I couldn’t see her face on the other side of the curtain, but I was pretty well acquainted with my roommate after a few hours. We were friends, kind-of, by the time the nurse helped me position myself over a bedpan. Propping myself up on three of my all-fours, because one foot is severely injured, I was momentarily struck with a rush of old-school emotion about privacy.
Hours earlier, three men had undressed me in the emergency room. There was no institutionally-prescribed mock concern for my emotional comfort. In short order, the male ER personnel had pulled off the pants, T-shirt, and sports bra I’d been wearing on my bike ride, and put me into a gown. No-nonsense, down-to-business, get-‘er-done. It didn’t feel strange because they didn’t make it strange.
So now, with a nurse and another patient in the room, the self-described privacy advocate needs to go potty.
“Suddenly, I’ve got a shy bladder,” I told the nurse, who said she’d leave the room for a moment to give me some privacy. It didn’t help, because it wasn’t about her.
Dozens of times a month, I contemplate twenty-first century privacy. Procedures, protections, violations, bad laws, and the dumb ways people expose themselves for the sake of convenience or socializing.
So often and so automatically do I think about these things that my brain’s been retrained. It translates “privacy” differently than it did when I was growing up. Knowing there are people are watching in real time as my body functions, and looking at my private parts — once, this would have been a 10 on the privacy invasion scale. It barely registers now. Seems quaint, even.
Privacy invasion is made of different things now. Video surveillance and invasive authority. Businesses blithely collecting info without considering the consequences. Free services that steal your soul with a thumbs-up and a smile. The mantra that says you have nothing to worry about, because you’ve done nothing wrong, which is of course, patently false. And the big lie, repeatedly told and never questioned: “We take privacy very seriously.” Ha.
So these people who work in clinical settings, helping the ill and patching up the occasional injured bicyclist — like the creeps who steal nude photos from the cloud, the medical professionals see lots of naked body parts in a given week. Like the social media moguls, they stay emotionally detached from their subjects, and they do what they do for money. Like mindless good-government types, they expose you in order to help you.
But their invasion is fleeting, it’s got authentic purpose, and they’re in the room, looking you in the face, with full accountability while they do it. Those are some of the reasons it’s different, and the reasons float through my head, and in the middle of the night I wake up, and notice lights on the patient cams are lit. It might be the pain medication they’ve pumped into me, but tonight I don’t care.