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When an Urgent Care Physician Assistant Belittled Me About My Disability

I recently had to make the terrible, no good, very bad decision to go to my local Urgent Care due to a health crisis. It was frankly one of the most disturbing experiences in my life, exacerbated by the fact that the person who was supposed to be helping me showed terrible prejudice against disabled people.

Let me preface this by stating I am disabled, and my disability is somewhat invisible. I use forearm crutches or cane to walk usually, and was using a single forearm crutch at the time, but otherwise I appear neurotypical and able-bodied. However, I am neither. And even if I were, the events of my visit would not have been appropriate.

Before my urgent care visit, my neurologist made the decision for me to stop taking a medication “cold-turkey” — to just stop taking it without tapering off slowly as one normally does. This was because the medication was making me violently and potentially dangerously ill. A replacement medication was chosen, but my insurance had not yet covered it over a week later, causing my medical crisis. I sent my doctor messages, tried calling the office and found it closed, and with escalating symptoms, I decided I needed to go to urgent care for help.

Unfortunately, I never found help. I know this is an all too familiar feeling for many disabled individuals. I saw a physician’s assistant who took a short history, did a cursory exam, and briefly asked about the events leading up the visit. He failed to inquire at all about my physical symptoms. At this point his blatant ableism became apparent, starting with never identifying or even acknowledging I was having a medical problem.

During his dismissal of me, the PA said, “You’re not really that bad, you’ll be OK.” He also compared me to some other young woman in his life. I’m sure I bear no real resemblance to this individual, other than perhaps he thinks she can inspire me to overcome my disabilities. This was all said during an active anxiety attack, while I was doing deep breathing exercises in front of him to control myself.

The PA decided to follow that dismissal with a lecture and told me, “You’re 28; you’re young. Get out and travel. Go to college. When you’re old, you’ll wish you’d done more at your age.” I found this incredibly appalling. I also happen to be highly educated; however, that isn’t in any way relevant. What is relevant is that I am disabled, and the PA failed to understand this. When I informed him of this, he first asked me what I studied, but then quickly said I should look for a job online, regardless of my “cognitive problems.” He also said I “just need to get out.”

I am still completely shocked by this “advice.” I don’t understand how the PA could think this was at all appropriate to say to someone who was having a medical emergency, or to a disabled person. Being told to essentially “walk off” my disability was a pretty harrowing experience I hope to never repeat. I already had a lot of trauma surrounding mistreatment by medical professionals, but the disdain and utter disregard I experienced at the hands of the physician’s assistant at the urgent care was an ordeal on another level.

Before leaving the clinic, the PA offered me Tylenol, which I can’t take, and since I wasn’t presenting with pain or fever, I’m not sure how it would have helped.  That was the entirety of his diagnosis and treatment plan; an over the counter fever reducer/pain reliever and a sickening ableist lecture.

I’m not sure if I was more disturbed by the total lack of care or the complete prejudice against disabled individuals he displayed. I hope no one else is ever treated the way I was, but I think that’s unlikely. I do hope that by sharing what happened to me, I can help prevent it from happening again.

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