Ending the Ethical “Ick” Factor
It’s been an interesting week or so, identity-wise.
When I launched EosinophilGirl, I chose anonymity. Not top-secret anonymity, of course. If someone wants to track me down, I recognize there are ways to do that. Still, for about two years, Mr. Eos alone was let in on the secret.
“Did I really say that?” I asked Mr. Eos the next day.
“You really said that,” he said. “It sounded like you meant it.”
Being EosGirl here and on Twitter has been great. EosGirl has connected me with fabulous folks who have shared their struggles while offering generous advice and warm support. It’s provided a whole new perspective on medical thinking, patient advocacy, health care policy, all kinds of cool stuff. On occasion, it’s even seemed that, just maybe, I’ve had something useful to say.
But at the intersection of online life and real-life life, some moments have come to feel awkward, even ethically dodgy.
It’s not that I’ve been doing or saying anything untoward. I’ve just found myself wondering how it might seem if this blog ever came to my doctor’s attention from somebody other than me. Or if interactions I’ve had via social media with a colleague of Dr. Eos would seem somehow deceptive—a little too close to interacting with one’s own doctor.
Medical professionals are having an ongoing dialogue about how to use social media effectively, ethically, and in a professional manner. (The blog 33 Charts recently offered a great post about advising new interns on this very topic: “Digital Smarts Goes Live.”)
As patients, we don’t have such guidance. We’re not bound by a Hippocratic Oath; we’re not violating HIPAA or hospital policies; we’re not in danger of undermining our professional image, authority, or position of trust. Even if our doctors think less of us, they’ll most likely keep treating us.
Ethically, that leaves patients with the “ick” factor. And for whatever reason, concealing the identity of EosGirl from these folks was starting to feel icky enough that it burbled through the anesthesia sleep-off.
So, this week I bit the bullet. I sent the links to Dr. Eos, and I found that EosGirl apparently does have some useful things to say. I also introduced myself virtually to Dr. Colleague, too—not by name, just as a patient of Dr. Eos.
Does that feel better? It does.
And yet, I’m not quite ready to sweep aside all of the boundaries.
In the first place, EosGirl provides a buffer, however wispy, around my real-world self. To those who know me, I’m an intensely private introvert. EosGirl offers a space to wrap my mind around these issues without worrying family or distracting friends, and still to have company on the journey. I doubt this wall will stand; there have been more and more occasions when I’ve contemplated making the breach, and I’m sure one day I will.
Slapping my name on the masthead, though? Probably not. Safeguarding Mr. Eos and especially Boy Scientist are top priorities. They never asked to have a blogger in the house. Also of concern is my own professional reputation. Would my employer look at me differently–or a potential future employer think twice about hiring me–because of my illness? Or because I write about it? Or because of the way I write about it?
And so, I remain as discreet as I reasonably can be, wary of revealing too much about my online self in life, and too much about my offline self online. There are certain things I still won’t say because I fear they’d say too much about me.
What do you think? Much ado about nothing? How do you manage your digital identity, especially if you’re a patient taking your condition online?