By: Lila Hawryluk
Sitting in the waiting room, about to meet my new primary care doctor, my palms sweated as I battled fears and reservations. I am a transgendered (trans) woman and, because of this, I’m guarded when I meet new people.
My name was called and I was brought into an exam room where I was left with my anxiety for a bit longer. Finally, in walked a young blond physician with a kind smile. Seeing her for the first time put me oddly at ease. Then we began to talk and introduce ourselves.
Of all the people in my life that I need to feel most comfortable with, doctors top the list. I like to be able to talk to my doctors about everything from regular health issues or concerns to my mental health. I don’t ever want to feel I can’t be open and honest with a doctor, especially in regards to my transition.
Personally, I find it works best to tell doctors I’m trans right from the start, after my name of course. This way, it’s out there. I don’t have to worry about working it into a conversation, and I can also get a feel for how they’ll be toward me going forward. It’s something of a test and also gives them an opportunity to ask any questions they might find relevant, which, again, is a way to see how they’ll react.
I was relieved when my new doctor, Dr. Claire Thomson, a resident at the Family Care Center at Memorial Hospital, reacted without any fuss and with the same kindness I first saw in her smile. After my first visit, I felt I had found a great physician and ally.
Dr. Thomson has been the rock I had been seeking for a doctor. I never once felt uncomfortable or awkward around her. She is thoughtful in how she speaks and answers my questions, she makes me feel like I’m the only patient she meets with, and she never treats me as any less than the woman we both know I am. She makes sure I have all the answers and assistance I need, and if there’s something she doesn’t know she takes it upon herself to find out. None of my questions have ever gone unanswered.
It is not the first experience I’ve had as a trans woman at Memorial. Before I had transitioned or legally changed my name, I was hospitalized there for almost a week with meningitis. I remember feeling safe and accepted by everyone on my health care team. I felt like the doctors, residents and nurses didn’t notice that I was transgendered. To them, I was just another female patient in need of a lot of medical attention, compassion and comfort.
This was a time when my own family members were still adjusting to elements of my transition, specifically the new pronoun to use for me. The main resident on my case never slipped up, though, and even carefully pointed out to my mother that I was “she” when my mother used the pronoun “he.” It wasn’t rude, but powerful and has stuck with us since. Experiencing that level of comfort and acceptance – especially from someone who only knew me for a short period of time – was incredible.
The resident’s dedication to my identity during my hospital stay is just as touching as Dr. Thomson’s. Caring, and making sure I know it, seems effortless for people like them.
One of the most exciting parts of my transition occurred at Kent Hospital when I had my breast augmentation. Words could not explain the nerves that overwhelmed me, not only because I knew I was bound to feel great physical pain, but because, again, I never know how people will react to me. As soon as I met the nurses and staff in the ambulatory surgical center, however, my nerves disappeared. They were respectful, polite and kind, and I felt comfortable. I was truly impressed with how sensitive they were to me and my procedure. They, just like Dr. Thomson, treated me like any other woman, and, besides a safe procedure, that’s truly all I could ask of them.
I no longer dread a visit to the doctor or the hospital. While I’d rather avoid being sick if possible, I find myself looking forward to seeing Dr. Thomson and catching her up on the exciting events in my life, both physical and not. I know that if I ever need to stay at Memorial or Kent hospitals again, the staff will not only give me the best care possible, but respect me as well. That kind of comfort takes a long time to build up with people in general, so I consider myself fortunate to find it in my health care experiences.