COVID CRISIS HASN'T GONE AWAY, WHILE RACISM CRISIS BOILS TO THE SURFACE
I have some terrific interviews ready for publication, but haven't released them over the past few days - because, with the U.S. focused on the protests over George Floyd's death, I really think that's where all of us should be focusing our attention.
I'm also not interested in adding my voice to the endless stream of white Americans who should be taking a back seat right now, ceding the microphone to minority journalists and activists.
For that reason, today I'm re-posting an interview from just a few weeks ago that gets at the heart of the two urgent crises America is facing: the current pandemic, and also the crisis that's been boiling since the founding of our Republic - racism.
This interview with an African-American woman who was turned away from hospitals despite showing advanced Covid-19 symptoms is just one example of the CONSTANT violence that our Black sisters and brothers face on a daily basis.
For those of you who missed it the first time around, it's a troubling read.
Countless studies over the past few years - including this one by researchers at Harvard and this one from UC Berkeley - have demonstrated that U.S. doctors discriminate against African-American women significantly more than against other demographics.
It's a disturbing reality that even superstar tennis player Serena Williams experienced, when doctors dismissed her complaints that something in her body felt wrong in the hours after she gave birth. Fortunately, Serena had the clout to insist that doctors check her out, and they found and immediately treated blood clots that could have killed her.
Since then, Serena has become outspoken about the neglect and outright racism that Black women often face from healthcare workers.
Unfortunately - as the story below shows - we still have a long way to go when it comes to doctors listening to and respecting their African-American woman patients.
And - let's not forget the toll that Covid-19 is taking on the Black community. In the U.S, nearly a quarter of the 100,000 people who have died from Covid have been African-Americans, even though they make up just 13% of the population.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WITH ADVANCED COVID-19 SYMPTOMS TURNED AWAY FROM HOSPITALS
A 59 year-old woman in Denver, Barbara, came down with Covid-19 symptoms in early April, and ended up going to Denver-area emergency rooms three times before she was admitted - and then, she was admitted only after her primary care physican called the hospital to try to insist that they take her.
Barbara says she felt like the emergency staff weren't really listening to her, when she was telling them how sick she was.
She also said that during the seven days she ended up spending in a Covid unit, she feels that she wasn't treated with dignity.
Barbara was careful to say that she appreciates that all healthcare workers are under enormous stress right now. Her own daughter is a medical assistant working on the front lines, testing people for Covid. Barbara says she’s extremely grateful for the work of all hospital workers during this extremely difficult time. That said, she feels that it's important that the story of her experience be made public.
HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? I’m making it. I’m pushing through. I got a call from my doctor yesterday saying that the pneumonia is gone. I’ve been having mixed emotions. Emotional emotions, really. I’m still waiting for the results of the latest swab test, to tell me if the Covid-19 is still in my system or not.
It was April 5th that I started to get sick. I got kind of a gurgling in my stomach, like hunger pains. I knew that the first signs of Covid are fever, cough, and tightness in the chest. So I wasn’t too worried.
But I was sick enough to go to my primary care clinic, to get checked out. That’s Dr. Anisimova, who's Russian. I’ve been going to her for fifteen years, because she has always taken such good care of me. I trust her and I trust her staff.
Over the next couple of days, I started to feel much worse.
By April 8th, I started running a fever. My body was aching, it was sore to the touch, and my head hurt very badly. I called Dr. Anisimova and she said to come back in the next day.
Since I already had a fever, I decided to go to the emergency room right away. I went to University Hospital. I had taken Tylenol, so by the time I got there, my fever had broken. They asked me a lot of questions. Had I been out of state? Had I been around anyone who had Covid?
I asked if I could be tested for Covid. They said no, because they are short on tests.
My heart rate was fine, but they said they could see that I was getting worse. And they said I probably had Covid. They gave me medication for nausea and for a cough, and they sent me home.
Since they wouldn’t test me, I was treating it like the flu. I was drinking a lot of teas. My husband was giving me Theraflu. But my chest started to feel tight, and my fever wasn't going away.
I wasn't improving, so I went to Dr. Anisimova again. She told me to go get a chest x-ray at the imaging center on Potomac street. I went there, but they said they were only taking healthy patients.
I found another place that would do it. I had to wait a full hour in my car before I could go in.
The next day, April 10th, Dr. Anisimova called to say that the x-ray showed that I had pneumonia.
She told me to go to the emergency room at Rose hospital. So I did, but Rose just sent me home.
I tried to get better at home. But I still wasn’t OK, so by April 13th, Dr. Anisimova’s office said to come back in. She said I was dehydrated. I could barely hold my head up. I was crying, and I was so upset. She said to go back to the ER - that I absolutely had to be admitted.
I was planning to go to University Hospital again, but Dr. Anisimova's nurse practitioner, Ellie, said we don’t like how they treated you. I said, well they didn’t treat me any better at the other hospital, Rose. But Ellie said to try Rose again, anyway.
So I went to Rose again. In the ER they took me back to where the Covid patients were. They said my oxygen was stable and that they were going to send me home again.
I called Dr. Anisimova and told her that. She said, you’re kidding me - and said she would call them.
So then the ER doctor said, what do you want me to do?
I said, I want you to take care of me, because I’m sick!
The ER doctor said, well, all your vitals show that you’re stable.
I said, I’m sick, I can barely hold my head up, and barely walk.
He said, well just hang tight. I’ll let you rest for a bit longer.
I started crying and praying for Jesus to help me.
Twenty minutes later they told me they would take me down for a CT scan.
So they did that, then I had to wait in the room for another 45 minutes.
Finally a nurse practitioner came in and said, you have pneumonia in both of your lungs, we’re going to admit you and keep you for a few days.
He asked me if I wanted to be put on a ventilator, if I got worse.
I said yes.
A nurse came in and said, before we admit you, we have to do a nose swab.
After that, they brought me up to a room.
I don’t know if it was an intensive care unit or not, they call it the Covid floor, the fifth floor.
The first nurse was great. She said my heart goes out to you. She was very compassionate.
Three of the nurses were so nice.
They settled me into the bed and everything.
I was so sick, and they were coming and going.
The next day, I didn’t see the doctor.
They just left me in that room.
I understand that due to Covid there is limited PPE.
But I felt like they didn’t treat me with dignity.
When they brought my food it was cold. They said they couldn't reheat it, they would just have to order another meal - which would take another 45 minutes.
When you have Covid, you lose your sense of taste and smell. Everything has one very particular smell, I can’t describe it. It made it very hard to eat food. I asked for popsicles or ice, since I couldn’t really eat anyway. They would eventually bring those, but it took so long every time.
I had an accident. I had diarrhea. That’s part of Covid. No one came in there and checked on me. I was crying and praying. It felt like, they are leaving me here to die. I felt that from the nurses.
One time, they left me for four hours, with no one checking on me. The clock was right in front of me and I watched it the whole time, crying and praying.
They didn’t even change the sheets on the bed.
And the food tray, I had to clear it myself, throw it in the trash can.
I was so hurt. I felt so degraded. It was like my life didn’t matter.
I was in there for a full week, and I only saw the doctor twice.
When he did come in, he was only there for five minutes each time. He said, you’re one of the better cases.
But you know what, I have never been that sick in my whole life. And I’ve been through cancer, and a cancer recurrence. I’ve been through back surgery. But I never felt anything like Covid.
They didn't tell me what medications they were giving me. I had to ask.
The worst part was the tightness in my chest and feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It felt like something invisible was attacking my body and I couldn’t fight back.
I know this virus is new and that we are all caught off-guard by it. But you still have to treat people with dignity.
I was in there on the 5th floor for seven days, with the door closed all the time. But I could hear so much banging and door slamming all the time. I don’t know if there was a laundry chute next to my room or something. But there was nonstop noise, nonstop slamming.
Once I heard a patient another screaming. That made me very anxious.
I was on an IV and they said I was stable. But I felt so awful. I thought there was a chance I wasn’t going to make it. But I’m religious, I have faith in God, and I knew that I had to trust that he was going to get me through it.
The whole time at Rose, none of my family was allowed in to see me. I know that's because of the Covid protocols. But I felt so isolated. So alone. That’s part of why I was getting so depressed. I felt like nobody cared about me. Nurses are supposed to come in and check on patients every 1-2 hours. But they weren’t doing that. I could sense their fear.
No one came to help me to the bathroom. They said, use the walker. But they would leave the walker far away from my bed, against the wall. I couldn’t walk that far, because of the diarrhea, and because I was throwing up so much.
The whole thing was such an ordeal. Getting turned away from University Hospital. Then getting turned away from Rose Hospital the first time. Then Rose trying to turn me away, again. Knowing how sick I was. They didn’t listen to me. When they finally admitted me, it was only after I fought for it. And after Dr. Anisimova and Ellie fought for me, too.
I want the hospitals to know - you don’t turn people away when they’re coming in sick. I shouldn’t have to come in three times to get admitted. It’s not fair and it’s not right. They told me to go home and quarantine. They told me to treat it like the flu. It’s not the flu!
When I went home after a week at Rose, my daughter - who had already recovered from Covid - she nursed me back to health, more than the hospital did. She got advice from friends in the medical profession and she took such good care of me. And I'm so lucky that my husband was also there taking care of me, and we had help from family friends - including so many prayers from so many loved ones.
The hardest part has been that I can’t see my granddaughter. She’s six and I’m used to being around her all the time. I miss her so much.
The hospital sent me a survey about my experience. When I received that, I called the patient advocate, who directed me to the director of the 5th floor. I told her what I had been through. She said that, since my stay there, they have improved the protocols. She said that now, the charge nurse checks on every patient once every two hours. I hope that’s the case. I told her I understand that the healthcare workers are scared, but that they can’t be showing that to the patients, showing their fear.
I told her that my entire life, I’ve never been treated like that in a hospital. I also told her that I would never again go back there again, after this experience.
* During my phone interview with Barbara on Thursday May 7, Dr. Anisimova's office called her on her other line and informed her that her latest Covid swab had come back negative. She responded, “Thank you, Jesus, I’d been praying I would get this news,” and confirmed with them that she no longer has to stay in isolation from family members who haven’t had the virus.