Monday, July 07, 2008

Dying For Attention

I've just seen this post over at a My Private Casbah, about a woman left to die on the floor of a psychiatric hospital and Bint Alshamsa, the blog author's, own experiences in similar circumstances. It's just horrible to see the medical staff and the others in the waiting room sitting around doing nothing while this women evidently is suffering horribly.

I'm glad to say the one time I was in a similar situation I didn't do nothing, or at least not in the end. Around 1998 or 1999 I broke a finger playing basketball and went to Guy's Hospital emergency room to get it x-rayed and treated. When I got there I was sent to the waiting room and asked to fill out a questionnaire by the triage nurse who was sitting in a little booth off the waiting room. While I was doing that the only other patient in the waiting room, a small, very thin blonde woman of about 30 was sat in the corner curled up on the floor twitching slightly. Two nurses were watching and I assumed they had the situation under control. After a while the twitching got worse and the woman was rocking so much she was banging her head repeatedly on the floor. Her face was streaming with snot and tears. The nurses were just watching. I figured they must know best. I'm sure I've read somewhere about how you shouldn't restrain someone having a fit, but I was wondering whether moving metal chairs away from them and putting a cushion under her head would have been a bad move. She was looking at me imploringly and I gave her a tissue to dry her face and kept looking at the nurses who weren't even watching.

Then another nurse came in and called my name to go through to see the doctor. Then I did say something. I said I really think you should see this woman first. My broken finger can wait, this woman is really suffering. They told me she hadn't filled her form in and I think as they said it they realised how totally ridiculous they sounded and then they had a quick conference and ushered the twitching woman through to the doctor.

Of course in retrospect I am horrified with myself for sitting there for the first twenty minutes filling in the form rather than screaming at the nurses to help this woman. It's so easy to see someone in an "official" uniform and assume that whatever they are doing is the right thing. Years later I read Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority - an amazing book that everyone should read (link in my Amazon favourites box, right) - in which he convinces members of the public to administer lethal electrical shocks to others (actually actors, not being shocked) because a scientist in a lab coat has told them to.

And then only the other week we had the spectacle of several hundred people watching comedian Johnny Vegas sexually assault a woman from the audience. Why didn't anybody get up and shout "Oi! What the hell are you doing?" - because they had accepted the authority of the guy onstage with the mic.

So I guess my point is - if you see something that isn't right happening, say something. And my other point is - we need better attention paid to the services we provide for those patients least able to stand up for themselves - the elderly, those with mental health problems and those too incapacitated to communicate effectively.


butterflywings said...

What you describe is bystander apathy:
Although you are correct that obedience/ deference to authority also comes into it, too.

I say well done for saying anything at all. Most people wouldn't, I suspect, most people just fit in. I was talking the other day to some friends about what you would do if someone at work said something sexist/ racist...again, you like to think you would stand up to them but in reality, perhaps 90% of people wouldn't.

But I'm not excusing people doing nothing, of course we *should* do something. I blame the staff for leaving her in the first place, though - it is absolutely terrible that someone could be left in that state. Snobbery, prejudice against the mentally ill, or for whatever reason. Not acceptable. Patients shouldn't have to tell them how to do their jobs!

(On a side note, 20 minutes? For a broken finger?! I once went to A&E for a suspected broken foot and waited 9 hours to be seen. And then some charming dr made me feel like a hysterical silly WOMAN because it wasn't broken, well it bloody hurt and was black and blue, it could have been! All I got was some painkillers and told to stay off it! In a smaller way, this illustrates the central point about medical callousness and inability to treat patients like human beings.)

Cruella said...

Yes 20 minute is pretty good although it must be said we were the only two patients in there - it was a lunchtime injury rather than late night when I am guessing the majority of problems happen. Certainly I have waited a lot longer for lesser things in the evenings.

The bystander thing is interesting. At my political comedy show last night - The Comedy Manifesto (8.30pm Sundays at The Camden Head Pub in Angel, Islington) - I was asking the panel to come up with a Britishness test (since it's been in the news). One of my guests was the very talented Rachel Boxall. She suggested that you know you're British IF you're in a crowded place and a middle-eastern man asks you to keep an eye on his bag for a minute while he goes away and you'd rather run the risk of being blown up by the bag than the risk of looking a bit racist by refusing...

Certainly made me laugh, I know I don't ever do that thing of going "Excuse me whose bag is this?", when I know you're supposed to. Although on a side issue I don't really understand the whole unattended bags issues since all the recent problems have been suicide bombers, i.e. attended bags...

butterflywings said...

:-) I don't entirely get the unattended bags thing either! It's far more likely to just be someone's bag they've forgotten, with manky gym stuff or something! So yeah I wouldn't do that thing of asking whose bag it is.
You may be right about British reticence...interesting point...I actually don't know how it compares across countries.