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Race and Healthcare

The Unknown's picture

            This last Tuesday, my friend, who I will refer to as Elizabeth, who is bi-racial (Afro-Caribbean and Caucasian) called me and said, “Dude. My back’s really in a lot of pain. You know I’ve had back pain in the past and I’m worried it’s starting again.”

            “Wait. What happened?” I responded.

            “Well… I slipped and fell earlier and my back was in excruciating pain, so I went to the health center and the person I saw there told me there was nothing she could do. She referred me to the hospital. Can you go with me?”

            “Of course love. Do you need to go now? I’m so sorry,” I replied.

            “Yeah. I’m really worried I seriously hurt my back. You know I’ve had a lot of issues with back pain in the past.” Elizabeth and I walked over to the hospital.

            We walked through the Emergency Room doors and Elizabeth went up to the receptionist and said, “Hey.”

            The receptionist responded, “What are you here for?”

            Elizabeth handed the receptionist the referral from the health center and responded, “I’m sorry ma’am I cannot sit down. I have a slipped disc. I need a bed.”

            “You’re gonna have to sit down and wait. There are several people in front of you.” Elizabeth and I walked to the seating area. Elizabeth walked slowly over to a chair and put her hand on the back of it as she bent over in pain.

             “Is there anything I can do love? What are you feeling?” I asked.

             “Dude, I just can’t sit down. My back’s hurting me so bad,” Elizabeth responded in a quivering voice. We sat there in silence. I tried to comfort her by holding her hand. She looked like she was exhausting all of her energy not to break down. She sat there, bent over, for a half hour. Elizabeth was breathing heavily as we waited in silence.

             A white, older man, around 60, walked in ten minutes later who did not show any signs of distress. He signed in with the receptionist and almost immediately after sitting down next to us, a nurse came out and called his name in a friendly tone. The nurse who took him to be treated smiled at the man and helped him into a room so he could be treated.

            “What is taking so long?” I said. “Were there really that many people in-front of you.”

            “No. That guy got here after us. Dude. What’s going on?” Elizabeth replied in an agitated and confused tone. We continued to wait silently for about 30 minutes, not knowing why it was taking so long for Elizabeth to be seen by a nurse or doctor.

           Another 15 minutes passed and the nurse came out and said, “Elizabeth.” We were taken to the back and Elizabeth was directed to lie down on a bed.

           “Thank you,” Elizabeth offered. “Can I have a pillow to put under my legs please?”

           The nurse nodded and left the room.

           - Note that the nurse never returned with a pillow

           “This has been taking so long,” Elizabeth said. I sat next to Elizabeth, uncomfortably tapping my foot. Elizabeth seemed to be on the verge of crying.

           I wasn’t sure how long we had been waiting but I started getting angry and I responded, “This is ridiculous. I’m going to try to find the nurse. There is no excuse for her taking so long. What is she doing?”

           “I don’t know dude. I’m in so much pain,” Elizabeth replied. I asked different people where the nurse was and if someone was going to help my friend. I had been wandering, being directed to various people and places in the hospital until finally I found her. About an hour after Elizabeth had first been given a bed, I found the nurse and she walked back with me to assist my friend.

          Elizabeth said, “I am in excruciating pain. I need help.”

          The nurse responded, “Okay. I’m gonna get the doctor.” The nurse left the room and within about two minutes the nurse came back with the doctor.

          The doctor asked Elizabeth, “What happened?”

          Elizabeth responded, “I slipped and fell on the sidewalk. I’m in a lot of pain. I have a slip disc. I have had back surgery in the past.”

          “Can I see your scar?” (very suspiciously as if he did not believe me) the doctor responded. Elizabeth proceeded to lift up her shirt and showed the doctor the scar.  “Do you have a back specialist at home?” the doctor asked.

          “Yeah I do,” Elizabeth responded.

          “What does your doctor at home normally do when you have come in with back pain?” the doctor asked.

          “My doctor usually prescribes me a muscle relaxer and a narcotic pain medication along with a referral for physical therapy as I cannot take the time off for another surgery during the school year.” Elizabeth replied.

          “Well… I’m not gonna do that. I will give you one of each, but I’m not going to release you with those prescriptions.” Elizabeth filled a prescription for 800mgs of Advil that he gave her instead.

          My reflections: This was outrageous. My friend had to wait more than three hours to see a medical examiner. Disgusting. This has and will probably never happen to me. She told me later, “They looked at me like I was drug shopping. They didn’t take me seriously. All of that for Advil.” How dare they refuse my friend care because of the color of her skin! I didn’t know how to comfort her. How does a white friend affirm someone’s feeling that they just experienced one, if not, in this case many consecutive microaggressions? How does this incident shape her feelings/ comfort with the hospital? What if the situation had even been more serious, would the nurse still have refused her care for so long? What could/ should I have done? Why didn’t anyone at the emergency room feel okay about forcing my friend to sit, hunched over in pain? Why did we have to seek help within this racist system? Why weren’t there other options?



pain medication doctors's picture

That's a sad story. I emphasize with your friend. We must do something to correct the discrimination/ microaggression that's happening in our hospitals or any health care facilities. All of us should be given the same treatment no matter what color of skin we have.