Reflections: When is a Prank More Than Just a Prank? What I learned from 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
As you have probably heard, there are some serious things happening both in the news and in real life regarding Kate Middleton and her pregnancy. It turns out, Kate has HG – Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Those of you who frequent this blog know that I am passionate about raising awareness and were probably surprised by my silence on the subject. The truth is, I did spend some time Tweeting about it. I also spent some time remembering my experiences and shed a few tears. So here is what I want to say:
Kate Middleton, according to the press, does not have morning sickness. She does not have severe morning sickness. She has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). A debilitating, life threatening pregnancy illness that can cause severe complications for both the mother and child. She is in for a rocky road ahead and I hope (and yes I have even been praying) that Kate responds well to treatment and that her HG is kept under control so that the impact on her mind and body are minimized. I think if anyone is in a position to get good treatment, it is her. I am sad to hear that she has HG because I wish it on no one. I am sometimes thankful that HG is getting the publicity that it needs, although that publicity has often been wrong. (For some of the best media coverage of HG, check out this video segment from the Katie Couric show.) To get good and accurate information, I implore you to visit the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation at www.helpher.org.
But let’s talk about the Prank Heard Round the World
The other day, Australian radio DJs called the Duchess in the hospital by pretending to be the Queen. Possibly in response to that prank, one of the nurses involved – the nurse who initially put the call through – took her life. The Internet has been abuzz with opinions regarding culpability, mental stability, etc. From the get go, the prank made me angry. Like, frothing mad seething angry. Why?
An Illness By Any Other Name
The DJs involved felt that it was somehow appropriate to call in and harass and make fun of a woman who was sick and wrestling with a serious situation. Personally, I don’t care what type of sickness a person has, your job is step back and let them recover in peace. But no, they felt that it was somehow a good idea – and within their rights – to call and harass and mock a sick person. Keep in mind, one of the main purposes of a hospital is to take care of the sick and dying – why do we think they have time to deal with pranks? Would we have thought it was funny if she had cancer? A heart attack? An organ transplant? No, but it was just “morning sickness” right? Silly girl, can’t handle a little bit of morning sickness. And yet, what she was dealing with made her become so dehydrated that she was placed into a hospital for several days so that she could be properly hydrated. Take a moment sometime and Google what happens when your body becomes dehydrated. Or I could save you the effort and tell you – it is painful, terrifying, and soul wearying. But it doesn’t matter what she had, you leave a sick person alone so that they can rest and heal.
The Right to Medical Privacy
Then we have the issue of medical privacy. I am not sure how they regard medical privacy outside the U.S., but here it is a sacred thing. What happens to you medically is designed to be kept between you and your doctor. Part of the reason for this is so that it doesn’t impact your future life; employers can’t discriminate against you based on your medical history because they don’t have access to it. Your family, friends, neighbors, strangers – none of them have a right to know because information can have consequences. It can create bias. It can change perceptions. It can change opportunities. Also, there is an emotional component to our medical lives. When we are sick, whatever that sickness may be, we have a right to process and deal with that information privately on our own terms and on our own timetable. I get to choose when and how to tell the world I have cancer so that I have the time I need to figure out how I feel about this fact. I get to choose when and how to tell the world about my HG experiences. I am very open about my experience, but I have had time to process what happened to me. I had time to grieve the loss of my baby. I had time to heal and not be terribly afraid of being sick or of going to the doctor. I had time to come to terms with the fact that I can never have anymore children because of HG. By trying to make Kate and her family go public with her medical information, those DJs were robbing Kate of all that we respect and value regarding medical privacy. They took the control away from her and alienated her basic human rights.
Your Job’s in Jeopardy
And finally, by pulling off this prank, they put everyone at the hospital in incredible legal risk. They jeopardized their jobs. In order for their prank to work, the hospital staff had to put the call through, which they did. By putting the call through the hospital staff was in incredible legal peril. They had become unwilling co-conspirators in all of the above. They violated their patients right to medical privacy. They put these DJs, and the world, in the position to mock and laugh at a sick, hospitalized woman. Every person in the hospital was now in legal peril and the truth is, they were probably going to lose their jobs. Not only would they lose their jobs, but given the widespread nature of the prank – it went global – they were more than likely now unemployable in the field in which they had trained and worked. They were now going to have incredible difficulty feeding their families, paying their rents, etc. If it wasn’t happening at the time, I assure you the wheels were in motion. You don’t break your employers rules in such a public way without there being consequences.
If You Poke a Bear with a Stick . . .
There is an underlying cruelty to pranks; by pulling a prank you are seeking to get your enjoyment and satisfaction at the expense of others. Your laughs come courtesy of putting another human being into a situation and the truth is, unless you know that other person intimately, you really don’t know the emotional ramifications of what you are doing. You may be pulling an elevator prank on a person who has severe claustrophobia that spent the morning psyching up for an elevator trip. You may be pulling a prank on a person who found out last night that their spouse has cancer, that their child is failing, that their world is falling apart. You may be pulling a prank on a person who spent all of high school being bullied and is in an emotionally sensitive place every day. What you are doing is taking a gamble with someone else’s emotional and physical well being – a gamble that you have no right to take because you can never know the full ramifications of any given situation for another human being. And yes, you do bear the burden of responsibility for your actions. Even if the other person’s reactions don’t make sense to you, you – the prankster – bear the burden of responsibility for pushing a button and flipping a switch that you had no right to do, and all for the sake of a laugh.
A Bully by Any Other Name
A prankster is nothing more than a glorified bully. They are using another person – unwillingly – to generate a laugh. A prankster is the HS bully who gives the class geek a mega wedgy while everyone in the hallway laughs. A prankster is the mean girl who slut shames, the boy with the shock gum who delights in seeing that jolt of pain when their victim is zapped, the group of kids at prom with the bucket of pigs blood. While we are taking a stand against bullies, let’s remember that pranks are often just another form of bullying because it comes at the expense of another human being without their consent and without knowledge of the impact that it has on them.
One can’t help but think in this situation of the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The main idea behind this book is that our words and actions have consequences. We may not even see them at the moment, but there is a recipient on the other end and we can never fully understand the impact we are having. Sometimes we see it too late. This is why we must think carefully before we speak, step lightly on the path of other lives. When we come in contact with another life, we leave our finger prints on it. That is a huge responsibility to bear, we should not do so as lightly as we often do.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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