You wait, thinking that it’ll get better.
You do what you can until that time comes when you just can’t take it anymore. It doesn’t matter what they say … I need a doctor’s attention, I know something is wrong.
I couldn’t work that day – selling the paper, standing, smiling and waving. The heat was pretty bad, the temperature outside was 93. It felt like it was in the 100s. I could stand for only 10 minutes before I felt like I’d pass out. Sweat rolling off my brow … maybe I needed hydration? No, I’d been hydrating all day. I waited for a little bit longer. Then it seemed like the only logical thing to do was to get an ambulance. I couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to pass out. It wasn’t my blood sugar and it wasn’t a heat exhaustion thing – it was something else.
Arriving at the ER, the nurse comes in and starts asking me questions about my medical history, most of which is at this hospital. She takes my blood pressure and temperature, then says, “The doctor will be right in” and leaves. I hear walking outside the door. Maybe 40 minutes later, I hear a familiar woman’s voice say, “She’s homeless and a frequent flyer.” I hear a man’s voice say, “drug shopping.”
Unfairly Labeled Due to a Stereotype
Without even seeing me, without even asking me a question, it’s been assumed I am shopping for drugs. I’m not even complaining of pain, and I’ve been labeled a druggie all because I bare the label of homeless.
The doctor orders blood work and a chest X-ray. He even asks if I’m in any pain, of which I’m not, and out the door he goes. Two hours later, the nurse comes back with discharge papers. No diagnosis, no explanation as to what’s going on. The papers just say to follow up with family doctor – I tell them I don’t have one. The nurse looks puzzled and points to where I need to sign.
I had the shingles last summer. That was so painful with the sweating, the burning and the itching. I didn’t ask for pain medication because I was afraid of being labeled. That doctor knew the pain I was in and helped.
Another time I was transported via ambulance to a Nashville hospital where I was seen for passing out on the bus. Again, blood work and an X-ray were done. The doctor stated I passed out because it was “too cold outside.” I listened to this but, held my tongue with what I was thinking.
Was the care I was given poor because I am poor, or did they just not feel like doing their jobs? These are the very individuals that have taken an oath to care for the sick, not just the insured; people who are supposed to care and they don’t.
The Same Care, the Same Respect, the Same Dignity
I get it that many health care professionals do care. But so many slip through the cracks, the same way the homeless do. Health care professionals should get additional training to learn how to deal with homeless people, to help them physically and to simply listen.
Too often, homeless people arrive at an ER and are immediately labeled “drug shoppers” or “frequent flyers.” We are people and we need the same medical attention that those with insurance get. We deserve the same care, the same respect, the same dignity.