Who is my next of kin?

I sometimes joke about how, for me, nearly anything can lead me into an existential crisis or a discussion of the meaning of life. I was given a paved road into this morning’s meaning of life self-reflection as I filled out a new patient form for a medical practice. Name - check. Address - check. Email - check. Next of kin -

Next of kin? Just like that. A small rectangular box about 1 cm x 5 cm.

I scan the form looking for another tiny box to write my Emergency Contact. Nope. No emergency contact box. Surely, that’s what they want when they are asking for my next of kin, right? I’m used to the negotiation for who to write down for my emergency contact. It’s usually my current partner, a close friend, or a colleague whom has now become close friend. And of course, I keep in mind the people I know who actually pick up their phone and check their voice messages because if someone is calling my emergency contact on a form I filled out - the situation can not be good.

The emergency contact field itself can be a minefield for me, depending on the day. Do I have a partner? Right now, yes. Are we at a place where it makes sense for me to put him down as my emergency contact? Yes. But this wasn’t true last year…I had a close friend’s name down. And I was nervous about this when I got ill because we weren’t on the best of terms….I had faith she would respond if I was in an actual emergency, but I felt like that would be rude and unfair: ‘hey, I know you are mad at me, and you have a right to be, even though I’m in an emergency, but can you please help me right now? So, my partner is my emergency contact but he’s not currently my next of kin.

I have no biological children and it’s been over 13 years since I have extricated myself from my birth parents and my extended birth family.

I have a godson to whom I’d give all my assets if I were to die now. I have signed up to donate my organs to the NHS or whomever it goes to if I were still living in California.

But next of kin?

Surely they don’t want the information for my former abusers.

In fact, I carry around an "Emergency Information” document in my wallet that says “In case of emergency, NEVER contact next of kin. Do not allow the following people to visit or make decisions for my care: _____, ______, and ______.” I was told I didn’t really even need to put that down because usually, if you are an adult, they contact whomever you put down as your emergency contact.

I have now crossed off “Next of Kin” and put Emergency Contact.

I pause for a bit and give myself space to cry. Not even because I have no birth family as next of kin, but because I need to go through this process again - filling out these forms, explaining my abuse history, dealing with shocked faces when people hear my abuse history, responding gratefully when they tell me I’m strong and courageous, justifying my needs, explaining my needs, re-explaining my needs, suggesting ways around the current systems of care to meet my needs, dealing with recommendations and advice that I don’t need, reminding people that therapy takes a long time and yes, ‘it’s working’, and doing this all in the stride of my days…

I should know by now - don’t assume I can fill out this form on a Tuesday morning while making coffee. I should expect it to be difficult. But you know what? It’s actually progress for me not to assume that everything I do, especially around medical care, needs a high level of sensitivity. I’m not broken and fragile. I’m just wounded - probably for life. And for that comment, I will deal with people who want to argue with me - ‘who knows, you might not deal with it for life? Look, you are doing so well.’ Oh really? You know enough to have optimism that I might not deal with this for life? I certainly don’t know enough. I listen to my fellow trauma survivors and hear that it dissipates but it is life long. Would you tell someone who had a limb amputation that they won’t have to deal with it for life? It might not be miserable for my entire life (it isn’t now), but it’s still something to deal with.

And then there’s the other side - “oh poor you, you’re damaged for life. Maybe you shouldn’t do your research on that topic. You should just relax. You can be more than a survivor, you know. You’ll want to get past victimhood and move on from this.” Oh really? What does ‘move on from this’ look like? Never mention again that my parents raped and sold me? Don’t share my experience to help others? Don’t use my experience and transform it into insight so I can change social systems?

No.

I know that many people do not have next of kin. I know that for many, filling out medical practice GP forms are awful. That you have to fill out the form and answer the same questions verbally as well. That you may have to remind people every time you go into the GP, unless you convince someone to allow you to see the same GP over and over again.

A few other things…

  • The box within which to answer “Do you have any special needs?” should be larger than my thumbprint.

  • I hate that my mother’s maiden name is the ticket to everything. I don’t want to be reminded of her over and over again.

  • I know that my birth family’s medical history is important, but everything I tell you is information from ages ago and I really don’t want to talk about my birth family anymore. In fact, you folks are usually the ones who operate as if I can ‘get over’ my past but I certainly can’t if you keep asking me to reference my birth family.

And last but not not least - if you are a friend, colleague, or ally reading this, please don’t direct pollyanna-like comments my way about this. Send your love, yes. But don’t offer to be my next of kin. Empathise, yes. Share your own challenges with medical forms, yes.

Even better? Go to your GP and ask for the ‘New Patient Form.’ Imagine you don’t have any relatives and fill out the form. Find the anonymous comments/suggestions box, write a note with what you’ve learned from this blog and what your experience was like when you filled out the form. I imagine survivors of child abuse, refugees, and survivors of modern slavery will relate.

Minh Dang