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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Community Essay

Cutting Back Compassion Isn't Necessary

September 27, 1997|JACQUELINE LEWIS-MITCHELL | Jacqueline Lewis-Mitchell lives in Los Angeles

I woke up early to take my daughter to a breakfast concert in Hollywood and noticed, for the fifth or sixth day in a row, that I was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. I decided that after I dropped my daughter off, I would stop in the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai, one of the best hospitals in Southern California.

I do not have health insurance, so I reasoned that since I would have to pay for my treatment, I might as well get the best available.

After signing in at the front desk, I was taken to an examining room and was immediately seen by a doctor. She ordered tests that included a chest X-ray. When the doctor returned to my private examining room, she said I had a collapsed upper right lung.

The doctor said I needed to be admitted for more tests and treatment, but since I had no insurance I would have to go to another hospital. Arrangements for my transfer to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center had already been started.

A little relieved, I sat back to wait for the other hospital to agree to admit me. I thought it would be a short wait; it was eight hours.

I've never seen so many sick people lying so close together, and the smell would make a healthy person sick. But the most disturbing thing was the staff's attitude toward the patients.

The way they looked at and spoke to the patients was terrible. The security guard was terrifying, quick to cut anyone down who even thought to dispute his word or instructions.

One instance I will always remember is when a man came into the emergency room visibly in distress. His body was twitching uncontrollably. I could see the terror in his face. It was apparent he was trying to control himself, but he could not. His family members tried their best to explain his condition in broken English. A nurse with an indignant attitude made things worse by speaking quickly and sharply to them. In the middle of his family's explanation of their loved one's condition, the nurse looked at the patient and declared loudly, "He's crazy, let's put him in a room immediately." I don't remember feeling such disgust and disappointment with anyone as I did with her at that moment.

I am fully aware of the severe funding cutbacks that have been made for public and private institutions, and of course manpower has been tremendously affected. The government calls these cutbacks essential, but has the government cut back on our compassion for each other? We wait in longer lines and experience overcrowding everywhere, but do we have to cut back our empathy for the human race?

It has to be very difficult to work with the public, but do we add to the situation with short tempers and impatience, especially to the sick and less unfortunate?

You do not always have to think in terms of money; a kind word would do just fine. State and federal funding is something we all can lose, but compassion, patience and understanding for each other are something the government can never take from us unless we let them.

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