L – a model patient

So this morning, L and I visit the nurse for a BMI check and blood tests. I like the practice nurse, she’s jolly and makes L laugh usually and seeing a smile on her face is always good. She only has kilos on her scales – I don’t really know what they mean, except forty something doesn’t sound good. So she tells me her weight in stones and pounds and it’s not as bad as I’m expecting. That’s good, I say. I can see her look at me, look at the notes that describe in detail L’s condition, notes I know she must have read. Have you put on weight?, she asks. I freeze, L freezes. We’re not ready for this yet, I know if L thinks she has, this will scare her, force her backwards, make her think that my reassurances are lies. So I answer for her, say that I’m just pleased, it’s a good weight. I smile at L, hoping my words are neutral enough. The nurse looks at L and says Well, yes, and you’re going to be lovely and tall, you could be a model. And I want to scream. I want to grab this nurse by the shoulders and yell at her. Does she know anything? Does she think? She is sitting in front of an anorexic teenager, taking blood out of her bony arm to check how much damage she is doing to herself, and what she says feels as if she is validating everything that I am trying to challenge. Is it not enough that L constantly compares herself to the food starved mannequins in magazines, that she feels the only way to be successful is to deny her body the food it craves until she disappears? That as well as that she is praised for her thinness by this person who,is supposed to be trying to heal this illness of hers.

I am so angry. And yet, I know it’s embarrassment that this nurse feels, the worry that she might say the wrong thing or the need to reassure her patient that perhaps it not all bad. It’s not her fault, it’s down to all of us. So I don’t rage at her, I smile and thank her for her time. I take L’s hand and take her home to have some breakfast.

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