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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, November 12, 2007

Am I overreacting?

OK, so I have a not-so-hypothetical for you.

As I write this, Mrs. B is in the surgical recovery room at our friendly neighborhood hospital. Why am I writing a blog post and not by her side? Because I'm not allowed back there yet, and because I'm half loopy for lack of sleep, and because I'm so happy that the docs say she's gonna be alright.

Business first: Mrs. B suffered what appeared to be a pretty serious postpartum complication late last night/early this morning, and lost a lot of blood. We've pretty much been at a hospital since 3 a.m. I say "a" hospital, because our true neighborhood hospital, which is about five minutes from our house, discharged her at around lunch time today and sent her to her doctor's private office, because he wanted her examined further by his partner. Upon conducting that exam, the partner basically concluded that Mrs. B shouldn't have left the hospital and that she needed a simple surgery to correct the problem that manifest last night. So the partner sent us to another hospital a little further away to prep for surgery, which brings us to the here and now.

Thanks in advance for prayers, concerns, etc. Mrs. B is actually doing very well, and the problem that manifest last night, while scary, was quickly and easily fixed this evening in surgery.

What can I tell you? What doesn't kill you.... I'm telling you, she and I joke almost daily that we've squeezed about 50 years worth of those life's lessons our elders keep telling us about into the past 12 months. If they gave out a trophy for positive outlook and pragmatism, Mrs. B would get it. I have to give her credit. By nature, I'm way more cynical than she is about human suffering and way more likely to jump to the conclusion that the Cosmos hates us, or at least hates me, and is making us both pay karma in spades because of it. She is taking things in stride. I am learning from her.

So knowing that Mrs. B is OK, let's move on to my not-so-hypothetical. At one point early this morning when we were in the E.R. of the first hospital, I left to run back to our house and get Mrs. B a few things, let the dog out and clean the stupid cat's litter box.

As I walked out of the E.R., I noticed out of the corner of my eye a scruffy, middle-aged gent with several serious-looking scrapes and bruises about his face, hovering in front of an E.R. room. In a split second, I assumed he had been in an accident or something and was maybe there to be treated himself or was waiting outside the room of someone close to him who was being treated. I thought nothing more of the guy and kept going.

When I returned to the hospital 35 minutes later, the guy was gone, I noticed a city cop on hospital security detail hovering around the triage desk, and the atmosphere felt slightly different.

I got back to Mrs. B's room, and the curtain was half open. I'd left it closed. She appeared to be resting comfortably. I walked in with her things, took a seat, and picked up where I'd left off on my coffee. Something was bothering her, and knowing how much "secrets" annoy me, Mrs. B told me something to the effect of "JB, I don't want you getting angry, but that guy who was out in the hall in front of that other room? Well the police dragged him away. He came over here after you walked away. You had barely gotten around the corner, when he walked over here."

So the guy walked up to Mrs. B's room, stuck his head in and asked "Was that your boyfriend?" Mrs. B replied "No, my husband." The guy shoots back, "Oh, a nigger."

Let us pause here for a second: My temper dictates that I should have walked around the E.R. till I found this guy, and then beaten him like he stole something. But my common sense dictates that I am too pretty to go to jail. Him referring to me that way isn't what bothered me. This was a guy who looked like he might think 1 + 1 equals 11. It would have taken a little more for him to offend me....It was him getting within a few feet of my wife, unchecked - that he had the nerve to approach her, and the cowardice to do it after I'd walked away. Still, if I'm going to be honest, it's my occasional, but still too frequent, run-ins with guys like him that make me wonder if I maybe I should be an angry militant dude. As far as I'm concerned, turning the other cheek only works twice, unless you're gonna bend over and let whoever kick you in your butt cheeks. But that's another post another time.

Again, I did not react to that idiot's language. I did react, however, to the fact that in an E.R. swarming with armed security guards and a sworn police officer, this nut job could walk right up to my wife's room and poke his head in. No one noticed, no one stopped him. No one questioned him.

Ultimately, police dragged him off and he was taken to a psych ward in the hospital for a 72-hour observation.

As I tried to calm down and flush my thoughts of hurting this man, Mrs. B went on to tell me that a nurse had relayed that the guy was brought into the ER by police - as a patient, not as an inmate in custody - because he had sustained his injuries in a bar fight.

So I went to the triage desk and confronted everyone I could. I wanted a police report. And I wanted to know why, if this guy had been in a bar fight, security hadn't kept a closer eye on him. Even if he had not started the fight, he had still engaged his opponent, and in my civilian mind that warrants a little more scrutiny - especially if there was any chance he was still under the influence of alcohol.

The E.R. director initially defended her staff by saying she couldn't verify why this man had been brought to the hospital or by whom and that he wasn't displaying aggressive behavior when he was admitted, so no one had any reason to watch him a little more closely.

Later, after we had moved on to Mrs. B's doctor's office, the E.R. director called me and said the nurse had been incorrect, that the guy had not been brought in by police for any reason. He was homeless, and had wandered into the E.R. claiming he had been assaulted.

So that let's the cops off the hook. But tell me if I'm nuts here: I don't think it lets the E.R. staff or E.R. security off the hook. See, if I as a total stranger walk up to you, grimy, bruised, beaten, and sullen, with furtive mannerisms, and I tell you I need help, you may help me, but just by virtue of my appearance and my attitude, I'll bet you're also going to keep one eye or the corner of an eye trained on me just in case.

Am I right? Or am I overreacting? I mean, I'm no doctor or nurse. Just a journalist, but common sense dictates to me that I would have watched that guy a little more than say the little old lady who walked in clean, calm, and collected. Call it profiling if you want. I call it a sensible precaution.

That's it. Nothing more to this story. The E.R. director called me a couple times more, as if she was trying to change my mind. I suspected though, having gotten my business card (when I demanded on the way out that someone call me quickly and give me answers), that she was concerned that if they didn't appease me I might become the boogey man and write something negative about them in the newspaper. Sorry, that only happens in the movies.

Anyway, thoughts, please?

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  • i agree, but maybe instead of watching him, depending on how busy er is, spend 5 minutes treating whatever minor injuries he has, and kick him out ... problem solved. In a major sydney hospital, unless you get to go in the back door via the ambulance, i'm pretty sure you had to be buzzed in through a door from triage or the waiting room, so there's no way anybody such as the homeless guy could get as far as he did.

    By Anonymous insomniac, at 9:49 PM  

  • How scary! I can't imagine how frightening that might have been for Mrs. B!

    I'm glad she is OK and you kept your cool. I'm sure she is depending on you right now.

    By Anonymous girlsnap, at 12:13 AM  

  • As frightening - and maddening as well - a circumstance like that would have to be, I really think you handled it all in the best manner possible.
    Quite a rough night and day too you and Mrs. B had - glad to hear though that things have been taken care of properly for her now and the healing from here on out will be swift and the best possible. Prayers for both of your though.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 4:45 AM  

  • Emergency rooms don't have nearly the security they should have. I know it's because it gets hectic and busy (etc etc etc) but it seems a no-brainer to have patients separated from non-patients and someone guarding that barrier. There's a reason hospitals and emergency rooms are hi-theft locations. There are so many people walking around unchallenged, anything can happen. The major incidents get published, but how often are there minor occurrences that never make the news?

    I'm glad Mrs. B wasn't hurt or scared, and I think that yes, you are within your rights to challenge the staff. I hope something positive comes from what happened with your wife.

    (But I still think you should find him and kick his ass.) :-)

    By Blogger SWF42, at 10:11 AM  

  • Two things my friend - if the Emergency Room was busy there's a tendency in Emergency Rooms for it to look one way in the waiting area and another way in the medical area. I am speaking after having worked for many years in a medical facility.

    On the other hand since as you say the man was down on his luck and looked it there is something else that Emergency Areas do and that is sometimes they allow, not as a matter of policy but sometimes they allow people who are down on their luck to come in and sit down and just have a place of respite.

    I do not pretend to be associated with any hospital now or certainly not that one but my guess is that people had gotten used to this man or some others like him and did not know that he could be a hazard. I am not trying to make excuses for anyone for you have been wounded. Nevertheless you asked and this is what I have to offer.

    By Blogger Robert Shapiro, at 11:41 AM  

  • You are to be commended.

    Me, I'd be off somewhere right now, finding a place where small forest critters would gradually and thoroughly dispose of the remains of a dipwad.

    By Anonymous og, at 11:46 AM  

  • First let me say I share your outrage. I want fly 5 hours to Florida and help you take the guy down.

    But first I have to ask a question. Were you ever stopped on your way in to visit your wife?

    If the answer is no, then why question if anyone else was stopped or why they weren't stopped? Hospitals by their nature are very difficult to control from a security standpoint. Everyone expects that patients will have visitors.

    I lived in a smallish town for a long time and have visited my share of people in the hospital. It wasn't uncommon to glance in to a room and see someone else I knew on my way out from a visit. I would naturally pop in to wish them well. How would security have stopped me from doing this?

    While I despise the individual who did this, I can't really find fault in the hospital or security staff. Security in a hospital is 90% of the time a reactive force. If something happens, they react, the other 10% is proactive, if something looks out of the ordinary they'll question it.

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 1:23 PM  

  • You guys are proof that horrible things happen to great people and I'm so sorry about that.
    I'm the kind of person that can take a lot, and people can generally say whatever they want to me but if they threaten, in any way, someone I love I can go a little nutso, so I know where you're coming from.
    All that said - you guys are still in my prayers.

    By Blogger WNG, at 2:00 PM  

  • Insomniac, that makes sense, treat 'im and boot 'im. There was no reason for that guy to be hanging out.

    Girlsnap, you are correct. i prioritized Mrs. B, and that's partly what kept me from hunting this guy down and sticking my boot in his behind.

    Jeni, as always I appreciate the kind thoughts. And that's what we're hoping, that from here on out the healing happens quickly.

    SWF42, I know you're right. They get really busy in there. That knowledge is what stopped me from cussing at people. Still I'm glad you feel me. Maybe I'll get a chance in the next life to stomp this guy...legally.

    Robert, you make a lot of sense. Except in this case this guy hadn't been allowed to hang out in the E.R. 'cause he had nowhere to go. He had been formally admitted as a patient. But once admitted, he was free to wander the patient area and stroll unfettered into other patients' rooms. I don't mind them allowing the homeless to hang around the hospital for respite. This was different.

    Og, as always we're on the same page.

    WavemanCali, you always challenge me well. But I win this one. We're talking apples and oranges. First, they did stop me on the way into the emergency room. In order for me to get out of the waiting area, past the security desk, and into the patient area where my wife was being treated, I had to give a picture ID to the armed guard at the front desk, so he could scan it and print me a security pass to stick to my shirt. And each time I left the E.R. and returned, that visitor's ID sticker had to be visible. So yes, I was well within reason to expect screening of everyone headed into the patient area. Also, based on your last paragraph his appearance and attitude should have qualified as out of the ordinary.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 2:23 PM  

  • WNG, thank you. Mrs. B is a good person. Not so sure about me. Trust me, that's not fake self-deprecation.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 2:24 PM  

  • Ooof, James Burnett. Ooof, on all accounts.

    So glad Mrs. B. is alright, and you don't need me to tell you that your anger is valid.


    By Anonymous 123Valerie, at 4:34 PM  

  • I would be pissed. There is a certain level of privacy you'd expect at a hospital which apparently is not what you or your wife got. Ugh. I hope she and you are doing better.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:04 PM  

  • I'm SO proud of you for not going ballistic!! And it's a tough call, not knowing the layout of the place. If the nurses were busy in another area, with a trauma or something, there might not have been enough of them to watch the dude. My husband used to work in an ER...but then, he worked in a place that had doors you had to be buzzed thru in order to get to patient rooms. It's also possible that they knew him as a local homeless dude, and thought him harmless, but won't admit it.

    I would be livid...and if your wife hadn't felt so poorly, I'd bet she would have beat his sorry ass. And you're a better person for not doing so, but DAMN.

    Hope she is feeling better. Your ordeal puts my stolen tree incident in complete perspective.

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 5:12 PM  

  • James, I am so damn sorry to hear that about Mrs. B. I'm sending my thoughts and prayers for ya both.

    It does seem like they should have kept a closer eye on the guy. I'm just sorry that had to happen to you guys on top of everything else. And I don't want to sound condescending, but I'm proud of you for staying with Mrs. B and not chasing the guy down. That would be anyone's natural instinct, and I'm sure you were seeing blood when it happened.

    Hang in there.

    By Blogger fiwa, at 11:44 PM  

  • I somehow missed the post about your loss. I am so sorry.

    and as for security - in my local hospital (okay, the town has a population of 50,000 - so it's not big city) BUT - you can only gain admittance to the ER rooms through a door that needs to be Buzzed open by the admitting person...otherwise, you are sitting in the waiting room. I'm surprised more hospitals don't do this - especially big city ones.

    By Anonymous Karmyn R, at 7:01 PM  

  • I was ready to grab him by the lip and turn him inside out.

    But, like you said, he was certifiably crazy -- and you can't lock them up anymore except if they agree or if proven to be dangerous.

    So glad everything is fine with your wife. What a hard turn this year for her.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 10:15 PM  

  • I'm going to try to go for something different. I absolutely agree with you that Mrs. B's health and condition was the paramount issue. Nothing else comes close in the importance arena.

    Next, emergency rooms cannot simply treat and release all patients. The two times I went to the emergency room this year, I was stabilized in the e.r. and then sent into the hospital proper when a bed became available. a few hospital patients come in through the e.r.

    Unfortunately, someone else has already pointed out that you weren't challenged going back to your wife's room either when you returned to the hospital, which points out the fact that it is often better to be discrete in e.r.s since there are so many cops, etc around. You can extrapolate that the law, legal systems can't stop crime but provide a means of penalizing wrong-doing.

    Last, the behavior of this guy sounds pretty bizarre to me. He sounds mentally ill. I'd believe he's homeless, got into a fight in a bar, and everything else you said. I hope they do observe him for 72 hours, he'll end up in a better place.

    You deserve a lot of credit for putting your priorities in such a correct sequence. Your wife's health is too important, and you are too pretty to go to jail. Clear thinking pays off again, although a little ranting is always acceptable!

    A speedy recovery to Mrs. B, my thoughts are with you both!

    By Blogger The CEO, at 11:14 PM  

  • 123Valerie, thanks for the validation.

    My Reflecting Pool, you get me. That lack of privacy helped stoke my anger.

    Tiggerlane, thanks. But I have to say, they buzzed him in. He didn't just wander back to the patient area. They checked him, accepting his word that he was homeless and had no address and no ID to give them, and then they buzzed him, triaged him, and left him to wander the patient area.

    Fiwa, thanks. When I took a breath to clear my head, the whole priorities thing made it easy for me to decide not to stick a size 12.5 boot in this man's behind....if I'd found him.

    Karmyn, thanks. And, like I told Tiggerlane, they have that whole buzz in system at my neighborhood hospital too. This guy was buzzed into the "secure" patient area as a patient. But once back there, they left him to roam around. Call it naughty profiling if you want, but if I saw Mrs. B strolling the E.R. I patient area I wouldn't think twice about it. If I saw a bruised sullen looking grown man, I'd keep an eye on him unless I was 100% certain that he was there as a patient/victim, etc.

    Pamela, Mrs. B's a trooper. She/we will come out on top. As for this nutball, he's not certifiable yet. They dragged him off to the psych ward. His three day mandatory observation ends tomorrow...Then I'm sure the hospital will release him so that he can check himself back in and then sneak into another "patient's" room and still her kidney, or something.

    Monty, thanks for the well wishes for Mrs. B, but like I told WavemanCali, I actually was stopped when I returned to the E.R. from our house. I had to stop at the security desk like all the other visitors and patients and show the ID sticker they issued to me when Mrs. B was first admitted. So I too was subject to the rules. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Here's the thing - I'm not suggesting the hospital broke their rules by taking this guy's word that he needed medical treatment and admitting him into the E.R. patient area. I'm suggesting that they needed tougher rules or a better policy for patient monitoring once they allowed someone behind the counter.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:37 PM  

  • Someone definitely dropped the ball by not keeping an eye on the guy, whether there was a risk of self injury or otherwise, someone should have been supervising.
    Best wishes

    By Anonymous Maddy, at 1:10 PM  

  • You are completely in the right. There is no way that some scruffy looking homeless dude who looked only seme-coherent should ever have made it within ten feet of another patient. ESPECIALLY when that patient is in a supposedly "private" space in an ER.

    Whoever is responsible for the management of that ER grossly under-reacted.

    P.S. - And that guy had to be a real piece of work to slink up to your wife like a coward after you had left and then used that term. If you didn't run him over on your way out then you are a much bigger person than I am.

    By Blogger qofd, at 5:18 PM  

  • I too have many concerns about how a person, apparantly a not yet admitted patient to be, could freely wander the ER where persons have already been/were currently being examined/treated.


    However on a secondary note, did you notice that he did not drop the slander on you until he found out you were the husband and not the boyfriend?

    My first question (I was not thinking about the security at first--apologies to the wife) was did it make it any more acceptable to be a boyfriend as opposed to a husband and, if yes, why?

    By Blogger dennis, at 12:12 AM  

  • I'm very relieved to know that your wife is going to be okay, but horrified by the rest of your story.

    The idea of anyone who is not hospital personnel having the run of the place is clearly negligent on their part.

    It could have been even worse. There really should be a way to contain lunatics with hateful ideologies and keep them from shooting off their mouths at people who are already stressed.

    I'm really sorry this happened to your family.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 2:57 AM  

  • No, you're not overreacting at all, James.

    It seems you sometimes get dissed in public (people literally getting between you and your woman) and you seem to take it in stride. Many white men wouldn't want the competition for mates. Well, most of us. The fact is that you're an African American man with a very pretty (I saw the photo) young white woman.

    I wish I had her for myself.

    (Hey, you don't have a sister, do you?) :)

    But, you know, the best revenge is being a writer. The pen is mightier than the sword (especially when shoved into someone's liver).

    I wish you would write about it in the paper. Stop being such a p&ssy.

    By Blogger M@, at 1:09 PM  

  • OK, I work in the ER, here, we call it the Emergency Department. If someone is brought in by the coppers, they are escorted and watched by the coppers. If the copper has to go for a leak, then we will get a security guard to sit with them until the copper returns. Once the person is treated for their injuries, the coppers can take them away, or, we will have themescorted out of the secure Triage, ED area..and out of the premises.
    What happened with your lovely wife should not have been allowed to happen, it is both parties fault, the hospital and the authorities. Patients should feel safe..and clearly, this is not the case.
    Your poor honey of a wife, she had other worries, and this just compounded it. "Duty of care" is what comes to mind, every professional who works with people has a "Duty of Care", it was breached here !!
    OK, so, huggs and strength to you both, I hope your lovely lady feels better soon. It seems she has something similar to what I went thru after baby number 4.

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 6:28 AM  

  • Maddy, just what I thought. Thanks.

    Queen, I was prioritizing - making sure Mrs. B got to her doc's office.

    Dennis, I'm not sure how he would have reacted differently. Not sure I care.

    HeartsinSanFran, my beef was how the hospital staff tried to justify things. Everyone has an excuse.

    Matt, thanks for the compliments on Mrs. B. Yes, I do have a sister. But she's married w/a ton of kids. And on me being a p^ssy, you're nuts! I always write about knuckleheads that need to be put in check, and not just on this blog. You think 'cause I try to wax philosophical on this blog that I'm turning the other cheek? Don't think so. But that's another post. In the mean time, here's the cached link to the last column I wrote about numbnuts:

    Cazzie, thanks for the thoughts, especially considering you're a medical professional!

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:32 AM  

  • Heck no, you're not overreacting. You know as well as I do, that if you had gone around poking your head into people's rooms inquiring about their companions, the story would have gone a totally different way. I used to like to think I was better than this, but ever since I started battling hypertension, hell, I'm militant! You handled this a lot better than I would have.

    I'm glad Mrs. B is going to be okay.

    By Blogger katrice, at 11:30 PM  

  • First of all, I'm so happy that Mrs. B is okay.

    Second, I do not think you are overreacting. I think ignoring that dumbass that called you that name is totally correct - in fact, when people are so idiotic, it makes it easier to write them off. But - the weird lack of boundaries in the hospital is waaaaaay worrisome.

    I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and that Mrs. B is feeling better!!

    By Blogger bc, at 11:43 AM  

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