Medical Metaphors

Katherine Oostman
Jan 21, 2015 · 3 min read

I know I’m not alone in saying that being poked, scanned, swabbed, or otherwise analyzed is less than enjoyable.

However, in spite of the the locked jaw and pressed scowl that accompanies such encounters, we want to be sampled, probed, and cut. We’ve come in order to exchange: something in us is incomplete, askew, or broken. Even if entering such a space means pain, it also means something better than our current existence. And somehow, rationally, we are able to prioritize hope over the insinct to avoid pain.

I find this true with our interactions with people as well.

Take an IV for example.

No one walks into a hospital and orders a hollow needle jabbed up his vein as if it was a milkshake with fries. However, IVs are given out to almost everyone who enters like a house-warming gift.

And we, crazy people, accept them. Because that needle tapping our blood is attached to a tube that acts as the straw to the milkshake: drugs. Happy, pain-free, hydrating liquids.

There’s a lot of trust involved in allowing a nurse to move about your IV. So many things are happening. Through a slow drip, she’s measuring out medecine perfectly to your needs — helping your body heal itself.

She can remove that supply and take from you: blood to analyze who you are, what you need, etc. And thus learn the things no one else would know just by looking at you.

But what if she loses interest? What if she’s paged in the middle of drawing blood and forgets to replace the tube to medication? What if she leaves you there, with an open port to your heart sticking out of your arm, blood dripping down?

You’re losing life and the ability to heal — literally pouring out onto the floor.

This is what it is to trust someone. To let them enrich you and to give them some of you in return. This is what happens when people treat feelings, the metaphorical blood of our souls, as something as fleeting and interesting as what you order for lunch.

Letting someone in is not comfortable. Still, we’re desperate to because we know it’ll keep us alive. Fear gets in the way; last time the nurse forgot to finish what she started, which means you lost more by trusting than if you had just stayed as you were.

Maybe you’re even emptier now.

Where this metaphor falls apart is in the one-way aspect of it. It assumes you’re there to take and that’s what’s important. There isn’t a nurse and a patient. Each patient is also a nurse, each nurse also a patient. And each human needs to be and encounter both in a lifetime — to give, to receive, to understand.

We’re taught not to trust. Humans are clumsy, forgetful after all. They’ll yank, stab, and let you bleed out. And that’s true for the most part. But sometimes, the becoming weak through being wounded or abandoned is what diagnoses your strength.

Sometimes being vulnerable when it doesn’t make sense is what saves someone else.

Sometimes the metaphors we’re given aren’t actually what they say they’re about.

Because you don’t know why you’re in that hospital. I never told you your diagnoses. You assumed you were sick. Maybe something wasn’t wrong with you at all. Maybe you’re not the one seeking to be filled. Maybe instead of infusion, this whole thing is really about transfusion.

And the blood pouring out is pouring in to something else.

And the little you’re left with will multiply so you can give again and again.

And when all this is said and done, what you come out with is this: relationships should never be about what people give you but what you give them.

Katherine Oostman

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My first movie was about the bubble apocalypse. It can only get better from here.

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