Everything’s terribly friendly at my local hospital these days. When your child goes in for an operation, you get a glossy card explaining all the things that will happen before he goes into the theatre. Evidently, they are trying very hard to make you feel involved in the process.We are told that:
An anaesthetist will discuss with you and your child the best and safest way for your child to be anaesthetised.
I was delighted to hear this. As a taxpayer, I believe that my views should be consulted. All these newfangled methods of rendering my child unconscious seem deeply suspicious to a traditionalist like me. I think we need to re-examine some of the nineteenth century methods which used to work so well. How about ether? Or perhaps opium, or a bit of good old fashioned whisky?
Or maybe not. Maybe we won’t be having a ‘discussion’ with the anaesthetist. Maybe my views are completely irrelevant to the methods he will use. Maybe he knows a little more than I do about the ‘best and safest’ ways to do his job. In a more sane world, the word ‘discuss’ would never appear in these patient guides. The expert explains what they do; they know what they are talking about.
In an area of genuine expertise, authority is undermined by the language of participation. Then, on the other hand, we have the pseudo experts: the ‘play specialists’. Lovely smiley ladies are on hand to advise parents on how to prevent their children becoming bored as they await their operation.
The soft language of participation and inclusion and the soft skills of play: they have in common the determination to make everything as painless as possible. Both children and parents must be protected from experiencing any kind of difficulty or distress at any time. Parents must be protected from the humbling experience of submitting to the authority of experts; children must be protected from any kind of struggle whatsoever. The managers who promote participation and the specialists who teach children to play: all of these legions of tax-funded smiley happy people work hard to make us feel good about ourselves and protect us from distress. Who could possibly disagree with that?
Footnote: none of this should be read as a specific criticism of my local hospital, where lots of people are working hard to do a decent job in a rather mad world. The anaesthetist, for example, did not in fact waste time ‘discussing’ methods: he gave a brief and sensible explanation. Thankfully, management diktats are not always obeyed.