On Privilege

When we first lived in Tuebingen in the late 1980’s, I spent five days in the Frauenklinik (women’s hospital) after having given birth to our first child. We were in Germany because my husband had a Fulbright Grant, but being students we had only the most basic of health insurance. That meant that my baby and I were sharing a room with four other women and their newborns. It was chaotic and loud to say the least. Especially with the Italian family in the bed next to me. Yes, one woman gave birth, but when her mother, sisters, husband and dad arrived, they all crawled into the bed with her. I still can’t figure out how they all fit! And everything was done as a family affair – even changing the baby’s diaper. No small amount of joy that brought. He was a boy and fountains were flowing right into the new dad’s face! The hospital had us all keeping track of our baby’s toilet habits, but one word on the form was not understood by the Italian family. So they asked my German friend, Sigi, what that word was. After trying every polite word she knew in German and Spanish, exasperated, Sigi sputtered out ‘kaka’. ‘Oh kaka!!’ the word went up in multiple voices amid much laughter and Italian chatter. The shared room didn’t offer much privacy, but a heaping load of entertainment was to be found there.

How very different from now, twenty-six years later. We are in Germany again, but this time my husband is Herr Professor at a large university. We are privately insured – with whatever isn’t covered by the insurance company being paid for as ‘beihilfe’ from the university. This means I am sent to a private clinic, with my own room. My treatment is from the head doctors, in this case the ‘Professor Doctors’ because this is a teaching hospital of the university. I was even given the choice of going first on the surgical rota. They were discussing when to do a child, so I said, ‘Es ist mir egal.’ (It doesn’t matter to me.) So they said they would do the child first, apologized to me, while assuring me it was a simple procedure that wouldn’t take long. I was shocked to have been given the choice! Of course, they should do the child first. Then later when the nurse was showing me my room for the first time, he moved the one bed closer to the window and told me that during my surgery a sofa and table would be moved into the empty space (where another bed would usually be). The next morning the space was still empty, so I reminded him. About an hour later, two cosy soft armchairs and a table were wheeled into my room. I was a little disappointed as I had my heart set on a sofa with which to cuddle my family when they visited. But I was not about to complain! There are times to complain, but the luxury I have been shown was already almost too much. The clinic is quiet. I have a beautiful room overlooking a park filled with trees and walking paths. If the weather was warmer I could sit outside on the balcony. The Süddeutsche Zeitung is delivered with my breakfast each morning. I can read, listen to music or watch TV at my leisure. I can get a free cup of coffee, cappucino, or hot chocolate, tea, etc. whenever I want.

We have worked hard to attain this ‘privileged status’, but I do not ever want to digest a sense of entitlement and risk becoming selfish and demanding. So I have set about to thank every person who does anything for me from bringing medicine or food to cleaning my room. Every person is valued and loved in the eyes of God. I was blessed all those years ago by the Lebensfreude of that Italian family. I hope they have had a wonderful life. Privilege doesn’t sit comfortably on this Christian. And I pray it never does.

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About Lois Loban Stuckenbruck

Trained as a Ballerina, then completed a BA in Business Adm and English Literature at Milligan College. More recently trained to be a lay pastor (Reader) in the Church of England. Wife of a Biblical Scholar, Mother of three. I'm an American who has also lived many years in England and Germany (currently Munich). I have worked as an Editorial Assistant, Systems Manager (Xerox Stars on Ethernet Network), and several positions in higher education fundraising (Alumni and Development).
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