Photo Friday: National LGBT Health Awareness Week, Compassion

This week’s photograph, at the end of National Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Health Awareness week (see: Statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on LGBT Health Awareness Week), takes us to where the week began.

Susan Rowe, who has been living as a woman for about a year, joined myself and others, including Paula Woodward and Margo Williams from the American College of Physicians (@ACPInternists) on a tour of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health (@kptotalhealth).

The part about compassion comes from the fact that Paula and Margo came to listen, and Susan came to teach.

Prior to the tour, Susan sat with me and told me her life’s journey. I reflected on a few things:

  1. When Susan talks about her treatment for gender dysphoria today, she becomes more animated, and her tone turns positive. She doesn’t talk about 80 or 90% adherence to her treatment. She is 100% adherent. In a world where we struggle to understand medication adherence for everyone else, what does this say about the value of this care?
  2. That coupled with the fact that Susan’s treatment was unnecessarily delayed by healthcare, in collusion with society, not by years, but by decades, makes me want to be upset for her. I am not though, because this is what she says:

Paula and Margo, It was great to meet you both and thank you SO much for the chance to share my story/journey. The medical community, on a whole, has responded to me with support and compassion, as your presence yesterday made again so clear. I feel any falling short of that has been do to outdated policies and not to efforts or attitudes of the caregivers I’ve encountered. In fact I feel that my caregivers have gone out of their way to understand/help and to circumvent any obstacles to treatment. I think we all sense that the wheel is turning toward a more inclusive and enlightened view of transgender patients and it’s exciting to see. Toward that end, I’m available to help in any way I can – to come share a patients view or to answer any questions about my situation at any time with you or your colleagues. Blessings, Susan

It would be a mistake to say that every trans person feels this way about the health care system today. However, Susan’s words offer hope that (a) we can do better, (b) there are health professionals today who are doing excellent work already, and it’s not just appreciated, it’s life changing. Oh, and patients want to help us, all we have to do is ask.

Once again, I can’t stand how much I learned this week, and I thank the people we serve for showing as much compassion toward us as we’d like to show toward them. We will. Happy Friday 🙂

Ted Eytan, MD