Socks and Defiant Fragility

I thought back to med school, when a patient had told me that she always wore her most expensive socks to the doctor’s office, so that when she was in a patient’s gown and shoeless, the doctor would see the socks and know she was a person of substance, to be treated with respect.

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air (p. 187). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This story makes me think about the socks I will wear to my next checkup. It is an apt representation of the struggle to maintain our identity, respectability, and humanity when being medically or otherwise analyzed and assessed.  If I were to choose a pair of socks to carry the burden of expressing my personality, which would it be? My colorful Frida Kahlo socks, dignified black socks, sporty pink lined ankle socks, lace-rimmed boot socks? What makes me, me? and how can I protect and show that I am more than my faulty body, thoughts or feelings? I love this patient’s resistance to being reduced to a medical chart and her insistence on presenting herself as a “person of substance” despite being sick, weak or broken. To know that I am fragile and substantive, or rather because I am fragile, I have meaning. The patient seems to say, “I wear socks as an expression of my defiant fragility. I confront my own exposure to the threat of meaninglessness with the best socks I have.” I find myself inspired by this small act of resistance.

In my training as a hospice volunteer, protecting a sense of choice for patients is paramount. Choice gives them/us, humanity. Choice gives them/us, personality. Choice makes the difference between suffering or confronting death. Hospice gives them/us, socks.

A while back when I was having a difficult time, my good friend K. gave me these socks, with the note “walk in love.” I think this will be my socks when defiant fragility is called for. It is good to have good friends.

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