Yesterday, at the grocery store, I encountered one of the most toxic people I've been around in quite awhile. She wasn't even speaking to me and I almost felt I should shower when I got home. She was speaking to the kind (if sometimes incompetent) people behind the deli counter.
While I waited (and none of the other help came around to assist me) a woman repeatedly had them get different packets of meat from the deli case, the storage refrigerator, and finally from the front of the deli case so that she could examine the ingredients. This was unusual; not in itself rude, although she might have been sheepish about taking so much time. Instead, she became increasingly angry.
She complained to one of the staff that all of the products had some ingredient in them (I was trying not to listen).
The girl said "Oh, I think they all have that".
The woman, more loudly, "Well, they didn't used to, it is terrible for you."
The girl, trying to sound patient (sounding a bit annoyed), "Oh, I think they always have had it, but I'm no doctor, I don't know if it's bad".
"Well, I AM A DOCTOR, AND IT CAUSES CANCER".
The girl starts to lose her patience "Well, I wish I'd known that for all the family I've lost to cancer, maybe I should send them to you".
Louder still, "YOU BLOODY WELL SHOULD, THIS STUFF KILLS. MAYBE THEY WOULDN'T HAVE HAD CANCER IF THEY HADN'T EATEN THIS CRAP".
Girl, trying to keep it together "Ok, is there anything I can get for you?"
"NONE OF THIS POISON, I'LL TAKE FOUR OUNCES OF THAT (pointing)".
As the girl walked away to let the boy behind the counter fill the order, the women muttered "And, you should tell her that if she ate less of this crap she wouldn't be obese and maybe she wouldn't die of diabetes or heart disease". Then, she followed up this ugly remark by berating the poor hapless guy trying to help her.
This is so wrong, and on so many levels.
What kind of physician would be so ugly and insulting to anyone and pretend that they are a healer? I can think of no other exchange in the last ten years that was so outwardly hateful.
How can a healer be so ruthless in attacking someone - did she fail Empathy 101?
While certainly it is true that some diseases are potentiated by bad behavior - on no account is it appropriate to suggest that someone "had it coming" for their personal flaws.
Ever since my mother was diagnosed, and certainly since she died - many folks have asked me about the cancer. Almost unfailingly, when someone learns that my mother died of lung cancer - I am asked whether or not she smoked. Like, it would be ok or she had it coming if she were a smoker and somehow that makes her loss less significant? As though, of course she never got to meet some of her grandchildren because she was to blame for the cancer.
My mother was not a smoker and her cancer was not the same sort of lung cancer that smokers get. But, regardless of her behavior or how deserving she was of her cancer - I lost my mother. My mother, who was always conscientous about never asking "Oh, God, why me?" while she died has a bunch of post-game quarterbacks that want to see if the cancer was her fault.
I realize why people do it... if she had smoked, they can coyly feel as though it won't happen to them because they don't. Imagine, though, how I would feel if I had to relive, all the time, that my mother's loss might have been avoided if she hadn't been foolish.
Heck, it might have been avoided if a specific doctor had read her x-ray properly, or looked for cancer when she had a chronic cough, or noticed the ongoing hoarseness with no etiology. But, second-guessing will never bring mom back.
Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise are all issues that we, as a society, need to address. The path we need to take, however, is not to blame the people we've lost - but, to try to effect positive (notice I said positive, you ugly doctor woman - yes, you) change in the people we still have.