When Prejudice Takes Priority Over Care


Admitting Nurse: “You say she’s confused. But you just said she’s 92 years old–of course she’s confused. What’s the symptom that made you bring her here today?”

Me: “I don’t care if she’s one-HUNDRED and two! She’s NOT senile. She’s sharper than I am! She does the Times crossword puzzle every day. She beats me at Scrabble with words like ‘toque’–do YOU know what that means? She’s funny, and witty! Her confusion IS her symptom—it’s why I brought her in!”

We’re in the E/R of a well-known Los Angeles hospital. Let’s call it…Geezers Die-Die. “We” is me and my close friend Millie.

Today, Millie stayed in bed for hours. When her husband’s helper Marcus knocked on her bedroom door and asked if she was okay (Millie’s husband has a part-time helper because he has Alzheimers), Millie complained of a bad headache. Marcus is a wonderful man—smart, and always considerate. He was concerned, and gave me a call.

I raced, as much as one can in L.A. traffic, to Millie’s Beverly Hills home. Her answers to my questions didn’t come quickly enough. The woman is whip-smart and sassy, but now there was a time-delay, as if we were communicating Earth to Moon. So I rushed my Moon friend to the E/R.

Along the way, her responses became more and more sluggish, and the content of her answers even closer to outer space (Me: Millie, is there anything you want me to bring you from home later?” Millie: “I think that the place with the trees would be just lovely.”)

Click to See in Lovely 3D! (But Use Your Browser’s Back-Arrow to Come Back to ME)

What a relief to reach the famous Geezers and their E/R and know that—how to put this delicately—Millie’s head would be examined! Because, clearly, something had gone wrong up there. I assumed she had experienced a mini-stroke, although she had no actual slurred speech or paralysis.

What I never expected was the extreme and outrageously-abusive ageism that Millie and I encountered–The ageism that caused Geezers to leave my friend laying in bed untreated for three long days–The ageism that unnecessarily cost her much of her strength and balance, and a portion of her former wit.

The admitting staff outright REFUSED to accept that the sole reason I brought Millie to the E/R—the primary admitting symptom—was her mental confusion, which followed on the heels of a severe headache.

The horrifically-obnoxious E/R individuals literally argued with me that confusion in someone of Millie’s advanced years was merely a given—never a symptom. The situation worsened when they asked for a list of Millie’s medications.

We phoned Millie’s house so that Marcus could read her prescription bottles. When it came out that Marcus was a medical aide—oh, well, that sealed it. Immediately, the horrible ageist a-holes turned to me and said “I thought you said she wasn’t SENILE?”

I said “She ISN’T! Marcus isn’t MILLIE’S helper—he’s the caregiver for her HUSBAND!”. Marcus said the same thing. The Geezers staff did not care. Any aide in a house with old people proves that all old people in the house need help, and need it because they all lack mental accuity.

Apparently Not.

Finally, though, after much further effort, I thought I had at last succeeded in getting my message across. Millie was admitted. I left. I continued to check on her progress, and notified her extended family of what had occurred.

Millie’s condition worsened rapidly. By day three, she was close to death. And no wonder:

The stupendous, fantastic, oh-so-impressive Geezers had only been humoring me by pretending to listen during those last moments in the E/R. They continued to ignore the primary admitting symptoms of confusion following major headache.

They ran all sorts of tests on Millie, running up her bill, BUT OVER THE COURSE OF THREE DAYS, NOT ONE BRAIN SCAN.

Turns out, Millie’s headache had been caused by an aneurysm. A very tiny one. But due to Geezers Die-Die‘s negligence, the tiny bleed had been allowed to continue uninterrupted for three days, all the hell over Millie’s formerly-brilliant brain.

Geezers had even managed to accelerate the bleed, after deciding to place Millie on a blood thinner—just because. Had they bothered to scan the brain of a woman admitted with symptoms of severe headache followed by rapidly-accelerating mental confusion, they wouldn’t have done that. Whoops.

“Just a Little Brain Bleed” by Jane Pettijean–Millie’s Could Have Stayed Little…

After they finally realized their error, there was so much damage, everyone at Geezers wrote Millie off. Happily for Millie, her neurologist and family physician did not.

This woman was in fantastic shape beforehand, physically and mentally–before Geezers got to her, that is–so she made an amazing recovery. It took time, but post-Geezers Millie is still witty and still does crossword puzzles.

She did lose her independence: Thanks to Geezers, she lost her ability to balance and to drive herself–she had been an excellent driver. I thought she should sue, and so did her neurologist, but Millie is just too darn nice.

So the Geezers Die-Die folk learned absolutely nothing from their abuse of her, and have probably continued to treat older people with exactly as much disdain as ever.

Well, most people younger than 40 assume all old people are senile and incompetent anyhow, don’t you? Just wait, children, just wait.

Footnote:

The first picture is not of Millie (she wouldn’t like her picture on the web), but is very similar to her and her usual expression of cheerful kindness.

2014-03-10–shrank pics; page was draggy.
2014-02-22–changed title from “Hippocrates vs. Hippocrites” etc., ’cause it was clever, but didn’t apply, AND, I later noticed, because I misspelled “hypocrites” (blush!).

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14 Comments

  1. I help take care of an elderly relative who is 84. One of the things I have learned through her medical journey is that dementia/senility/Alzheimer’s is NOT a given part of aging, but it is definitely an assumption made by others and in your friend’s case, a nearly deadly one. Glad that she has you in her corner. I wish that she had sued, because unfortunately in this country’s healthcare system, loss of profit and reputation is the only way to make changes. However, that’s a huge burden to take on and not her responsibility.

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    • Your relative is lucky to have YOU. In terms of it not being Millie’s responsibility, I’m not so sure about that–if she were younger, would we say/think that? Although, OTH, I don’t think it’s ageism to acknowledge that most older folk have less energy than younger, and certainly fewer years left, and should not be burdened with time- and energy-sucking lawsuits. I wish her family had chosen to take it on.

      The dementia assumptions start so friggin’ early. This is youth culture land here in L.A. As soon as my best friend here and I turned 40, male waiters started calling us “honey” and talking to us in a patronizing way. My response is always to call them “honey” back, and speak my first responses to them in EXACTLY the same manner. That has ALWAYS cured them, immediately.

      (This did not work during the years I lived in Florida, where many males simply divide females into two classes: Under 25: Mindless rolling display carts for boobs and asses. Over 25: Invisible.) Shoot. Shoulda turned all THAT into a post! Maybe I’ll copy it and still will…

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  2. Reblogged this on The Zombies Ate My Brains and commented:

    This post is the stuff of my dreams: as in nightmares. Our medical system is f*cked. And I’m getting old.

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    • Oh, Maggie, the word a blogger loves to hear: “reblogged”. It’s that same tinkle of silver bells when a fairy gets its wi–no, wait…that’s an angel. Well, it’s a really nice sound of some sort, anyhow. Thank you.

      Oh! I know! It’s the sound when you first tear open the bag of chocolate chip cookies, and the taste of the first bite when you know you’re going to eat the entire bagful. I never feel guilty. On these occasions, every one of those cookies is essential to my emotional well-being.

      It is too bad we can’t cure all of our medical ills so easily. But we can definitely cure many of the ills of old age with intermittent chocolate pig-outs. (Millie is living proof. She is a chocolate FIEND.)

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      • You delight me. I realized after I reblogged that I used a naughty word in my very first communication with you. Not exactly the first impression I was after, but there you are. I too found you via Michelle. Here’s to a long and happy readership!

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  3. The way you wrote this, so witty and hilarious! I enjoyed reading. The scenario— soo frustrating! I can relate, my father had a similar experience. I have to thank the Green Study for bringing me here, I think I’m gonna like it here,😊

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    • Thank you so much! I’m sorry your father had to go through anything like this.

      I know I’m going to like have you along : ) I post in bursts–sometimes every week, sometimes not for a while–so I won’t drown you in material, but I’ll try to keep it interesting.

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  4. Medical practitioners can be incredibly narrow minded – your story is probably one of many for older people and the sad things is as you said they probably haven’t learnt a thing from their horrendous and stupendous mistake that cost your friend a great deal. My husband and I face a similar situation for different reasons. Michael has schizophrenia, however he is one of the luckier ones as he is able to recognize that what he sees and hears on occasion is not real despite the overwhelming visual and aural hallucinations. He works full time in mental health, sits on a number or policy making committees, has published two books and is completing his masters in the field. A while ago he started to lose weight, at first it seemed OK but it was too rapid and he was becoming exhausted at the drop of a hat. So we went to the doctor – who took one look at his diagnosis and decided Michael must be depressed and not eating and I was being fooled by a crafty mental health patient. He wouldn’t listen and when he did deign to order bloods tests they were to determine Michael’s medication levels as he assumed he was being ‘non-compliant’. This was the same with two other GP’s so finally Michael spoke to the people he worked with (lucky us he works for Qld Health) who immediately admitted him and did the full battery of tests – he had developed the first stage of colon cancer – called Barretts, at this stage is can be treated easily and quite effectively but had much more time passed he would have been into the second stage and from there things can get much worse very quickly. Those GP’s could have killed him because they refused to see beyond their own prejudice regarding mental health the same way those ER idiots wouldn’t see past their ageism.

    It makes me angry even now just thinking about it and I’m so sorry your friend had to go through what she did – it should never have happened. Did they ever admit fault?

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    • I am so very glad your husband’s cancer was caught in time despite his doctors’ best care (yes–just listen to what we’re saying…yikes). BTW, have a post on my own schizophrenia, or what I’ve been told is or was, in which you may be interested (it should have been two posts–it’s the second half of the post “Victory Over the Devil’s Minions”, I mean: https://outlierbabe.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/victory-over-the-devil/

      I don’t know if error was ever admitted because Millie’s family–distant (in both senses)–shut me out. Back then, they were highly suspicious of me, assuming I was out to take financial advantage (due to the age difference). I’d lied to the hospital, saying I was a relative (I do this regularly to gain access to elderly friends, if we are close, or they have no one else to visit them, but once Millie’s relatives ratted me out and I could get no more medical news except from her wonderful neurologist.

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  5. Thank God I didn’t have similar circumstances in Nashville in 2002 when I had my first TIA. Nor when I was in California and went to Hoag hospital. The ER staff quickly gave me an injection. Did an MRI. And I am healthy because of it.

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    • I am glad for you, and grateful, too, on your behalf. I know what occurred with Millie cannot happen everywhere, but I know from my sister that it happened some with my mom, and I am sure it happens more than never elsewhere and when.

      Just the fact that in our American culture, medical “professionals” consider it both socially acceptable and legal to immediately turn to anyone in their 40s or 50s who is standing beside someone in their 60s-through-90s and start talking to THEM about the older person’s medical conditions and planned course of treatment, rather than talk to the older person–THAT is indicative of a serious underlying issue.

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  6. Thank God you are a faithful friend to Millie.

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  7. Paul

     /  2014/09/04

    It’s not as uncoomon as you may think OB. Medical professionals form opinons after years of practice and they carry those opinions over to expectations when greeting a new patient. They have a set of prejudices that they bring to the table everytime. Some more so than others. Some are brighter and more aware and are capable of being open each time but those are rare. Like all professions, the smarter ones see and the duller ones go by routine. It can be dangerous, as you found out. I’ve had a few similar brushes with the medical community. I had exactly the same cancer as Jenni’s husband and spent many months in hospital and saw this problem over and over. It really is necessary for the patient to either have an advocate or paradoxically, be at their sharpest and most aware when they are sick in hospital.

    I’m glad that Millie had you to speak for her OB or it would have turned out even worse than it did. Great post.

    Oh, on another topic, I posted a guest post today over at Cordelia’s Mom http://cordeliasmomstill.com/2014/09/04/red-stars-guest-post-by-paul-curran/comment-page-1/#comment-3270 . I’d love it if you had time to drop by and take a look. Thanks OB.

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    • Paul, this is truly a serendipitous moment: I was literally just thinking about you, worried, and was going to shoot off an email because I hadn’t heard in so long and was concerned about your health. VERY relieved to hear again!–and hope all is as well as… of course!

      Thank you for the “great”! Will head over to the link now 🙂

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