I was in the parking lot after a hike last week, when I took a step and as my father would say, that was all she wrote. My lower back exploded in pain. I managed to drive home, took some pills, and settled in for what I assumed would be an uncomfortable evening. But the pain kept increasing, and at 1:00 a.m. woke my husband up to take me to the downtown ER at the Cleveland Clinic.
Going to the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus ER was a big, big mistake and ended up being a traumatic experience instead of a healing one.
They took me back quickly and a resident came shortly thereafter. His examination, moving everything everywhere, increased my pain intensely, but I'm sure it needed done in the manner he did it. He was confused because they'd put me down as having flank pain, not back pain. He asked a lot of questions about my hiking: Oh, you were hiking? First time out? You really hiked four miles? Are you sure you didn't fall? You hike how many miles a week? These were the gist, both then and when he came back later. It became clear he thought I was a fatty out for exercise above what I could do, probably the first time I'd been out in years, and had managed to hurt myself. I also got the feeling they thought I was drug seeking, based on the course of treatment that was yet to come and some of the off-hand comments that were made throughout.
They did not ask what medications I was currently on, nor if I had any allergies. Then a nurse showed up to give me some steroids and Tylenol. Which I am allergic to, which was noted in my chart (Cleveland Clinic has integrated systems, so they had my chart), AND I was wearing an allergy band. Even after my husband and I explained the allergy, the nurse STILL tried to get me to take it. Finally, he left and said he'd speak with the doctor. Thirty minutes later, he came back with a Lidocaine Patch and some heating pads.
I'd like to take a moment to mention I wasn't calmly sitting in a chair. I was crying, laying in a bed, and I'd explained over and over my pain was at a 6-7. I was REALLY in pain.
By 3:30 a.m. no one had come back and the pills I'd taken at 9:00 p.m. had worn off. The pain hit a level nine, and I was crying pretty hysterically and fairly incoherent. My husband kept going and trying to find someone. They couldn't find the Resident. There must have been a shift change, because a nurse helping another room heard me and came in. His name was Michael, and asked what was going on. He was pretty horrified and went to get help. He also brought a blanket and kept me pumped full of ginger ale. Michael was amazing.
Help came in the form of the attending, since no one could find my doctor. They then tried Valium - which is a muscle relaxer, but also treats anxiety. This was followed an hour later by one 5 mg hydrocodone. Followed another hour later by the ORIGINAL resident coming and saying they couldn't give me intravenous drugs, the next step, without admitting me. My pain had gone from a 9 to a 7, but I was still crying. He said to be prepared to do PT and do some work. I responded, again, telling him I'd been in PT for several years and did exercises every day, to which he answered, "Uh, ok." I responded along the lines of, "Whatever you have to do to actually get me some relief, please just do it. Seriously. I've had enough. The first doctor was here and disappeared for two hours, I just need help" I then felt the need to apologize - though I'm not sure why - it wasn't like I was yelling. You could see he was clearly pissed, and he just turned and walked out.
Michael came back a few minutes later to give me morphine, saying the doc was discharging me if I could walk after taking it. But then he discovered I didn't have an IV in, which apparently no one had noticed. One was put in, I got the morphine, and was discharged. The morphine brought the pain to a four, and they gave me scripts for a steroid, five hydrocodone, and more valium. No imaging was done, despite telling them over and over that the pain was different from my original injury and despite numbness in my leg, which I still have.
My self diagnosis is a new herniated disc. I needed help getting the pain under control, and I needed to know that was the issue (and the numbness would go away). They never followed up on the leg after the initial exam. My pain is better than what it was, but still significant.
I feel, frankly, traumatized. I've cried a lot. I was dismissed. I didn't know how to get them to believe me, to help me. I've had nightmares about having to go back, or running in to the doctor in another capacity.
I've worked for years to get to the point where my daily pain level is a 2. I've worked hard to take the least amount of medication possible, to start hiking again. I'm proud of what I accomplished.
I shudder to think if my husband hadn't been there, as I was in too much pain to advocate for myself.
I was dismissed and treated without respect by most of the staff (not Michael) at the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus ER. I felt small, judged, and unworthy.
Because I'm fat.
Because I'm a woman.
Because they assumed I was drug seeking.
I feel embarrassed and ashamed writing this, like I did something wrong. But I didn't. It was their incompetence and bias.
I've been doing a lot of reading on women, pain, and the ER, which I'll post in my next blog update. It's been eye opening.
Shame on you, Cleveland Clinic. Do better.
I'd like to note that the Cleveland Clinic is huge, and all my doctors are with them. This is a review of only one of their ERs/centers. My regular doctor, who is helping get everything back under control, is absolutely amazing. I can't rave about her enough.
Have you ever had a negative ER experience? Been dismissed or marginalized by the medical community because of your gender, skin color, size, etc? Comment below or email me here.