Monday, August 18, 2008

On trust, betrayal and progress

So remember my friend who was treated so badly at the hospital? (See Labels.) Well, she and her partner, plus my friends K and D, and I all trooped up to the hospital in Ellsworth to meet with the guy in charge of it all. He's the whiz-bang CEO guy, the top administrator, which means he is not a doctor and not prone to the "doctors-protect-doctors" thing that so often happens.

Six of us crammed into a teeny little meeting room and my friend N told of her experience in the ER, as did her partner C. Doug (the hospital guy) listened and took notes. I saw him blink an extra time once or twice, and suck in his breath at the appropriate moments. His attention seemed genuine and his concern sincere. When she finished, he said "I am shocked."

To his credit, he did not try to defend the hospital staff, nor did he try to justify what had happened. He was able to explain how the handwritten note disappeared, and in a manner that I understood and could believe without having to like it (notes are read into dictation for later typing and then tossed - it makes sense logistically, although it originally smacked of cover-up). He promised to look into the situation, to speak to the ER doc in question to get his side of the story and to check out the dictated notes.

My friends are guarded in their optimism. After all, as queer people, we are accustomed to being promised things that never happen (think Clinton administration).

Trust is tricky stuff. It is often granted to medical professionals because of who they are. With others it takes years to build. With anyone, it can be destroyed in seconds. What happened to N and C was a betrayal and a violation. It was disrespectful and rude and there are no excuses. If a provider of health care has a problem with anyone's sexual orientation or religion or politics or whatever, they need to park those problems and behave professionally. Until last week, my friends had nothing negative to say about their hospital experiences in Ellsworth. But one nasty turn in the ER has soured them, probably for months, perhaps even years. It all depends on how this thing comes to some kind of resolution.

What it boils down to is this: two hospitals are involved, and that complicates things. N's primary care person (a PA) is out of a local health clinic that is administered by the hospital in Bar Harbor. But the ER she went to was in Ellsworth. The PA called the ER doc and gave him a bunch of stuff over the phone. That's where the "gay" (and circled!!) came from. Its position at the top of the page indicates that it is probably the first thing the PA told the ER doc about the patient. More notes about pain and symptomology were further down the page.

Now in an ideal world, the ER doc would have read some kind of professional riot act to the PA when she even mentioned that my friend is a lesbian. An astute guy would have told her in no uncertain terms that such information was unimportant, indeed irrelevant to the situation. Remember, of course, that lesbians DO, in fact, get pregnant, and we DO in fact get STDs. It astounds me that anyone got to be a PA thinking that, and that an ER doc was dumb enough to write it down. Holy shit.

But that's neither here nor there. It is over, it is done. What remains to be seen now is what kind of apology letter the ER doc writes to my friends, and how they are treated the next time they come into the ER. There is some real fear that they will be labeled as troublemakers. It is a very small community after all. Word of a doctor getting chewed out by the big shot will get around, and the story will circulate. We'll see what kind of care they get.

But for now we have hope. Guarded hope, but hope nonetheless. I think progress has been made. Although he tends to use a lot of bureaucrat-speak, Doug really seemed to understand the urgency of the matter and just what potential for tragedy there was in this incident. We'll all keep our fingers crossed.

And before I forget, let us not believe that hate does not exist in this idyllic area. It was just a year or two ago when a woman of African American descent was attacked and called racial epithets. The drunken white guy kicked her pregnant belly, threw beer cans at her and shouted about "white power" in the parking lot of a gas station and convenience store. He was arrested, and the community rallied around the victim, but the point is that the crime was committed. It was real. It happened. And it happened not five miles from where my friends live. This attack happened in broad daylight with lots of witnesses. How difficult would it be for something much worse to happen in the dark of night, fueled by too many beers and bravado? And how long would it take for the police to come?

Stay tuned for updates.

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