From an early age you are taught to respect authority. It starts off with your parents and teachers when you are a child. You constantly hear things like, “Don’t talk back to me!”, “Do what you are told.”, and my personal favorite “Because I said so!” These types of phrases instill in you to respect authority figures without question, which for a young child is not necessarily a bad thing. As you grow into adulthood, this sentiment sticks with you as you apply it with judges, police officers, doctors, and other individuals who society deems as “authorities.” Although much of the time blindly following the advice of these authority figures is in your best interests, this is not always the case. In fact, in some situations this unquestioning acceptance can actually have a detrimental effect on your life and happiness.
I have observed this numerous times over the years as I have navigated my way through the medical system. One glaring example occurred when I was 7 years old. One of the common health problems of having SMA is scoliosis of the spine due to weak back
muscles. This is a condition where your spine, instead of being straight, starts to curve. This causes a hunched over posture, and in severe enough cases it can actually cause organs to be crushed. By the time I was 7, my spine looked like the letter “S,” and if measures were not taken it was going to become life threatening. So, the summer after first grade, I had an operation called a spinal fusion. This is a surgery where they fuse a metal rod to your spine to keep it from curving. Today this is a fairly routine procedure, but in the early 90s it was a little medieval. They actually suspended you upside down to ensure enough blood would get to your brain, and then spent over 20 hours using wires to fuse a U-shaped metal rod to your spine. As barbaric as it sounds, my procedure went exactly as planned, and I was moved to my hospital room where I would spend the next 10 days or so recovering before going home.
As you would expect, I was in a lot of pain after the surgery. I had been cut open from the base of my neck to my tail bone, so moving in any way was uncomfortable. Thankfully though, for the first several days they had me on a high dose of morphine to help alleviate my pain. After a week or so, they had to begin dialing back my pain meds to assess my progress in healing and to get me used to other, weaker painkillers to prepare me to go home. The very same day my doctor decided to take me off of the morphine is also the day he decided to fit me for the plastic back brace I would wear for the first few months after going home. So, there I am, feeling much more discomfort than usual from coming off the morphine, and in walks my doctor with 2 lab techs to mold me for this brace. They start rolling me, bending me, and contorting my body in every way possible, as I am screaming and crying in pain. I have such clear memories of this entire event. I felt like I was being tortured, and I remember my mother across the room looking completely helpless as she watched her son writhing in anguish. I remember the cold, almost soulless look in my doctor’s eyes as I looked right at him and said, “You are a bad man.” And I remember him leaving without a word.
Even as you read this, I am sure you will agree how stupid this series of events was. It actually borders on cruel. Why would anyone reduce a patient’s painkillers on the same day that they are going to put them through a painful process like fitting a back brace? It makes absolutely no sense. If I was faced with this situation now, after having spent 2 decades traversing the medical system, I would know to stand up for myself and demand that I receive something for pain before consenting to this procedure. Back then though, I was only a child, and my parents were still relatively new to dealing with doctors and such, so they did what most people do and blindly followed the doctor’s orders. It is obvious though, that in this case the doctor was not seeing the whole picture, and it would have been beneficial to question his decision.
As an adult, and having spent my entire life dealing with physicians of all kinds, I now have no problems questioning their decisions. At times, I have to outright refuse to consent to what they want. Although they are never happy about this challenge to their authority, I have found that so long as I am respectful and explain my reasoning for disagreeing with them, they usually will work with me to find another solution. I developed this mentality after numerous events like the one above caused me to realize two things. The first is that doctors are human, and humans make mistakes and bad decisions. The second was that none of my doctors know more about my disability or my body than I do, so I am actually the authority in this scenario. As the authority, I am doing a disservice to myself if I do not voice my knowledge and opinions.
This mentality is not limited to my situation or to medical professionals. It can be applied to any area of your life where you have to interact with authority figures. So long as you keep in mind that everyone is fallible and that no one knows more about you and your world than you do, you should have no problem finding the confidence to respectfully question or disagree with authority. I am not suggesting you argue with a police officer who pulls you over, but you could politely request that he explain why. You will find that if you apply a little common sense and trust your instincts, that you will know when to stand up for yourself. At the very least, you can be more aware of decisions and situations that are not in your best interests. This will go a long way in ensuring that you maintain a life of success and happiness.