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Friday, November 16, 2007

ER Time Warp

First aired in 1994, the one hour drama ER was an innovative TV show. Initially it was thought to be a bit too gory and filled with needless medical jargon. Within a short period of time the show became a major hit for NBC. In my view, its success was built on the ethical and personal dilemmas the cast and characters in specific episodes encountered. I don't know when or even why but somewhere along the line ER deteriorated into nothing more than your average soap opera--though a well written and had a cast of attractive men and women. Of course the doctors remain handsome and heroic and the nurses pretty and dedicted.

I only watch the show once in a while and saw the latest eprisode last night--11/15/07. By the end of the hour, I was ready to throw a rock through the TV I was so angry. Last night's ER epsisode was typical soap opera fodder and I had no intention of watching the entire show until one of the episode characters turned out to be a paraplegic father. Wow, I thought, this is great. Mainstream TV will demonstrate the barriers disabled parents face when caring for their children. I could not have been more wrong for the ER writers took a step back in time--way back in time to demonstrate that crippled people are angry. Not exactly ground breaking material. Why are crippled people angry? Because they cannot walk and hate what happened to them and are tortured by their disability. When watching the show it reminded me of an old expression that was once common--"crippled disposition"--that is, crippled people are miserable because they are crippled. This is dead wrong. I get angry, as do other cripples, but it has nothing to do with my inability to walk. Crippled people get angry because they are treated poorly and their civil rights are violated on a regular basis. This was never raised.

ER writer must have missed the last twenty years of disability rights. The plot line was simple and had potential. The paraplegic character is the father of an early teenage boy who enters the ER with a serious injury. Doctors ask him how he got hurt and his reply was "cleaning out the gutters". After doctors and nurses exchange glance the boy quicly explains his father is a paraplegic and his father could get in the ambulance. What is the focus here? What the father cannot do and implies way too much responsibility is placed ont he child. When the father appears he is angry, confrontational and bitter about what happened to him when he was injured. Of course all this is revealed in a overly dramatic way. I need not bore readers with further plot line developments--they are all bad and convoluted.

The gross misconception of the paralyzed father character was summed up in one line. During a heart to heart talk after his son is saved during surgery the man states that "anger is my base line". This is not a bad line--in fact it could have used to effectively show the myriad of social barriers crippled parents encounter. ER writers could have demonstrated how crippled parents competence is often questioned by strangers and medical personnel. But no, the writers of ER accepted an antiquated perception of disability and furthered the stereotype of the angry cripple. This was a missed opportunity.

Unfortunately my son missed this episode--he went to bed after the New York Ranger game--and I wonder what he would have thought. I suspect he would have pointed out he has never been asked to clean out the gutters or do any other such chore not ordinarily assigned to a kid. However, I will confess he is the man when it comes to changing light bulbs in our house.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hospital Settings and the Lack of Rights

This weekend my son added to his growing collection of stitches. On Friday afternoon I received a call from the school nurse that I needed to pick him up ASAP because he had just cut himself and would need stitches to close the laceration. I left home immediately and had no trouble finding the nurses office--I simply followed the blood trail my son left behind him. After a few minutes the nurse walked me and my son to our car and wished us well. Within 20 minutes we arrived at the local ER. This is all very ordinary--that is until we entered the hospital. The first person we met was the triage nurse who directed each and every question to my son and seemed perplexed by my presence. In a questioning tone she asked "You are his father?" Yes I answered and after she took a quick look at my son's wound we were directed to the waiting room. The next person we met looked equally perplexed and asked "Who is the patient?" This was decidedly odd given the fact my son had a fresh bandage wrapped around his hand. Then he too asked "Are you his father?" Again I answered yes and this reply really confused him. This man then asked "So, you are his parent and legal guardian?" I realized then that the question was directed to my son and a patern quickly developed. Each person we spoke to asked me if I was the father and then proceeded to ignore me.

While in the ER my son was asked questions that should have been directed to me--like "what is the name of your insurance carrier?" No child knows the answer to this question nor should they be expected to. Very quickly I realized I was perceived to be somehow less human--not sentient. My ability to parent was openly questioned as was my competence. I have no doubt most of those I met felt bad for my son--the poor kid needs stitches and needs to care for his crippled father. Not once did it dawn on those working in the ER that I could be good parent.

Over the last few days my experience has led me to wonder if other disabled parents have had similar problems--this was not the first time my ability to care for my son has been called into question by strangers. The trip to the ER also made me think about the problems disabled people encounter when they try to direct their own health care choices (see a recent post on Gimp Parade). This weekend reinforced my deep concern about what will happen to me when I get sick. Will some doctor assume my life has less value because I cannot walk? If so, am I going to receive substandard care. The sad fact is that many in the medical community preceive disabled people to be failures. This perception can affect medical care and I for one am deeply worried when I am hospitalized. I worry first about my rights as a human and secondly about the care I will receive.