How To Tell The Difference Between A Hospital And A Meat Factory
Right now, I’m lying in a hospital bed writing this from Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I’ve been admitted with pneumonia and have also been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This facility has gorgeous marble floors, gourmet coffee, great food, a Barnes & Noble adjoined to it and even a gift shop that sells cute little-stuffed animals with eyes full of hope.
But, before I came here I went to the hospital near my apartment which is Woodhull in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Woodhull does not have any of these things. It is tiny and overcrowded. Generally the wait at Woodhull is anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Other patients may have open stab wounds or broken bones, yet sit calmly waiting their turn, with the jaded wisdom to expect less.
I once soaked about 7 hand towels in blood waiting for stitches and didn’t think twice about it.
Something to think about while you bleed out
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There are two neglected vending machines and a filthy water fountain somewhere near the single bathroom that can easily be found by one’s sense of smell. The only TV’s are in the pediatric section and a homeless schizophrenic is always stretched out watching one of them with a forty tucked in his jacket. It’s snowing outside so instead of the TV, I watched a young police officer struggle to find it within himself to throw out the schizophrenic; something they never seem to show in all those ER based melodramas, which ironically are showing on the same TV’s while such mayhem plays out in real life.
In Park Slope, if someone waits more than an hour for their child’s inner ear infection, it’s safe to say a poor young nurse is about to get a Starbucks-fueled ear lashing. At Woodhull they do not offer anything for pain stronger than Tylenol; at Methodist they will give you sizzurp for a cold providing you have the right insurance.
This severe difference in care, based on your zip code and prejudiced by social class disparity, is something I have unfortunately witnessed A LOT of. I’ve been navigating the health system alone since I was 20, homeless, and diagnosed with what is now turning into Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, the artist formerly known as relapse and remit.
“Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, the artist formerly known as relapse and remit”.
Finding a hospital you trust or even feel safe at is an outrageously daunting task. For three weeks last spring I was laid up during another relapse in Queens. The hospital was so tiny that they had to cram me in a room with 4 elderly patients dying of pneumonia. I had an area approximately the size of a twin mattress and an IV to myself. On top of that; MS patients can’t stand heat while severe pneumonia patients need it so I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was. By the time I was finally dispatched they had “Run out of medicare walkers” so all I got was a cane and a referral to an MS clinic somewhere in “Upper Manhattan” aka Harlem.
Their MS clinic was run by what, to me, was perhaps the scariest and most bureaucratic process I had ever witnessed. I walked into a room full of people in different stages of the disease, which is normal. But this room in particular seemed to be in a constant state of a Hieronymus Bosch painting at all times.
Accurate depiction of a horribly run MS clinic
Some fully paralyzed from the neck down, others may look like any other healthy person, still others looking healthy but clearly showing signs of dementia or some other intrusive brain or spinal chord damage; anyway I found my courage and walked up to the intake nurse. As I handed my referral over to her, I was told this was a student hospital; meaning about 15 students were assigned to one certified MS specialist. Basically, I walked in and a doctor my age (27 at the time) instantly insisted I try the newest drug despite my severe reservations due to it’s fatality risk. Then she got a doctor to sign the prescription and I was sent off terrified, confused and ultimately alone. The whole process made me feel like a cow in line to slaughter – the hospital bracelet my ear tag.
Upon calling the pharmacy my doubts were confirmed. The student doctor had not taken the second immune disorder I have, a rather chronic vitamin deficiency, into account. I was at risk for complete renal failure and could have been killed. Needless to say, I was no longer taking my chances at the meat factories that low-income district’s call hospitals.
Suddenly the answer occurred to me. It was simple. I suddenly had a familiar epiphany. I realized that my current problem was the same one I’d been plagued with during my days as a homeless teenager.
I just had to go where the wealthy people were and try my best to blend into the crowd i.e. act like I really thought I deserve better treatment just because of my zip code.
Success! Here I am with walking pneumonia diagnosed after only an hour’s wait, in a comfy bed with sizable space all to myself and my own TV. I was offered Codeine instead of Tylenol for this wretched cough and given a free apple juice when I complained of having dry mouth. To tell you the truth I was kind of hoping to get held overnight. Being on welfare, my apartment doesn’t have heat and is situated in a very cheap, damp cellar space.