Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Aspie Moment


Once in a while, I have distinctively Aspie thoughts.

Recently, while walking around on campus at the local community college, I saw someone sitting down and looking at some kind of digital device. She was visibly upset, and looked like she was on the point of tears and/or had cried. So I told her whatever it was, I wished her the best of luck and hoped it would be resolved soon.

Walking away, I had an idea. Lots of places have automated text-message alerts, like when school is closed due to snow, you've got a new email or some emergency has hit your campus. Meanwhile, people who take their loved ones to the hospital often wait in suspense, wondering if they will recover, become permanently crippled, go into a coma or even die. They spend hours at the hospital...time that could be used to take care of their children, work, or even get their loved ones' affairs in order, just in case.

So, I wondered: why can't hospitals offer text-message alerts when patients go into surgery (and say what kind of surgery: eg, amputation, appendectomy, open-heart surgery), come out of surgery (complete with outcome), have definite diagnoses, slip into comas...or die? For example, a text message could read "JOHN DOE - DIAGNOSIS: STAGE 4 BRAIN CANCER - INOPERABLE" or "JANE SMITH - DIED 1:45AM, 02/16/09: MASSIVE INTERNAL INJURIES FROM AUTO ACCIDENT"

That way, family members and friends - who presumably already know the patient is already being treated by professionals and that there is nothing they themselves can do for him/her now - can go about their business with the understanding that they'll be the first to know when something happens.

That's the kind of idea that might appeal to Aspies, if we're much more comfortable thinking in terms of fast information and who might actually prefer something like a text message since they can deal with it in private and not have to compose themselves in front of a doctor.

That would be unacceptable to pretty much any NT (and possibly even some Aspies, too). Family members and friends generally don't want to bury themselves in work, let alone "business as usual," under such circumstances. Most of them would have great difficulty concentrating on anything else while their loved one was hanging in the balance on the operating table or in the Intensive Care Unit. And if, say, their loved one had to lose a leg or was paralyzed for life or permanently disfigured, or was diagnosed with AIDS or cancer, or even died, the very last way most people would want to find out would be by something as impersonal as a text message, let alone an automated one.

The idea might seem logical, but it would feel horrible to most people. It would feel like your brother or daughter or wife or grandfather or best friend was so insignificant to the very people supposed to be taking care of him/her that they don't want to take any more time than necessary to let you know what happened. It would feel like they were so cold and uncaring as not to even try to help you feel better about it, as if you weren't supposed to be hurt so much by the news or they didn't care how you feel.

That's also why it's considered bad to fire people via email or text message - which, unlike the hospital text message alerts (as far as I know!), has actually been done.

Meanwhile, Casualty Assistance Officers have an entire set of protocols spelling out how to notify the next of kin of someone killed in the line of duty. For example, they always receive special training, they always notify primary next of kin (surviving spouse, or if none then parents) in person and within 24 hours of the military finding out about the death, they always notify people in pairs and they never publicize casualty information until after next of kin have been notified. All of these measures are critically important to reducing the extreme blow to people's feelings when they learn that their spouses or children have been killed.

The moral of the story is: logic and efficiency have a place, and they need to be kept in their place. We also need to be vitally concerned with people's feelings, and do the best we can to avoid hurting people emotionally even - no, especially - when we think we're being logical and efficient.

What do you think?

EDIT: The Onion has taken this to the next level...and then some. (Only read this if you've got a strong stomach. Let's just say The Onion writers really do their homework.)


StatMama said...

I think...I have thought about things like this myself. I have immense difficulty processing and/or responding to someone else's suffering. Oddly enough, this made me a good counselor. I remained impartial, offered sound advice, and did not become overly emotionally involved. When it comes to friends and family, however, an emotional response is more of a requirement. I never feel comfortable in this.

Anonymous said...

This is Summer btw

You know I think it might not work for deaths ( a little too impersonal) but def. for surgeries. It would help quiet down the mind of the families pacing around the waiting room.

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Hi Jeff,

I definitely think it would be horrible to be notified of a loved one's death by text-messaging. I wouldn't even break up with someone by texting, but then I don't do any texting at all, so perhaps I'm not the best person for analyzing the merits of texting.

Best wishes,

Mama Mara said...

Jeff, you continue to amaze me with your willingness to share the way you think. I'm really starting to understand how differently my son Rocky approaches the world, because I see him in you. Thank you.

By the way, your kindness toward the sad girl was lovely. Much better than texting. Those moments of face-to-face connection simply can't be replicated on a tiny digital screen.