Disclaimer: none of these photos have anything to do with this topic. It is just serious so I am breaking it up with cute photos of my dogs. Also, I am not saying all doctors or emergency personal are bad, I actually have many that I really like, I am just pointing out a flaw in the system when it comes to the treatment of some illnesses.
A few weeks ago, I posted Part one of discrimination and now it is time for the second part. I’ve already discussed the general types of discrimination service dog handlers face but this next part is more towards mental illnesses or other invisible illnesses and the discrimination we face in the healthcare system. When I first started this article, I felt wronged by the treatment I receive when I have medical emergencies. But I am starting to realize I am not alone.
The idea to write this post started back in November, but this instances wasn’t the first it just became the one that toppled everything over. As most of you know I have breathing issues and grew up diagnosed with asthma. One night in November, Luckily while Andrew was home, I had my first asthma attack in 8 years. It probably comes as no surprise but this attack triggered a panic attack, which then triggered another anxiety attack. For those of you that are luckily enough to never have experienced one I am going to explain a little bit. Asthma literally restricts the amount of air you can get into your system. If left untreated it can be deadly. A panic attack on the other hand is “not life threatening” and there for is treated differently. When the breathing issues started, I took my inhaler but the thought of how bad it was, triggered a panic attack right after. I want to focus on the panic attack though because it becomes very important. Panic attacks are commonly mistaken for heart attacks. It feels like you are being stabbed and you can’t breathe and everything goes numb except for the blinding pain in the center of your chest. For me, my face goes numb right after the pain starts, then the numbness spreads starting at my fingers then my toes until I feel like I can not move, usually the shaking and the cold and the gasping of breath follow. Sounds serious right?
Okay, back to the story, after the panic attack and second asthma attack started Andrew called 911, even though I begged him not to (apparently making sure I can breathe out weighs what I want, ha). The first people to arrive were the fire fighters. I loved the FF they were fantastic. Then came the paramedics followed by the police. I was in the bedroom on the floor (feeling like death) and Andrew was with the police officer and one EMT in the living room. The other EMT came into the bedroom to “Help” that is when everything went down hill. You see the FF were taking my vitals and trying to get me to breathe I focused on them long enough to state my age, and 2 of my meds before losing it. That was long enough for the paramedic to loudly whisper to the other one “Great, a psych patient”. With those 4 words I lost hope. The fire fighter looked unhappy but was too focused on me to say anything. That’s when the EMT said, “what is your name” I gasped “Valerie” he told me to say my full name and that he couldn’t understand that. I pointed to Andrew in the other room but the guy said “you need to say this.” When I gasped I can’t he said, “you just need to calm down, it is only panic and I need to stop.” This sounds harsh and those reading it probably are thinking I am making this up but I am not. The Firefighter got me to the point that I was okay enough that he and the other guy left. So did the police officer and that left us with the to paramedics and the one guy looked at us and said “Valerie, why did you call us and what do you want to come out of it.” Basically he told us there wasn’t much they could do, and they could take me to the hospital but there isn’t much they could do either. By now I was wiped out and just wanted bed so I lied and said I was fine. At that point I was “a psych patient” that wouldn’t be taken seriously.
The said part is, I am not alone in this case. I know so many people who have shared similar stories, be it waiting 5 hours to be seen in an ER or going through doctor after doctor for an invisible illness because we aren’t taken seriously. I mean when doctors cant see and find a specific cause for the issue, sometimes I think they give up and pass us to the next or tell us to go home. The thing that always gets me is that if I didn’t have “psych” as a label, I would have been rushed to the ER with possible heart issues. Lots of people go in for their first panic attack because it feels like a heart attack; some people are lucky and never experience that again. Others may go to the doctor for their second but by the time you have had 5 or more, you stop going because then you become a drug seeker as labeled by the ER.
This doesn’t happen only to psychiatric sufferers though, this happens to so many others with invisible pain. We become treated as less of a person because of our illness. Which is ironic because they are all illnesses and the people who suffer from them still need help. It shouldn’t matter whether you are a one time only migraine sufferer or the chronic migraine sufferer, if it is bad enough that you need medical treatment, it should be given equally. If I am going in for an asthma panic attack, I should still be treated with the same respect as the family of a child with a broken arm. Whether its visible or not, it still matters.
There is a reason I am so patient about this topic and it’s not because of one instance. About a week before that night in November, I started having breathing issues, the doctors ran a test and ruled out asthma but here I am three months later with a worsening chest pain and shortness of breath. I am 25 years old and can barely walk to my mailbox. Because of my wedding in January, whenever I called they told me it was anxiety and stress causing the pain. Now here I am a month after the wedding and it hasn’t gone away and finally a doctor is taking me seriously and running more tests. I am just thankful something is finally being done.
While I mainly focused on ‘in the medical field” this same prejudice happens with outsiders as well. I have had a panic attack in the middle of a grocery store, gasping for breath with Bella next to me, and have had people give me the, she’s crazy look and walk away. I’ve been told, “oh I don’t believe in depression” or if you just pray harder it will go away. I’ve had friends told there is no treatment and they’ve tried everything so that’s just that. I’ve been told medication isn’t needed and I just need diet, exercise, and a vitamin plan and all my problems will go away. I have come to learn “my illness doesn’t matter as much as others”. That’s so sad that any of us
I am not telling these stories for sympathy, I am telling these stories as a cautionary tale. Whether you come in contact with invisible disabilities because of your friends, family or profession, I beg you, never lose the compassion to treat all people equally regardless of a diagnosis because I, like many others, are not defined by a diagnosis.