How Non-verbal Communication Helped me in the Well
How it works
The professional situation I have experienced and have chosen to evaluate is dealing with a chronic illness in a school setting. I have a congenital type of hyperinsulimic hypoglycemia, which means that my body cannot store glucose in a normal way; I must eat every few hours. Even if I’m careful with my meals, unforeseen events like stress, physical exertion, interrupted sleep, or minor illness can cause my sugar to crash. My symptoms range from dizziness and disorientation to passing out, having a seizure, and coma if not treated promptly. Most of the time, I have some warning and I can take steps to prevent it from getting bad; other times, it hits suddenly and unexpectedly. Due to the unpredictable nature of my condition, I have gotten ill and passed out during classes. Ironically, one of the worst episodes I have experienced in recent years happened in Communications class during the Health Communications lecture.
Health Communication aims at improving health care and health promotion through the dissemination of knowledge of the issues (Kreps, 2011a; Neuhauser & Kreps, 2010). Health Communications has been a part of my life since I was very young, starting with the patient-doctor communication where I had to clearly convey my symptoms and follow instructions. It evolved into a healthcare advocate role, being proactive in my own care and seeking out the help I needed so I could participate in school activities and get my driver’s license. Finally, it has moved on to health rhetoric (Conrad, 2007; & Lane, 2007), learning to choose the right words to describe my condition when dealing with the University system, dorm living, and applying for jobs so I can explain my needs without being seen as sickly.
How it works
Living away from home in the dorms was a big step for me; it was my first time without having my family as backup. However, the University system is well equipped to deal with the needs of its students and has a student accommodations center to help navigate the system. By telling my CA about my condition at the start of the semester, it provided a safety net for me when I got sick in the hall one morning. Still, there is always a balancing act going on between wanting privacy and letting people know about my condition, so help is available. The best way I have found so far that strikes a good balance is using a form of nonverbal communication. I wear a medical alert bracelet. People rarely notice it in my daily routine and when I do have a problem, people trained in first aid will recognize it and know what to do to help me.
Many people equate terms like illness, condition, chronic, and accommodations, with terms like weak, sickly, unreliable, and needy, so I try not to tell people I have a medical condition unless I have to. Medical Rhetoric helps change the way people think about illness, by persuading them to think of conditions in a new way (Goodboy, Shultz, 2012). When my parents were young, Hypoglycemia was known as low sugar and it was thought to be the person’s fault if they fell ill; usually because they skipped a meal or should have eaten better. Medicalization gives a common condition a diagnosis, seeks treatment, and removes blame from the patient (Conrad, 2007; Lane, 2007). Another tool is a genre, an effective written way to help communicate medical needs through documents, charts, and forms (Keränen, 2007). The Student Accommodations Center uses such a form to help you clearly provide the information they need to aid you, and the medicalization of low sugar to Hypoglycemia provides a course of action.
It was challenging explaining to my professors that I missed a class due to a chronic illness before I had the University’s Student Accommodations Center to help me. They have the forms and methods in place to help verify the episode and notify each class. I hope I won’t need to use them, but it is reassuring to know that there’s an effective form of health communication available here in college.