By Jalal Baig
Making my rounds in the hospital one day, I put my stethoscope to a patient’s chest while she kept her eyes fixed on the television screen over my shoulder.
Hours before, bombs had torn through an airport and a train station in Brussels. My 65-year-old patient watched a flurry of images on Fox News showing unfathomable carnage, and I went through the all-too-familiar ritual of hoping that the perpetrators would not be identified as Muslim, that members of my faith would not be considered guilty by inexplicable association.
The sounds of my patient’s voice rose, eclipsing the thump of her heartbeat that I was painstakingly trying to hear.
And then perhaps she noticed the subtle change in my facial expression. “I’m sorry, but your people and people who look like you make me uncomfortable,“ she said.
She refused to let me treat her.
I stood aghast at the bedside, wondering how my humanity and years of medical training had been negated by the acts of a sinister few an ocean away. With her words, the ascendant xenophobia of our time infiltrated the sacred patient-doctor relationship.
I had understood, in the abstract, the threat of Trump’s demagoguery and petulance. But until that moment, the bile he spewed seemed confined to Twitter and to rallies in faraway places. I didn’t think it would ever reach me, a physician, born here in the United States.
I should have known better.
Medicine is not practiced in a vacuum. It’s subject to the same influences affecting the rest of our society. In our current political environment, the toxic, Islamophobic rhetoric intended to incite and galvanize voters is of course seeping into hospitals and clinics.
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