists Society (POGS) of that time declared that "lesbians are not women." That made me automatically look at my boobs and vagina and think, "Um, last time I checked, which was seconds ago, I am a woman, doc." If they view us as aliens, how could they give us proper treatment, then? Such confidence, such trust.

Since we were small, we were all taught to immediately honor and trust certain people in specific professions such as doctors, nurses, the police and priests. Well, I don't know about the police and priests these days, but doctors and other medical practitioners should still hold. But if the president of a medical organization maligns us like that, well, we lesbians might as well look for another doctor... maybe from the Moon, or Uranus? I don't know. Please send referrals.

But after engaging
in dialogue that good doctor who made that horrible pronouncement , lesbian rights advocates were able to make her see the light, and she retracted the statement. But still, we can never forget such a statement.

A couple of years ago, my girlfriend needed an OBGyne check-up, too, so the first thing we did was to look for a lesbian-friendly female OBgyne. Luckily, we found one near our condo but sadly, their clinic transferred after a year. So we have no recourse but to look for another lesbian-friendly one.

But you know what? That's the point: we should not be looking for a
lesbian-friendly OBGyne, because they should all be trained to accept all kinds of patients, and to properly assess their patients who are from different walks of life. For instance, they should be able to talk to patients in a non-discriminatory and non-judgmental way, whether their clients are mothers, mistresses, lesbians or sex workers. Everybody is entitled to a proper medical treatment, or should I say a proper AND humane medical treatment.

But being humane wasn't in the minds of the medical practitioners involved in that infamous Cebu canister case where, in Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital in Cebu, a gay guy was admitted at the emergency room years back, the one who, for some reason, had a small canister stuck up his ass, and had difficulty pulling out. Instead of pity or sympathy, the medical interns, nurses and doctors who admitted the gay guy did the most "modern" thing -- used a cellphone's camera and recorded a video of the canister operation as they laughed so hard while they performed it, and then uploaded it on Youtube. Youtube!!! Imagine if you were having your tonsils taken out, your liposuction done, or your knee surgery being recorded and uploaded on Youtube. So imagine if it was such a delicate and sensitive operation as the gay guy's. To have that uploaded on Youtube is the most horrific, unforgivable thing a medical practitioner could do. What nerve!

So if we lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders didn't have individuals, groups and organizations backing us up to remind the medical profession to honor their sworn non-discriminatory duties, then we're doomed. This is why I appreciate the platform of Ang Ladlad, the partylist that champions the personal, political and medical well-being of its main constituents -- every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizen of the Philippines. Because the nominees of the partylist are bona fide members of the LGBT community, they know first-hand these horrible medical experiences, as some--if not all--of them have been treated harshly, too, at certain points in their lives. So they know how it feels, and they know how to remedy it.

So if you are one of us or if you have a loved one, a friend, a colleague who have had horror stories pertaining to the medical profession just because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, think about making a change for real and help the group that will help make this change real.

Vote 89.


*Why 89: 3 of 7 is the third of a seven-part series of creative nonfiction narratives I am writing as a countdown to the upcoming May 10 elections in support of my partylist, Ang Ladlad.

Part 1 of 7 -
The Benefit(s) of Recognition
Part 2 of 7 - The Career Closet

All photos by libay linsangan cantor (1-4) various personal shots taken 2008 except (4) from Ang Ladlad's campaign materials.

Feel free to repost and comment. Thanks for reading.

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