22 responses to “Ableist Word Profile: Vegetable”

  1. DaisyDeadhead

    THIS IS GREAT, thank you.

    I refuse to use the word, and got written up in nurses’ training (later dropped out anyway) back in 1976 for refusing to say it.

    There is nothing medically accurate about the word!
    .-= DaisyDeadhead´s last blog ..DeMint like ‘a Jew watching our nation’s pennies’ =-.

  2. Matthew Smith

    Vegetable (or cabbage) was a general term of abuse which I heard used all the time at boarding school. Despite the fact that it was ostensibly a school for boys with behaviour-related special needs but with high academic potential, one boy clearly wasn’t – he had pronounced autistic tendencies and was certainly very socially inept, and by all accounts wasn’t up to it academically although perhaps that had a lot to do with the constant put-downs he got from others in his year group (which included several of the school’s worst bullies and a couple of pervs as well) but the school had a long record of taking on completely unsuitable pupils because it needed the money. The bullying he received was very upsetting to watch. Anyway, he was the usual recipient of those two terms although it was also applied to anyone else who wasn’t able or willing to fight (who were also called flids, i.e. thalidomides).

    No idea how it came into use in a medical context; the term “persistent vegetative state” is a very recent invention. “Vegetate” has come to mean “to be inactive, like a vegetable” it is actually a descendent of the Latin “vegetare” meaning “to enliven”; the Latin “vegetabilis” meant active, in the sense of growing, and “wake” in English is a cognate. Given how the medical profession clings to its Latin and Greek, it’s amazing that they could get their words so mixed up.

  3. Personal Failure

    I hate that term. It creates behavior in people which is damaging. I know a man who was in a car accident his junior year of high school. When the EMTs arrived, he was conscious, but by the time he reached the hospital, he had slipped into a coma. Where he stayed, for 8 months.

    Because everyone assumed he was a “vegetable”, the staff at the hospital didn’t bother to properly care for him, and his hands and feet contracted cruelly. He did wake up, and then had to endure surgery after surgery to free his hands and feet from the contraction. The agony was nearly unbearable to him. (He’s a little stiff to this day, and the pain lingers, but he can walk and type.)

    I can see why the hospital staff did that to him, in a way. We don’t care about produce, and that’s what he was to them. He ceased to be a person, and became a squash. That’s shameful.
    .-= Personal Failure´s last blog ..Scientific Facts in the Bible =-.

  4. Shiyiya

    When I was five years old, my ten years older cousin Sean took some pills a friend gave him (something related to amphetamines, I think.) and it was a massive overdose. He was in what I’ve always been told was a vegetative coma for thirteen months before they turned off life support. What would be a better thing to say there? Just ‘a coma’? I’ve always been under the impression that ‘vegetative coma’ was the medical term for his state.
    .-= Shiyiya´s last blog ..Livejournal =-.

  5. Annaham

    There is not enough D: in the world for that anecdote. Holy crap.

  6. Sweet Machine

    My eldest brother (currently abled) referred to our mother, who has advanced Parkinson’s and dementia and is receiving hospice care, as a vegetable earlier this year. I was so shocked I couldn’t speak — especially since our other brother has been disabled since birth and had to deal with a lot of ableist bullshit. The thing that killed me about it is that she’s *not* gone, not completely — she’s conscious and capable of interaction, if not speech, and she clearly really really really appreciates company. It broke my heart that my brother can’t (or, more likely, chose not to) see that.
    .-= Sweet Machine´s last blog ..Getting to 101 =-.

  7. Sweet Machine

    It was horrible! But I think it’s his way of distancing himself from her — some kind of (completely ableist) way of coping with grief.
    .-= Sweet Machine´s last blog ..Getting to 101 =-.

  8. Sweet Machine

    Which, of course, is one more way that ableism dehumanizes PWD.
    .-= Sweet Machine´s last blog ..Getting to 101 =-.

  9. Ouyang Dan

    This is actually something I have been guilty of using off-handedly, when I am having a low spoon day and need to just rest, I would say I needed a “total veg” day, until I thought about what that meant. We catch ourselves too!

  10. lilacsigil

    This is a terrific post highlight the deliberate and yet offhand dehumanising of disabled people. And yet, all I can do is stare at those delicious, delicious vegetables and salivate! Mmmm, eggplant for dinner tonight!

  11. Bene

    Like Ouyang Dan, I too need to catch myself from talking about ‘just vegging out’. Thanks for the reminder.

    Another anecdote: M, a college classmate of mine (I don’t know her personally, but some friends do) suffered a brainstem stroke in her room, shortly before our graduation. Sadly, she wasn’t found very quickly–it was exam week and people’s privacy was respected–but she was still alive. Unfortunately, after stabilizing her and running tests, the snap diagnosis was PVS. Her mother saw certain signs that led her to believe that that was not the case, that M was at least partially conscious and responding to stimuli, and became a fierce advocate for getting her into studies, alternative healing, and the best care centers. And some of the doctors told her to stop it.

    They were wrong.

    Turns out that M is indeed conscious and responsive more often than not; she has locked-in syndrome, not PVS. While she does have problems with maintaining consciousness and memory that are improving over time, she now has the ability to communicate, express desires, make choices about her environment and be informed about her care. She is on the list for a study for computer access via direct brainwave function, and I hope I hear about a success.

    My point being: if M’s mother, with support from her father, family, and friends, had not been able to be an advocate for her, what would have happened? Why can’t this sort of thing be the automatic response? (Well, obviously, issues with the US healthcare system, for a start, but I think it runs deeper than that.)

  12. ModernWizard

    Thanks for this post about “vegetative state” and the term’s implications for “vegging out.”
    .-= ModernWizard´s last blog ..7.2: “Sympathy for Sibley” =-.

  13. Matthew Smith

    @Bene: It’s inexcusable that people would not consider locked-in syndrome when in someone is found in that condition. They can usually move their eyes, and all it takes is to tell them to look one way for yes and the other for no, and ask them a few questions. Eye movements, and an alphabet board, are the usual way such people communicate.

    Were you at Cornell? There was a fairly well-known case of a Cornell student having a brainstem stroke, with the same result, around 1990. Her name is Judy Mozersky. She was 19 at the time and still relies on her eyes to communicate, although she can swallow and has regained facial expressions and a few bits of movement here and there.

  14. Bene

    Matthew: No, I was at Smith, this was only about three and a half years ago. I hadn’t heard of Judy Mozersky! I am glad to see on googling her that she’s alive, well, and living an active life.

    I think the issue with M was that there was different damage done to her sleep center than what happened to Judy, and it was considerably more difficult for her to retain consciousness. Even so, the fact that it took nearly a year to come to the locked-in syndrome diagnosis is appalling.

  15. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D.

    OK. No more “vegging out”, although I really think when I apply it to myself as in, deliberately acting like a plant all afternoon (akin to ‘couch potato’) it’s probably not ableist. But boy howdy is “brain dead” ever falling by my personal wayside as an insult.

    Jeez. I can’t believe my own insensitivity sometimes.

    I humbly apologize to anyone I ever offended by using these terms.

  16. MK

    Virginia, I am having the same issue! I literally an hour or two before reading this post (I’m doing a big backlog catch-up) wrote a journal entry in which I stated my complete exhaustion and intent to “vegetate” for the next week or so. Now I’m conflicted. I was like you implying that I want to be like a plant, not a coma patient, and have never used the terms interchangeably, and I feel like this is obvious to anyone reading my journal. Still… I wonder what an appropriate pithy replacement would be? Glaciate, maybe. Hmm.

  17. lauredhel

    MK: “Glaciate” does have the plus of implying that you will also destroy anything in your path.

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