One of my best friends in med school was an O.B. nurse. Though she has moved almost all the way across the country and I haven’t seen her since I was in school, we’re still in touch and expect to be seeing each other at last in a couple of months.
By some coincidence one of my best friends now is also an O.B. nurse. I’ll call her Ziva (yes, I watch a lot of NCIS). Ziva is from Israel. She is smart and funny, a lover of books and movies and good music and good food, talented and competent, and above all a great and generous person I would entrust with my children’s lives. Ziva and I can talk about just about anything – silly “girl stuff,” deep intellectual stuff, spiritual questions, moral/ethical dilemmas, work stress, kids, comic moments from day-to-day life, worries about tough problems, faults and failings, embarrassing secrets, cultural differences, things that inspire us or bring us joy.
For some reason, her colleagues are very uncomfortable with our friendship and underhandedly persecute her for it with snide comments and not-so-veiled criticisms. One time I arrived to provide a spinal for a C-section. Ziva was already in the room counting instruments, and one of the other nurses said, “Oh, are you happy now – your friend’s here.” Another time she happened to mention that she and I had recently discussed the mechanics of intubation, and in front of all the other nurses one of her other colleagues made some critical remark about her being friends with me. When Ziva called her on it, saying “What’s wrong with that? T. is SO nice! She’s totally adorable,” the other nurse said, “I have no desire to be friends with T. I have my OWN friends.” Ziva found this nurse’s comments and the tone in which she said them disrespectful and hurtful. Many of the other nurses can barely conceal the clouds of disapproval and resentment that darken their looks when Ziva and I greet each other cheerfully at the nurses’ station.
“They feel threatened,” my husband said.
“But if I were a single, tall, good-looking male doctor it would be fine for a nurse to be close to me, right? Isn’t that totally self-demeaning of these women? Sure, it’s ok to befriend a man in a position of authority, but it’s somehow wrong if it’s a woman?” I was totally frustrated and irritated that the culture in this workplace wouldn’t tolerate a genuine close friendship between a female doctor and a nurse.
Ziva and I do not flaunt our relationship in professional situations. I feel I am just as business-like with Ziva while delivering patient care as I am with any other team member, and conversely, just as nice with the other team members as I am with her and with the patients and with any colleague. But there’s a lot going on here. Gender issues. Cultural issues. Xenophobia, or, even worse, maybe some anti-Semitism. And perhaps status issues. Maybe they think nurses and doctors can’t or shouldn’t be friends (unless, of course, it’s a dating situation between a male doctor and a female nurse). Or maybe they feel Ziva’s smarter and more highly trained and better educated than they are and they just can’t stand it.
I am feeling exasperated and a little angry. This type of collective attitude is completely stupid and unnecessary. I don’t know that there’s much I can do about it. I’m certainly not going to change this blessed friendship for the sake of a few small-minded harpies who aren’t comfortable enough in their own skin to show some tolerance, respect, and support.
Anesthesioboist T is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Notes of an Anesthesioboist.
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