Friday, March 20, 2015

healthcare privilege

The first time she stumbled into our clinic on Skid Row, she was on the brink of death. A huge wool coat hung over her 83-pound frame even though it was 90 degrees outside. Thrush crawled out the corners of her mouth and over her lips. She'd been in the ICU last month; she never finished the antibiotics for the AIDS-related pneumonia she had. Now her cough (and every other concerning symptom possible) was back: 
Her blood pressure was 86/40; there was no choice but to send her to the emergency room. We gave her a liter of IV fluids while waiting on the ambulance to come because we knew she might wait a while to see a doctor once she got to the hospital. The wait to be seen by a doctor at LA County Hospital can range anywhere from 8-36 hours. We hoped that sending her by ambulance might expedite things. Sadly, it was almost 24 hours before a doctor saw her, and 28 hours until the necessary chest x-ray was done. The previous pneumonia was still there, though slightly improved. She was released the following morning after a couple doses of IV antibiotics, back to the court yard on Skid Row where she slept. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane." These inequalities become more glaring when I find myself on the privileged side of healthcare. On the same campus where LA County Hospital sits, half a mile down the hill, is a smaller private hospital. Recently, I found myself having to access their services.

I was sent from my doctor's office to the hospital's equivalent of an emergency room. It was less than ten minutes from when I checked into the emergency department until a doctor saw me. Over the weekend when I felt worse, the on-call doctor sent me back to their emergency room. Within thirty minutes, IV fluids were running into my dried out veins. And two days later, when it was finally clear I had to be admitted, it took under an hour to transfer me from my doctor's office into my room. 

Beyond the speed and access to services, I carry additional privilege: speaking the same language as my doctors, having the knowledge to ask questions about my treatment, and being able to read the prescriptions I was sent home with (and a home to return to)

I struggle with this privilege. Because there is no reason my patient should wait 28 hours for a chest x-ray, when in that same amount of time, I made it to a room, saw the medicine team taking care of me twice, and watched 17 episodes of Friends on TBS. Though our country is trying to lessen these disparities with things like Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid, we still have a long way to go until everyone has equal access to healthcare. Until then, I'll keep fighting for my patients to get the care they deserve. 

p.s. - in case you were wondering, my patient is doing great. She is now on HIV medicines, has gained 40 pounds, has been living in a medical-transitional housing unit, and will be getting her own place next month after 28 years of living on the streets. 
and i'm doing much better too. :) 

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