This past week I have unfortunately been spending most of my time with a loved one at the hospital. This person is extremely important in my life and he suffered an accident, which required surgery and subsequent rehabilitation before he can go home. I have always felt relatively comfortable in hospitals seeing as I grew up with parents who worked in one and I have spent most of my post-college career in various public health roles. Spending this week in the hospital as a “visitor” has given me new perspective on healthcare and how so many people go through procedures alone. The first day we were in the emergency room surrounded by patients in serious condition who were all alone. A man near us who had serious head trauma stated that he did not want to bother his family. When we went to see my loved one in recovery the nurse seemed shocked that there were so many of us to visit the same person. I have always taken it for granted that when I have health issues my family and friends will physically rush to be by my side.
When I worked at an abortion clinic we offered clients the choice to have local anesthesia, and many women chose this because they did not have anyone who could accompany them to their appointment. The law required that anyone receiving general anesthesia must have a “driver” to take them home and for many women there were too many barriers to finding someone to fill this role. Some women seemed happy to have local because they simply did not want to tell anyone about their abortion. Some women struggled with the fact that none of their friends or family were willing or able to be with them. Some women were planning on having general and had a driver with them at the beginning of the clinic day but for various reasons their driver refused to wait the long hours and left them there with no other option but to be awake for the procedure.
The organization I volunteer with works with women who are required to have a “driver” since their two-day procedures necessitate anesthesia. The main piece of our organization is providing them housing between the two days, but we also serve as the legal person who picks them up from the clinic after their first day (and sometimes second day). Since 2006 about 40% of the women we host are alone when they come to our city for an abortion. Over the past year I have started to view myself as more than just a host, rather I am there to help them feel less alone in what can be a very overwhelming, exhausting, and emotional experience. Many of these women have never traveled to a big city, and I serve as a semblance of support for them. I am the non-judgmental friend who is there to listen, to hug, or just to sit in silence with. I try to schedule my shifts so that I am free the morning of their procedure in case they want me to stay at the clinic so they are not alone. I am not required to do this, but I want them to know I am there for them in case they need anything or for some reason there is a problem.
As I mentioned above, some women want to go through the abortion experience alone, because an abortion is after all a simple medical procedure. However, for those women who travel hundreds of miles to a foreign city and have to stay in a stranger’s home, I try to provide as much support and comfort as I can. I always ask women what they want or need from me because no two women are alike in their experience. I try to help them feel less alone, not just physically but emotionally. I always check in with them by phone the night after and then a few days later to let them know I will remain there for them. Abortion provision is certainly a broken system, but I like to think there are many others like me out there helping women to feel a little less alone.