Digby calls this story as an example of health care being fucked up. And it is. But there’s something else going on here, too:
In the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Edith Isabel Rodriguez was seen as a complainer.
“Thanks a lot, officers,” an emergency room nurse told Los Angeles County police who brought in Rodriguez early May 9 after finding her in front of the Willowbrook hospital yelling for help. “This is her third time here.”
The 43-year-old mother of three had been released from the emergency room hours earlier, her third visit in three days for abdominal pain. She’d been given prescription medication and a doctor’s appointment.
Turning to Rodriguez, the nurse said, “You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do,” according to a report by the county office of public safety, which provides security at the hospital.
“I am completely dumbfounded,” said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has seen the video recording.
“It’s an indictment of everybody,” he said. “If this woman was in pain, which she appears to be, if she was writhing in pain, which she appears to be, why did nobody bother … to take the most minimal interest in her, in her welfare? It’s just shocking. It really is.”
And that’s the idea that hey, it was the third time she’d come back to the emergency room. She must have wanted drugs, or attention, or something to which she wasn’t entitled. She must have been running some kind of scam. She must have been just trying to be a pain in the ass, as the article states, a complainer, and who has time for that, anyway?
We’re all so goddamn sure these days, of everybody else’s life. We’re sure everybody’s lying, looking for money, wanting a favor, trying to get something from us. We’re sure that if we give that homeless guy money he’s gonna spend it on booze. We’re sure that if we donate to charity it’s never gonna get to the people it’s supposed to help. We’re sure everybody on public assistance is just too lazy to work and we’re sure that everybody who got hurricane relief money just blew it on plasma TVs.
We have these stories in our heads about people who speak Spanish in the grocery store and about how they’re illegal immigrants who can’t learn English. We have these stories about young black schoolchildren and how they want iPods instead of textbooks. We have these stories about Generation Y and how they’re all flashing their titties on the MySpace. We have these stories about liberals who don’t care if the terrorists win, and we have these stories about the government taking all our money.
We have these assumptions about the lady with the screaming kid in the doctor’s office, about how she’s a terrible parent. We have these assumptions about the man with cancer, and how he should be spending less time at work and more with his family. We have these assumptions about how the guy across the street is gay, or not, and we make up these little narratives, and use them to justify our positions, true or false, and we don’t allow others to challenge them. Nothing is as powerful as something we only think we know.
We have these assumptions and they’re not harmless, not when they’re used as the basis of public policy, not when they’re used to justify ignoring someone in pain. A far greater threat than even malice is our certainty that, when we look at somebody, we know what they’re all about. People talk a lot about white middle America being fat and being lazy and being mean, but I think the larger problem is we’re certain.
We’re certain we know exactly who’s trying to do what, and we’re not going to let anybody’s screams distract us from the story we’ve told ourselves about her in our heads.