Monday, March 23, 2009


As far as theories go, I've been pondering this one for quite some time. And I don't mean to bring it up to add fuel to the fire of the difficulties between the sexes. But I was wondering about it again this weekend.

I work in health care and many nurses would agree with me when I say that there is a marked difference in the way male patients behave when compared to female patients. It's not a generalization that can be used to neatly compartmentalize every individual, but it's a pattern that is pronounced enough that nurses will usually prefer a ward of men over a ward of women.

Now, of course, that used to bother me, being of the female persuasion myself. But I wondered why? Why did women second guess you all the time, interrupt you when you were caring for another patient, anxiously stop you in the last second before you left the room to ask for something and one-trip-run-you a hundred times in a day? Why did men, in contrast, seem so calm and accepting of whatever way you delivered their care?

It was my genius friend Fiona who finally clarified it for me. She said men are used to being looked after, women are not. That is simply it.

Women are usually the care takers in whatever situation they find themselves in and they have to remember a whole constellation of things and people that need looking after, so of course they are anxious when they themselves need care and help. They are not sure they will be looked after, having rarely been in that position before. Not only are they anxious when they find themselves needing to be cared for by another, but they are often quite angry!

I notice this as well among other professionals in my workplace, among my colleagues and peers. It is far more likely that it will be a male who will delegate or ask me to do things, even if it might not actually be within my scope of practice or is a task that he is supposed to do himself. Or at worst, he will just leave things undone, knowing full well that somebody else (usually female) will clean up, tie up loose ends, or remind him to do something he must do before the shit hits the fan.

I can see women all over the world nodding their heads. Right, ladies? This happens at home too. The phrase "it's so hard to get good help" falls from the lips of ladies, right?

Meanwhile, my lovely calm male patients. How I look forward to caring for them! Amazing how universal is the sense of entitlement, and the security that that expectation gives to the half of our population that enjoys that power, still. They generally will happily toddle off and do as they're told, knowing that their nurse or doctor or physiotherapist has their best interest at heart. Good little soldiers, they get out of bed, and manfully do their laps around the hall.

They might become quite a bit more dependent and whiny when their anxious wives arrive. It would do no good to reassure the wife that all is well, after all! Sometimes, the poor men have no idea what medications they are on, what surgeries or medical treatments or tests they have had in the past. "Ask the wife", they'll say. Or when faced with a challenge, like learning how to manage an ostomy at home, they will helplessly declare: "I can't do it. Wait 'till the wife comes and show her!" They won't wash or get dressed; they can't eat, their hands suddenly useless. They wait for the wife to help them.

It's amazing! I hardly ever hear a wife say "Wait 'till my husband comes in, he'll do it." In extreme situations she may say, " I can't do it," but by then, she will be in that mental and emotional state that she is unable to do anything for herself at all, and is either profoundly depressed or feels like she is alone and terrified out of her wits!

A man recently said to me that the trouble between men and women boils down to women expecting that men should be able to read their minds. Then as the mistakes men make add up, women keep score and after some indeterminate time, women explode. The poor guy is quite surprised because he was unaware of his mistakes, even if he was vaguely aware there was a score card.

It occurred to me that when I do know what I want from a man, I don't know how to ask for it. The other way of looking at that would be that there is no right way to ask in a social structure in which you are pretty much expected to take care of things and be the do-er and care-taker. It also occurred to me that while I need practice in asking for what I want, I have been shot down about a million times just for asking. The onus is not 100% on me to ask in the "right way".

The other part of that issue is that I realize that I don't know how to express what I want. Do I want a mere glass of water, or is it that I actually want someone to be attentive to my needs and to be cared for? If I ask for a glass of water, I won't get what I actually want. But if I ask for attention and to be cared for, well.... You can see how difficult that is!

No wonder women are anxious and angry!

Please, don't get me wrong. I could give you hundreds of examples where this does not hold, but the trend sure is there. And I wondered why....

Labels: , ,


Blogger Larry said...

I enjoyed this essay post! Keep up the good work.

8:06 p.m.  
Blogger Larry said...

Here's something from a male patient's point of view.

I had my first hospital visit since my birth last fall; this involved some fairly minor surgery. The surgeon I thought was arrogant and distinctly unfriendly. He was about half my age and I could tell that my case was just a bother to him. I sensed that he thought it was my fault that I needed surgery.

On the contrary, every nurse I dealt with was compassionate and helpful. I was in an alien world and needed all of the help I could get.

2:27 a.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

Thanks for taking the time to read my rant. It is very unfortunate that you found your doctor to be arrogant and condescending. I sometimes think it's part of the course they have to take. Watch the movie Patch Adams again...

8:02 a.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home