C like C

The incident

In this situation, I was denounced. It concerns patients having artificial kidneys. There is a big C on the equipment of dialysis. It stands for hepatitis C because of the virulent nature of the disease.  The equipment is marked so that other patients do not get contaminated, and it used if we have a patient with hepatitis C. We had a gypsy patient (“Cigány”) in the Hungarian text), he had hepatitis C and accordingly he was treated with a machine marked with a big C. The patient complained that he was discriminated against because the equipment we used was marked by a C.

1. Identities of the actors in the situation

Medical doctor: Female in her 40s. Married, 2 children. Born in Székesfehérvár, living in Budapest (two cities), tertiary education. 10 years of work experience in the same hospital. Hungarian (recorded Armenian ancestors), but not claiming any minority identity. (Husband university professor).

Patient: Man, Roma (we do not know of which group), in his 50s. No other element is known of his identity

There is no element in common between the two characters, also very little mutual knowledge. (the professional knows nothing about the social identity of the patient). One major opposition between them: the majority-minority divide.

2. Context of the situation

The incident happened in a hospital ward, in circumstances where patients are usually a little stressed because of the inconveniences of the treatment. The patient was in a room where there are several other patients, only his equipment carries the mark “C”, which seems to mark out the patient amongst the others. The wider social context is a huge divide between the majority and the Roma minority (the case happened after the series of so called Roma murders). This divide has been widened since the change of the regime which entailed a dramatically worsened economic situation, of the previous working classes. In many settlements measures of official discrimination has been initiated against the Roma community.

3. Emotional reaction

Feeling shocked as the conflict is a total surprise (she was not expecting it). A sense of injustice (being attacked without any reason). A sense of total irrationality (irritation).

4. Representations, values, norms, ideas, prejudice: The frame of references of the person who experienced the shock.
  • Medical procedure: The professional is only following the proper medical procedure. For her, the dialysis is a routine.
  • The Letter C has a clear meaning, and a practical value: it warns of possible contamination. The letter “C “is to inform the medical staff, informing the patients about its meaning is not necessary.
  • Roma: She is not aware of any other possible meaning of the letter C, as she does not consider the wider social context of discrimination against the Roma community. In her frame of reference the signifier “Roma” does not have any significant relevance to this case. She also ignores (or does not consider) the minority identity of the patient.
5. What image emerges from the analysis of point 4 for the other group (neutral slightly negative, very negative, "stigmatized", positive, very positive, real, unreal) etc?

Before the incident she does not think anything special of the patient. After the incident, she is angry and hurt, she sees him as an irrational and aggressive person looking for unnecessary trouble.

6. Representations, values, norms, prejudice: The frame of references of the person or group that is causing the shock / that caused the shock in the narrator.

For the patient the dialysis means humiliation and physical inconvenience.

He is amongst non-Roma patients and non-Roma health staff. He is expecting discrimination, suspecting racism on behalf of his environment. For him the letter C cannot have any other meaning, but “Cigány”, (gipsy) which is not too far-fetched as in other circumstances the C is used for this purpose. For example, there is a Radio C.

To him, being treated as a Gypsy probably means worse treatment for him, if not voluntarily neglect. He expects the worse.

7. Does the situation highlight any problem concerning the professional practice, or in general about the respect of cultural differences in intercultural situations?

In a wider context of institutionalised and generalised racism, minority identities tend to develop an excessive vulnerability. It is important for the professionals to be aware of the protective identity strategies of threatened identities and to foresee and prevent potential conflicts.