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Paging Dr. House

21 Oct Posted by in • Jewelle Gomez | Comments Off on Paging Dr. House
Paging Dr. House

I still call it the ER even though hospital administrators think the phrase “urgent care” conveys a place that will never have to treat GSWs.  I’ve visited quite a few ERs in my life.  Boston City Hospital mostly when I was growing up…a friend’s father with one of those Gun Shot Wounds and an uncle who always visited from New Jersey and had so much fun he often had a heart attack. I felt at home there.

Maybe it was growing up with medical TV shows—I was Team Dr. Kildare not Ben Casey; perhaps I sensed Richard Chamberlain’s gayness even as a kid.  Maybe it was because my mother was a nurse’s aid for years before going back to school to become a nurse.  Maybe it was because I grew up watching “Julia” the first black TV character who was not a stereotype…she was a crisp, clean nurse, by golly.

Even as an adult I loved the show, “ER” for years after everyone gave up on it; especially when they let Kerry, the doctor who walked with crutches, come out as a lesbian.  What appealed to me I think was that the ER was a closed system in which the drama bounced around illuminating all aspects of human nature.

All that said I never thought doctors were gods, even when they did; having a nurse in the family made that delusion impossible.

None of this affinity was that helpful, though, when I found myself in the ER recently.  But there I was in the pre-dawn hours (really is there any other time?) with an undiagnosed pain.  I won’t say which hospital since it could have been any one of the ERs that serve any City.  The medical and clerical staffs of these places work against all the obstacles thrown before them—corporate greed and insurance company treacheries among them—and generally do amazing jobs.

But there’s nothing more disappointing than a western medicine man when he can’t figure something out.  The staff all managed to deal with the idea Diane and I are lesbians.  They were a little thrown by the fact that I’m an older and “fuller figured” and a woman of color but my blood work revealed none of the internal frailties they expect from my demographic.   But three doctors just couldn’t figure out what the pain in my side was.  So they gave me drugs…then they gave me more drugs…then they gave me drugs to stave off the effects of the drugs.

After 12 hours they started talking about admitting me for exploratory surgery and pulled out the ‘do not resuscitate’ forms. I could feel Diane turn to steel as she put the proverbial boot-clad foot down.  As a health-provider herself she’s a fierce advocate for patients and not ignorant of how having the letters ‘Dr.’ in front of one’s name is supposed to make all bow before one. Not her…she’s got her own letters.

It was one of those ‘just say no’ moments that left the nurse, orderly and doc with their jaws on the floor as if we’d pulled out machine guns rather than simply saying: we’re going home.  The docs had no idea what my illness was which was not totally alarming—diagnosis is a fine art.  But the really frightening part of it all was the docs were not listening to us. At one point I kept saying the pain was in my side and my back and they kept saying my stomach!  I couldn’t tell if somehow they’d lost the ability to hear a colored women’s voice or a butch woman’s (Diane’s) voice. It was like those cartoons when the human talks and all the dog hears is “Blah…Blah…Blah.”

A chill ran through me that couldn’t be explained by the thin hospital blanket.  I’ve spent a good part of my life as a lesbian of color demanding to be heard. I had no desire to be surgically explored when I had no idea what the doctors were even writing down on those little electronic note pads that mesmerized them.

We made our escape in a somewhat overused wheel chair that listed to the right like a shopping cart.  Nobody was chasing us or anything dramatic like that but we could feel the staff stares following us as we waited for the elevator.  We’d left so abruptly the back of my hand was still bleeding from where the nurse had removed the IV.  I spent five days sleeping off the drugs…it is not the 1960s any more that’s for sure.  I had some acupuncture treatments and we think we’ve got it taken care of now.

Again I’m not knocking the hospital, I’ve had plenty of other ER experiences that left me wanting to nominate docs, nurses, and parking attendants for sainthood (if I believed in that type of thing). But that ER experience is the only time I was ever grateful to Nancy Reagan.  “Just say no”…doesn’t work that well for drugs or sex but it’s really great in the face of befuddled, self-absorbed doctors.  It’s a good phrase for women to keep in mind.

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.  Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website:

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