Waiting at hospital, and one thing made it worse
To our readers: Westside freelance writer Penny Dickerson recently had an eye-opening visit to a local medical center.
Emergency rooms hold a special place in my heart. During a 2006 ER visit at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in North Carolina, a cancerous tumor was identified in my left kidney as an incidental finding on a CT scan. So I appreciate the purpose of the ER and know that because of an array of life-altering circumstances, millions use the ER for acute illnesses from lack of adequate health insurance. I am now one of those statistics.
As a “Partial Pay/City Contract” card recipient, I’m entitled to most clinical, pharmaceutical and diagnostic care offered by my local facility, but remain hesitant due to associative stigma and systemic appointment guidelines. Patients with this insurance status can’t command priority treatment compared to those with privatized insurance.
A recent ER visit reinforced this for me.
I came in at 10:41 a.m. on a Monday with viral symptoms that began the prior Thursday. My persistent abdominal pain and complex medical history had prompted me to seek attention. Clad in baggy sweats, flip flops, my faded-gray Temple University hoodie, bloodshot eyes and an unkempt Afro, I’m sure I served as a solid manifestation of any negative perceptions that might arise because of one’s appearance.
I was clearly sick; I looked homeless. The waiting room consisted of a sprawled crowd of hacking, bleeding, irritable hopefuls, all wanting the same simple thing: medical attention.
At noon my vitals were finally taken and the nurse said, “You’re one of the youngest sick people we’ve seen all day.”
She wrote “Priority” on my chart, but the wait continued. Marking time, I tried to inspire myself into believing that my cancerous turn of events had not completely rendered me an indigent representation of Americana.
By 1:30 p.m. I received a bed in “Flex Care,” Bay 4. An IV was inserted and blood drawn, and I was handed a thin blanket and then abandoned. To my right in Bay 3 was an injured African-American male. In Bay 2, an African-American female with facial wounds lay visibly shaken, and directly across from me was Bay 1, hosting an elderly white female who had suffered a fall. Thin curtains allowed me to hear she was lucid, conversational and not crying in pain.
I witnessed the expedience her presence was given; the pleasantries exchanged. Smiling physicians briskly entered voicing genuine concern. She was embraced, assessed, respected and coddled.
She deserved all that was received, but so did we other three patients in this “Flex” quad. My gut interpreted she was absolutely insured. What aches my psyche is that she was definitely white and deemed to be more valued and worthy. The “R” word was present, but I wasn’t sure if it “racism” or “rich.”
I eventually spoke briefly with a physician and was told to “hang on” to my urine sample. By 4 p.m. I hadn’t received fluids, pain medicine or diagnostics – nor was a culture taken, as I was still in possession of my urine.
Frustrated, I hurled the capped urine across the desk – which missed the biohazard bag but not the nurse – removed my IV and used a pen to write on my sheet: “I LEFT BECAUSE I DON’T MATTER.”
Headed for patient relations, I was intercepted by an apologetic ER resident who expressed sincere concern for my pending medical care and listened to my stressed dismay.
At her urging, I returned and was now treated like Michelle Obama.
I was expeditiously given a new IV, and conversed with a doctor who also apologized and informed me he’d placed orders. Two blankets were placed over me instead of one simply being handed to me, fluids were started, pain medicine administered, and I was transported to radiology.
Appropriately, I apologized to the nurse for the urine debacle.
I can’t definitively conclude racism in this incident or attribute this to being uninsured or looking like a nomad who they didn’t suspect owned intellect. Most redeeming was a bedside greeting by the attending ER physician, who extended a handshake prior to discussing my case. It didn’t cure everything, but his hand to mine exemplified conscious dignity.