Archive for Thursday, July 24, 2008

2 medical emergencies, 1 sad message

July 24, 2008

This is a tale of two people, each with a life-threatening health problem. Only one remains alive. The other, a 49-year old woman, Esmin Elizabeth Green, had the bad luck to be sitting in the emergency waiting room of a large New York psychiatric hospital. She had been waiting for almost 24 hours for a room when she fell to the floor and began writhing. Security guards and other personnel passed by with nothing more than a glance. Forty minutes after she stopped moving, a nurse approached and lightly kicked her. She had been dead for almost an hour before anyone in this medical facility bothered to check her. This incident was reported in the July 21 issue of "Newsweek."

The other person, a local resident Phil Roberts, was sitting in his car in a local Sonic Drive-in when he felt the onset of a stroke. Fortunately, Megan Bond, a carhop, noticed something wasn't right and insisted on getting help for him. She alerted her supervisor, and eventually Roberts was taken by ambulance to a heart and stroke center.

The first story shocked and angered me; the second, made me feel good about my neighborhood and today's crop of youngsters. Hopefully, the first incident occurred because the staff in that large caretaking institution were overwhelmed and wearied by constant critical care. Yet, no matter what the circumstances were, it still seems overwhelmingly cruel and unnecessary. The incident was recorded on video camera, so there is no doubt about what happened. It's painfully clear that nobody cared about what happened to Green that night in the waiting room. She was with friends and family, but since it was a psychiatric medical emergency room, they were barred from accompanying her. She was left to the mercy of strangers and suffered because of it.

Of course, the outcry following the news coverage of the treatment of Green will bring about some much-needed reforms in that particular emergency care facility, but will it change routine treatment on a level beyond mere palliative care? I hope so. This woman was a poor immigrant from Jamaica. She was a member of a church in the area and had depended on her pastor for much of her care. Green had been suffering schizophrenic episodes, which ended with her being hospitalized for a few days at a time. After she returned to her community, she would work hard and help out with daycare centers and church activities until psychiatric services were required again. Her pastor was the one who often contacted authorities to take her to the hospital but her caretakers had neglected to diagnose a blood-clot problem, which may have exacerbated her mental problems and probably caused her death.

Perhaps that's what bothers me the most about this sad story. It seems to me to be a terrible indictment of our country's health care system for the poor when a person can go into death throes in the presence of staff members in a large hospital and still be ignored.

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