March 31, 2008 by Marc Lamont Hill
Last Saturday, I was feeling sick and visited the emergency room at Chestnut Hill Hospital. I arrived at 11:45PM and told the triage nurse that I was suffering from extreme neck pain, dizziness, and nausea. At 3AM, I was finally examined by a staff member, to whom I repeated the same list of symptoms. Around 5AM, I was awakened by a doctor shining a bright light in my face. After making sure I could feel my arms, he asked how I injured my neck. Before I could answer, he cut me off and said “I’ve heard enough. Do you want an x-ray or not?” I told him that I had already been x-rayed, at which point he indicated that he would return shortly and finish his examination.
At approximately 6:30AM, another staff member handed me a prescription for muscle relaxers and ibuprofen along with discharge papers that said “You have been diagnosed with neck pain.” I explained that I already knew I had neck pain, and was more concerned about not being able to walk or drive because of my persistent dizziness and increasing nausea. After several minutes of prodding, they agreed to convince the doctor to come back and actually examine me.
When he returned, the doctor was both confrontational and condescending. Nearly shouting, he starting to enumerate an exhaustive list of procedures that he had already conducted, none of which actually happened. The doctor then snatched the papers from the staffer and threatened to take the prescription back because of my “complaining.” Frustrated but weak, I calmly explained that I simply wanted to make sure that he fully understood the range of my symptoms. At this point, the doctor became more enraged, alternately barking “What do you want me to do?” and mockingly stating “You’re not gonna die!” When I reiterated my desire for help, he deadpanned “Do you want the prescription or not?” I told him that I did, at which point he coldly replied “Then go home.” The doctor then turned around and walked away. As I exited the building, the staff member whispered to me that this behavior was common for the doctor.
Did the doctor think that I was fishing for drugs? Perhaps. Would he have treated me differently if he knew I was a college professor? Probably. Was he a racist? I don’t know, but it’s worth noting that he wasn’t white. What happened to me at Chestnut Hill Hospital is disturbing, but not uncommon. Every day, the nation’s most vulnerable citizens are abused, dehumanized, and underserved in hospitals around the country. Even if the diagnosis is correct, a doctor’s failure to maintain an ethic of compassion, concern, and care leaves a patient feeling unsafe and unwelcome. This is a truly sickening reality.
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