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To the ER Doctor Who Insulted Me for Being On Disability Benefits

To the ER doctor who was more than rude about my being on disability benefits,

I do not owe you an explanation as to why I am on disability benefits or why I am not working. That fact should be totally irrelevant in how you approach my care. Furthermore, in the event that you do find out my occupational status, you should be professional enough to keep your ignorant opinions to yourself. Regardless, I would like you to know the following:

When I came to the emergency room for help because my chronic illness pain level was entirely too much for me to handle and I feared something more acute was happening, I expected your help. I expected your medical expertise, professionalism and respect. You asked me what I did for a living, to which I replied, “I’m on Social Security Disability.”

You looked at me and shook your head and asked me “What for?” I simply replied, “Crohn’s disease.” You again shook your head at me and said, “I don’t like that. You should get a job.” When I then tried to explain to you that I couldn’t work due to the chronic pain and unpredictable chronic diarrhea I experience because of Crohn’s disease, your response was something I still cannot believe.

You actually looked at me and said, “You should get a wheelchair with a bucket on it and go to work.”

First of all, what in the actual fuck? Who says that to someone? If I could work, I would. I was an Alzheimer’s / memory care and hospice nurse before my chronic illness became too much for me to handle while working full time and raising my daughter. Even though my career was physically and mentally demanding, I loved it and would give anything to be able to do it again. Making the decision to stop working because I was too sick was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my entire life. If I was able to somehow find the ability to just “go to work,” I wouldn’t have stopped working in the first place. I couldn’t exactly stop being a mom or stop being sick, so the only thing I could do was stop working.

Secondly, you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was for me to obtain my Social Security Disability, or what I had to go through while I waited nearly four years to receive that first dime of assistance. I not only lost my ability to work and be healthy, but my family lost everything — including our home. The process it took to file and wait for disability was so incredibly devastating that I actually attempted suicide, because I couldn’t live with myself knowing I caused such financial difficulty and struggle for my family.

Lastly, as a doctor, you should know better than to speak to any patient this way, but speaking to me this way while having my physical and mental health history right in front of you is simply inexcusable. My self-worth was already dangerously crushed, and just as I was managing to put the pieces of my life back together, you came in making flippant jabs about how I should just go back to work. As if it were so simple.

Your comment was not only rude and insensitive, but you managed to bring back all those self-defeating feelings. And you in no way motivated me to go get a job; I can only assume that is what you were trying to accomplish by saying something so condescending and hurtful. You clearly have no understanding about how devastating Crohn’s disease can be. A wheelchair with a bucket is not the answer here.

Though this encounter happened nearly three years ago, it still stings when I think about it. I cannot believe someone I was seeking help from treated me in such a patronizing way simply because you didn’t like the idea of me being disabled. Whatever the reason for my disability, I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I deserve to have my needs met in the same fashion as any other patient that comes into any emergency department. I deserved your best, whether I have a white collar job, a blue collar job or no job at all. I did not receive your best that day.

I can only hope you never make another patient feel as embarrassed and ashamed as you made me feel. Not only did you dismiss me and avoid treating my physical symptoms because, like many chronically ill patients, I was not seen as an emergent patient with definitive symptoms or real needs; but you jeopardized my mental health by cruelly voicing your personal opinion about my already sensitive and distressing situation. Please doctor, do better in the future.

Getty image by Noiponpan.