5.22.2007

King vs. The Times - The Rodriguez incident

The gist of the story:

In the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Edith Isabel Rodriguez was seen as a complainer.

Parked in the emergency room lobby in a wheelchair after police left, she fell to the floor. She lay on the linoleum, writhing in pain, for 45 minutes, as staffers worked at their desks and numerous patients looked on.

(...she continued 'acting crazy'...so forth and so on until)

She was wheeled to the patrol vehicle and the door was opened so that she could get into the back. When officers asked her to get up, she did not respond. An officer tried to revive her with an ammonia inhalant, then checked for a pulse and found none. She died in the emergency room after resuscitation efforts failed. The times article

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The Responses*:

"Classic! Blame it on one person and the rest are not to blame. I love the scapegoat!"

Maybe the fact that she was previously seen and discharged only hours before, coupled with a history of repeat visits and what sounds like excessive histrionics, played a part in nobody "bothering" to take "the most minimal interest in her."

It is really an indictment of the overwhelmed collapsing health care system particularly in our inner cities. Do you really think those doctors and nurses went in to the field so that they could ignore dying patients who were writhing in pain? Of course not. When everyday you are confronted with an unending stream of patients, some of whom are truly sick and dying and many who aren’t but think they are dying, it is hard not to become cold as you become overwhelmed. Everybody else looks at the video and sees a dying woman on the floor. The triage nurse probably saw someone who had already been through the ER many times and was probably just looking for attention. I’ve actually watched patients walk across the parking lot completely normally, only to collapse in pain at the triage desk. The resulting callousness isn’t right but it is nearly inevitable.

The employees at King aren't "cold and indifferent", but rather they were forced to be jaded. The triage at King is a chaotic no-man's land with homeless people, gang members, and psych patients. 2 inches of bulletproof glass separates the patients from the triage desk. It's not uncommon to have several patients screaming, while another one bangs on the window demanding immediate service. The situation is almost impossible to deal with. I never ventured into that waiting room when I was there. It was quite frightening.The lady described in that article is just like fifteen other IVDA patients I knew there. They would smoke crack, or shoot up, then run out of money and come to the ED. They would go into fits of histrionics for chest pain, abdominal pain, or for any other complaint. The problem was, that a small percentage of the time these people were actually sick, but you couldn't tell the difference between when they were sick, and when they were trying to abuse the system. Every time any of these people were discharged it was like a roll of the dice. Apparently the physician who last discharged this lady lost that dice roll.

That's the LA Times for you. I take everything that I read from them about King with a grain of salt. The times has an agenda....

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Take home point?
This sort of thing shouldn't happen - but it does. It happens all across America, everyday. King just happens to be under the microscope these days, but don't be naive and think that it doesn't happen...everywhere (even at the uspscale hospitals). Until a better system is established, it's important to realize that any of us could have been this patient. But here's a tip that just might make a difference for you, or your family member - When you go to the ED, it's best to *not* show your ass. Just act...normal. If you act crazy, people think you're crazy...and you will be treated as a crazy person (i.e ignored). Sick people tend to be...quiet...and dying. And eventhough the nurse was wrong about this one...it's the patient who really lost. So...if you happen to be a sick patient one day and come into the ER - cooperate, communicate, and pull it together enough to not be dismissed as crazy (and tell your family/friends to do the same).
- especially if you happen to be at County.



(*responses from multiple people, on a message board)