Genesis 3:7 reports that one consequence of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was that they proceeded to cover themselves because they felt ashamed of their nakedness. I have a difficult time relating to this as I was born with physical disabilities and I became accustomed to having multiple physical examinations and assessments at a very young age. Furthermore, my ongoing need for assistance with personal care has made me consider the vulnerabilities inherent in such experiences as confirmation of support and well-being.
I only realized the uniqueness of such a perspective after attending a conference for parents of children with exceptional needs and healthcare professionals as a student social worker. I was initially surprised by the number of people whom I had previously come into contact with as a patient or client. This also meant that for the purpose of assessing me, a rather large percentage of delegates had seen me naked at one point or another within the last 30 years.
One might expect that this would make me feel awkward, vulnerable or ashamed. I admit that it was rather shocking at first. However, I found myself grateful that so many of my new colleagues had contributed to my well-being in a very tangible way. I was especially excited to view the health care system from a new angle and contribute what I could, given my experience as not only a healthcare provider but an extensive healthcare recipient. I was also pleased that my expertise and my lived experience were well respected and thankful that I could “join the team” so to speak and take on the role of supporting the well-being of many others.
I have previously shared jokingly that for me respect and dignity are not associated with my personal care because so many people have seen me naked throughout my life. I have realized that there is at least a loose connection because I do value the maintenance of confidentiality and a measure of professionalism in support staff. I am further grateful that I can derive dignity from my capacity for self-determination, my faith and my ability to act on the gifts God has lent me.
There was something transformative or even redemptive about the opportunity to engage in a conference, where many understood me in physical terms and could now see me more holistically, treating me with respect and equality. In view of God’s sovereignty, it is not reasonable to expect to know what God knows, see what God sees, do what God does or be equal to God in any way. Nevertheless, this experience caused me to relate to the account of Genesis in an entirely different way, and that is to acknowledge a human desire to resist frailty, weakness and vulnerability. Perhaps Adam and Eve were not ashamed about their physical bodies but rather, they did not want their nakedness to overshadow everything else that God intended them to be.
It is not fair to assume that all people who have disabilities are free from awkwardness, embarrassment and even shame when being examined or cared for by others. I have known many who have struggled with this. Furthermore, the account in Genesis makes it clear that such reactions are understandable if not expected. Thus, it is important for all healthcare professionals and caregivers to maintain a respectful, compassionate and empathetic work ethic when engaged in providing any sort of care, especially personal care.