This past weekend I happened to be at a family event and we were discussing health, wellness, and nutrition.
One of my cousins shared with me a letter that she had received from her son’s school nurse. In the letter, given to her son, age 9, it stated that he was malnourished, skeletal, and unhealthy.
He happens to be close to 5′ tall and weighs less than 60lbs. So as compared to the average chart, he would be ‘thin’ for his eight and height.
What was interesting to me, was that her son was still very upset by this letter.
He shared with me that he felt bad. He felt as if he was doing something wrong, that he wasn’t doing the right things, and that he didn’t want people to think that his parents were not treating him well. He was afraid. He was scared. He blamed himself.
My cousins sister, who has a daughter in the same school, shared with me a similar story, but on the other end of the spectrum.
Her daughter had brought home a letter from the school nurse highlighting that she was obese. In the letter it made comments of causing diabetes, heart disease, inability to participate in sports, and decreasing her daughters life expectancy.
Her daughter is on the short side, but far from being heavy, overweight, or morbidly obese.
Once her daughter knew that we were discussing the letter she went from being happy and laughing to hiding, being sad, and obviously depressed.
Her mother shared with me that since the letter came home her daughter was experiencing teasing at school, being singled out, and that her natural happy tendencies were being replaced with bouts of sadness, crying, and depression.
I am sure that school was intending to do the right thing based on metrics, look up charts, best practices, and communicating with parents.
The school wanted to encourage students and parents to be healthy, to participate in wellness programs, to exercise, and to make smart choices when it came to eating.
The design of the program was flawed in its assessments and in its communication.
We need to remember that charts are made to try and lump everyone into a category. To normalize and make all of us average. To make us standard.
The reality is that none of us are standard. Not of us are normal. We do not belong to one single category, but we belong and mingle in multiple tribes based on life events.
Our words build worlds.
Remember that when you are communicating with another person that the message may be seen, read, intercepted, spread, or shared with others before it reaches it destination. Words can hurt. Words can damage. Words can turn a positive into a negative.
There is a moment before both of the children saw those words: malnourished and obese. Then there is the moment after they read those words. They can never go back to the time before reading them and acknowledging the words.
All they can do is realize that they are special, and that they have the ability to choose the words that will build their worlds.
Remember when you interact with your patients….
Your words build their world in healthcare.
As always, you can feel free to contact me at: CANCERGEEK@GMAIL.COM or follow me on twitter @cancergeek