When I was a sophomore in college, I took a social issues theatre class. I was the youngest person in it. Everyone else was a junior or senior. A couple of them were even nontraditional students (in this context, adult learners), and one of them already had a kid. That wasn’t a norm at my Big Ten school, where students ages 18-22 were the standard for undergrads.
It was an intimate class. There were less than 10 of us, and that was atypical for a public university with tens of thousands of students. I liked it because I got to know everyone by name. Given the themes of the course and the class size itself, we were able to engage in profound discussions that I didn’t normally have in lectures with hundreds of classmates.
One of the people I got to know in the social issues theatre course was Lawrence Haynes. I performed in one of the plays he wrote for class. Generally, I found him to be a warm, welcoming, and introspective person. He was kind to everyone.
He graduated the same year we took social issues theatre together, but we stayed connected through Facebook, which was relatively new at the time.
On March 29, 2020, he posted on Facebook about going to the ER for pneumonia. Like many of his friends and family, I kept him in my prayers.
More than a week later on April 7, I read the following post from him.
With his permission, I am sharing it on my blog because it’s important to share these stories that don’t make headlines.
Below I have shared the link to his original post if you want to read it there.
Editor’s Note: I copied and pasted his post on this blog in case you don’t have access to Facebook. I decided to keep his words and punctuation all the same; however, I revised his writing by dividing one of his large paragraphs into many smaller paragraphs. Aside from those edits, the rest is all Lawrence.
Why am I including Lawrence’s experience?
Basically, it’s hard for me to know how to respond to people when they ask how I am. I explain that I have pretty eclectic social circles. While some people feel relatively safe, blessed, and resourced during this COVID-19 pandemic, others in my social circles are feeling quite the opposite.
How am I supposed to feel with that observation?
Even if someone isn’t diagnosed with COVID-19, this pandemic exacerbates whatever other issues they end up encountering during this time.
With that in mind, here’s Lawrence’s story.
My name is Lawrence Haynes and I suffered a traumatic experience at the Desert Valley Hospital ER. I don’t anticipate any corrective action will occur for the nurses involved amidst this COVID-19 environment. However, the treatment needed to be addressed and exposed for the peace of mind for both my mother and myself.
I visited the Desert Valley Hospital Emergency Room in Victorville, CA on April 6, 2020 at around 1:50pm. My reason for this visit was shortness of breath.
Recently, I visited the same ER on March 27 for similar symptoms and after x-ray and blood test, I was determined to have pneumonia in the right middle lobe of my lung, sinusitis, and acute bronchitis. Upon that visit, I was given antibiotics (Azithromycin 250mg, Cephalexin 500mg) and an inhaler.
The inhaler had not been doing much by way of relieving the shortness of breath after that visit and so I immediately started using my mother’s nebulizer with the mixture of Albuterol Sulfate and Ipratropium Bromide. I took the week off work to rest and heal.
My symptoms started to abate but by April 3, they started to return. I called an advice nurse who advised me to call 911 but I elected to continue home remedies (elderberry, humidifier, etc.), breathing treatment, and self-quarantine.
Today was a similar experience, while working from home, I started experiencing shortness of breath again and so I immediately started a breathing treatment on the nebulizer. My family and friends urged me to go to the hospital instead of home treatments and so after the nebulizer treatment, my mother and I went to the ER.
I spoke with the young man at the door and told him my symptoms and that I’d been treated for COVID and it was negative. He radioed to the tent and informed of my symptoms, shortly thereafter a nurse named Ophie emerged, asked for the symptoms and flatly said she will tell the doctor. My mother had me to sit while I continued to breathe raggedly via a washcloth I was using in place of a face-mask. While we waited, my mother and I overheard Ophie tell the young man at the door that my mother would need to wait in the car and could not stay in the waiting room. The gentleman came over and calmly informed my mother, while she began to explain that she wanted to make sure I was seen and that she was also having chest pains.
During my mother’s explanation, Ophie interrupted her and re-stated what the gentleman told us with a bit of hostility and then asked my mother if she was going to check-in. My mother affirmed. Ophie then told her that I would need to be checked-in and left.
My breathing continued to become labored and so my mother helped me over to the check-in window where I pleaded with the attendants to assist. One personnel wouldn’t even make eye-contact and Ophie was now sitting at the other window and barked at my mother to be seated. My mother exclaimed that I needed assistance now because I could not breathe. Ophie continued to bark orders at both my mother and I.
By now, I’m scared, I feel my chest tightening and I’m audibly wheezing. I am wondering if I too will be like others I have read about who have died in a waiting room because of lack of assistance.
My mother grabs a chair and I sit in the lane of the check-in window. After a fashion, I’m so weak and wheezing so bad that I slump out of the chair and onto the floor. I ask why is no one helping me.
I then see nurses casually walking out of the ER into the lobby with a wheelchair and they are barking at me saying ‘Get Up’, ‘No One is going to pick you up, you need to get up’.
My mother, now frantic, is telling them that I’m not faking and I need help. My mother who is 62, suffered 7 strokes and 5 heart attacks with a sextuple bypass then proceeds to try and pick me up.
Now the nurse, Sena, is barking at my mother very aggressively and I respond while still on the floor asking her why is she talking to my mother that way. Still wheezing, still weak, I’m in tears.
No one seemed startled, bothered, none of the other persons in the lobby, none of the staff. I surely thought this would be a horrible way to die and that this could be me.
Someone then assists my mother helping me into a wheelchair. I am then taken into Rm 6. At this point, I feel like I am half-conscious, but all I hear are nurses yelling at me.
I tell them that I brought in previous discharge papers with my information. They disregard and start asking me a variety of questions. I keep telling them I cannot breathe in a very ragged breath. My voice, even when excited, can’t move beyond a choked rasp.
I’m barked at to control my breathing, then to take my shirt off. I’m too weak to do so and they take it off for me and place the gown on me.
I try to conserve as much breath as I can to answer questions and to not pass out.
One nurse says ‘Why aren’t you answering me, you were just talking to me’ with such vitriol it was as if I were faking my condition. All I hear are the nurses shouting at me and they were very aggressive.
The male nurse, Zach, although assertive, spoke to me in a very calm and even tone. All of this is happening while I am being placed in the bed and Zach is placing the stickers on me to check my heart.
I heard Ophie’s voice, calling me by my middle name and also asking various questions and then in a mocking tone states ‘Your oxygen is 100%, you’re breathing better than me.’
I then tell her to get out of the room. Then everyone tells me to not talk to the nurses like that and I reply you all stop talking to me like that, can you just help me I cannot breathe.
I look past Zach and I now see a large security guard standing at the door with other personnel. I look at Zach and say, you all called security on me??! He tells me to not focus on the security and to try to breathe.
At this point, I have fallen out of a chair, had to be assisted into a wheelchair, assisted onto a bed, and have my clothes taken off for me, but I was deemed a threat enough that security was called.
My room is facing the nurses station so as Zach is finishing, I see and hear Ophie yell out ‘yeah, he just threw himself onto the lobby floor’.
Zach leaves and I am lying in the bed, gasping for air.
I hear Ophie telling the nurse outside of my door the same line, ‘His Oxygen levels were at 100%, I told him he was breathing better than me’ with the same mocking tone. Ophie repeated the same to another staff personnel who did not attend or work with any of my medical information which I believed to be in breach of the Health Privacy Accountability Act. She continued to talk to that personnel and others at which I could not hear what she was saying.
By now I am in bed, still wheezing and can barely breathe. I attempt to reach up and press the help button, the nurse outside of my door sees me and says ‘what do you need, do you need something’. The tone was with irritation. I told her I needed oxygen and that I can’t breathe.
She tells me she’ll get some and returns with it the nose tube.
She’s asking me if that’s enough, is it helping. I’m so out of it that I can’t even form a response. She says the same line with vitriol as well, ‘You were just talking, now you can’t say anything? Say something, yes/no.’ She then leaves out of the room.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Pascal begins to walk into the room and I can barely make out what he’s saying but he’s asking if I’m Lawrence Haynes.
Before I could take a moment to respond the nurse outside the door scoffingly says ‘he’s not going to talk to you, he has anxiety, he’s gonna just lay there’.
So the doctor asks, are you not going to talk to me? I replied to the doctor and confirmed who I was and that I would be talking to him. I then asked if he could close the door and he says not after what has happened, no.
I felt defeated.
I was so weak I asked if he could come closer. I attempted to answer his questions and he looked that he couldn’t hear and so he closed the door.
I felt defeated again.
I then stopped and told him he probably wouldn’t listen but tried to express how I was having such a horrible experience.
After a bit he continued asking his questions with no regard or acknowledgment of what I just shared. I then asked if he even cared. He told me that his concern was for my health and to understand why I was exhibiting the same symptoms as my last visit. For what happened, he has to remove himself from that and not be involved or get in-between what has happened between myself and the nurses.
At this point, I felt as if they were my peers and we had just experienced a family squabble…but I am NOT their peers I am a patient.
He then told me he could try to get someone to come down and talk with me or I can call the feedback line and that would be who I needed to share the experience with.
I expressed that I WANT him to be focused on my health and getting me better and that I wasn’t expecting anything from him other than to acknowledge my concern and pointing me to who I should share this experience with if it was not him.
He just repeated himself.
I felt defeated, again.
I saw Dr. Pascal talk to another woman outside of my door, she looks at me the entire time he talks and then they both walk away. However, no one ever came to talk to me about the experience.
Finally, a nurse comes in to take my x-rays. She’s patient, asks if I need assistance, tells me her name. I then look at her as I’m getting in the wheelchair and burst into tears. I told her I’m having such a horrible experience, the people are treating me so bad. She then takes me to x-ray and allows me to share. I share that the women were extremely aggressive, treated me as though I were faking, showed no compassion, were barking/yelling at me. She empathizes, assures me that this is not surprising to her and is not new.
I begin to feel better that I am not alone.
The other nurses, particularly Ophie, had talked about me so and all of the nurses in my area that attended to me were so aggressive it was like being the new kid at school and being bullied by everyone. It was such a hostile environment that the friendly presence was needed.
I was returned to my room and Guadalupe, who I later understood was my nurse, began to ask me questions of whether I drank, smoke, vaped, watch the news, got fired, am stressed at work. I told her the answer was no to all of the above, as a matter of fact I just started a new job and work from home. She said that’s a great thing, I said I know.
She expressed ‘we are trying to understand what set you off’. They believed all of my shortness of breath came from a panic attack.
I told her there was no ‘set off’ moment, nothing ‘triggered’ a panic attack that cause me to have shortness of breath.
She also asked ‘why were you so anxious coming in here’.
I told her because I couldn’t breathe, which her reply was it’s about how you present yourself. I said ma’am, I couldn’t breathe so I’m not sure what that is supposed to look like but I will tell you, the tone of the nurses was unacceptable, mean, and aggressive.
She left and much later I flagged her down by calling her name, she came in and I asked her who was ‘we’ when she spoke with me earlier. She then explained the staff was trying to figure out and tries to figure out what the set off moment was. Then told me I was discharged and she’ll get the papers.
Dr. Pascal never came back to discuss anything.
To my surprise, I ask the nurse ‘I am?’
The nurse told me the x-ray came back negative, blood tests negative and that nothing was wrong with me. Guadalupe expressed that when I start to feel anxious to just relax and calm myself.
I said so you all think that I’ve made this up. I asked, when I came in about 10 days ago and you guys told me I had pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinusitis, was that made up as well?
She said no, I have a nurse friend who felt like she was having a heart attack but it was a panic attack and it felt real to her. So when you feel you can’t breathe, get some essential oils and rub them across your nose.
I did not respond.
Before coming to the hospital, I took the breathing treatment and went straight to the ER afterwards. It is my belief that the treatment finally ‘took’ while I was there which is why I began to feel better and not because a panic attack abated.
I’m almost in disbelief that they would assume the cause of my shortness of breath was a panic attack that started at home as if I’ve not been experiencing this symptom since the first time I was treated with pneumonia.
I don’t have much expectation that anything will be done due to the COVID-19 crisis and so I just want to share my story to let others know this has happened. This traumatic experience should not happen to anyone!
I also understand that the medical staff are on the frontlines and working diligently but does this give those healthcare professionals the license to treat patients in this way?
My mother stated it felt like they were projecting their frustrations onto us.
I felt and feel helpless…my 62 year old mother watching me on the floor while the staff watched me, yelling. They were rude, calloused, aggressive, and antagonizing. The experience was debasing and humiliating.
I’m a 38 year old African-American adult male with two master’s degrees. It should not matter who or what I am. I can’t help but wonder if I didn’t look the way I do, if I would have been treated differently.
I will never understand why security was called on me when I couldn’t even lift my shirt off.
What I do know is my trust in the healthcare system is broken and I will stick to my mother’s self-doctoring before I subject myself to that sort of traumatic treatment, with no accountability, ever again.
Lawrence E. Haynes