Wait a second. What is happening? Is this really happening? Now? With all these people watching? What do I do? What did I do to cause this? Oh my God, what will people think? I don’t want to be the bitch who causes a scene. Maybe if I just stay really quiet and still this will stop. Why are you massaging my shoulders? I don’t like it when anyone does that. Oh, what the hell? What are these nurses thinking right now? Do they think I want this to be happening? Can they see the shock and horror on my face? Do I want them to feel sorry for me? Can I just play this off as a weird joke? Am I overreacting? Is this okay? Why do I feel so weird? Is it odd I am a little scared? This just took a very bad turn. Maybe it’s okay. He doesn’t mean anything by this. Who am I to assume this is anything unusual? I don’t want him to hate me. I just want to fit in. I just laugh nervously and catch the charge nurse’s eye. She is not surprised.
We laugh about this situation several times over the next couple of days. The next time it happens I am a little less shocked, but even more uncomfortable. I feel like I should say something, but I don’t know how.
He’s MARRIED. He’s basically my boss. He would not be doing anything that is inappropriate. What kind of person misinterprets someone just being nice as something sexual? I am the one who is unprofessional. I’m not the kind of girl people randomly pursue anyway. I need to chill.
So, I laugh.
I laugh about it with the nurses. They regale me with other shocking stories and examples of bad behavior. The doctor that asked the nurse to help him diagnose some problem with a patient’s penis by googling images and having her look at them with him, nevermind that he draped his arm around her shoulder. Hang on. WHAT? How can he possibly think that is okay? How socially blind can you be? Cues! Can he not see the cues? Maybe he really did just want some help figuring out the diagnosis. I’m sure he meant nothing by it. He’s just a gigantic dork. He didn’t get many girls in high school. He doesn’t know.
So, we laugh.
You can tell the laughter is masking something else. I wonder if part of it is fear.
As healthcare providers we rely on our team. When people like us and think we are fun to work with, the day is so much better. We depend on inappropriate humor to shield us from the horrors of our work lives. We spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our family and friends. We don’t necessarily want to maintain strict professional boundaries at all times. We need and want to be close to our work family. The lines have to be blurred. Does this mean we can’t stand up for ourselves?
Nobody wants to be the uptight bitch who tattles about trivial things. We don’t want to be the narc who doesn’t sneak drinks to the nurse’s station. We would never dream of reporting someone for playing on their phone during a rare moment of downtime. The rules are made to be broken.
So, we laugh.
Sometimes we need physical contact with our coworkers. Sometimes playful banter (even wildly inappropriate banter) is what gets us through the day.
So, we laugh.
We all know how bad it can be if the people we work with or for do not like us. They will find fault with every decision we make. We will be written up for every infraction of “policy.” It’s easy to get rid of the people who don’t fit in.
We need them to have our back when there is conflict. We need a resource. We are dependent on them for security and protection from other providers and even sometimes patients.
So, we laugh.
We don’t speak up when someone violates our personal space. We allow people to touch us in a way that makes us uncomfortable. We smile and pretend it doesn’t bother us.
We don’t tell someone we are not comfortable perusing photos of penises with their arm around our shoulders at the nurse’s station. We sit there and wonder how we got into this situation.
If we don’t laugh, it could mean this is serious. It could leave us feeling vulnerable when we are already in danger every day. If this isn’t funny and no big deal, it means it is hostile and we are victims.
So, I am afraid we will continue to laugh. We will train our new nurses to allow “friendly” assaults on our bodies. After all, we are all on the same team.