Emergency room – back/pelvic pain? Could be UTI, could be scoliosis, could be you’re too fat.

Megan writes:

I was having excruciating back and pelvic pain along with muscle spasms for a few days, even after having rested and taken muscle relaxers. I thought, because it had been almost a week and the pain was intensifying, that there might be a serious underlying cause. When I woke up and could barely move, I went to the emergency room of a local hospital.
I waited two hours to be seen (they kept taking other patients, who arrived much later, before me – and there were only a couple other patients). I also observed many visitors going back and forth, unchecked, into two different entrances of the actual emergency room. When I asked the receptionist if I had time to get a drink or go to the bathroom, she asked if I wanted to provide a urine sample. This seemed out of place, as I was in the waiting area and had not been seen by anyone. I said that giving a urine sample was not my intention, I just wanted to check to see if I had the time to leave the waiting area for a bit, and she responded by saying they could give me a catheter. It seemed strange, so I just went and sat down – I did not want a catheter and I could barely concentrate at that point because of the pain.
When I was taken to my room, it had plastic wrappers and miscellaneous stuff on the floor, and when I went to throw away a tissue, the garbage can had food and drinks in it. It didn’t seem particularly sanitary, and at this point, I was nervous. The people who took my vital signs and the nurse insisted on my sitting on the hospital bed even though it was extremely painful to climb onto it because of the height. They estimated my height and weight – no concrete measurements of any kind and certainly not because I couldn’t step up on a scale – they just omitted actually measuring me for no reason. The doctor had a nurse prepare three shots for me without asking if I was willing to take them. When I asked what the shots were, and why they were necessary, and the answer was “Pain.” She wouldn’t tell me anything else about the shots. That was a paltry description from someone who wants to inject something near or in my spine, and the place already looked unclean, so I asked for an alternative oral medication. They said they would have to charge me for the shots regardless of whether they gave them to me, and at that point, I was scared and hurt and I didn’t care about the cost. This was before the test results came back from urinalysis and before my x-ray was taken. The initial pain medicine did not help very much, and they x-rayed me even though I could not achieve the positions they wanted because my pain was so bad. During all this time, I could see and hear the nurses and receptionist and various other staff members standing around talking about their personal lives and chatting on the phone about their personal lives. People were eating and socializing throughout the ER. The nurse with the shot was right outside my door and said she wanted to quit, but stayed at King’s Daughters because she liked socializing with her work friends, and said she had her hands full with a “difficult patient.” I think she was referring to me. I heard other patients’ visitors complaining to the nursing staff because they felt the patients’ treatment was subpar and that they were being ignored. I only had my friend in the waiting room, and I was intimidated – if I complained, they seemed like mean people who would treat me even worse, so I didn’t at the time.
During this time, my friend who took me to the hospital wandered in the back to tell me she had to run out. No one asked for her information or who she was going to see when she came back to the ER. A little after three o’clock in the afternoon, the doctor came in to tell me they were going ahead and charging me for the shots I did not want or take, that I have a urinary tract infection, and that I have scoliosis. When I asked him about the diagnosis of scoliosis (we had scoliosis checks all the time throughout high school and my chiropractor, as early as last year, checks for it as well), he said, “You are obese. This is what happens to obese people. Obese people have back problems.” When I asked him about the recommended treatment for scoliosis and the back pain, he said, “Lose weight” and told me to take pain medication. Never mind that I am not obese (although I am overweight, I am on medication to deal with symptoms of PCOS and have been losing weight steadily over the past few months) and they did not even weigh or measure me. Mind you, I totally understand extra weight can cause back problems, but this came on full-force in about five days, out of the blue and it’s hard for me to believe it’s because of my weight, if I wasn’t having back problems when I was heavier. He still seemed angry that I would not take the shots, and walked out without giving me any explanation about the x-rays or my treatment. It is hard for me to believe my x-rays could have turned out a reliable reading, as I could not achieve the positions they wanted. They also did not do any testing in regards to how this might relate to previous conditions I told them about, such as polycystic ovaries. All told, my visit took over six hours.
A new nurse came in to discharge me, and when I asked her about the diagnosis of scoliosis, she said that the scoliosis was caused by muscle spasms, not obesity, gave me my prescriptions, and left. No one led me out of the ER or showed me the exit, so I walked around to find an exit by myself. Again, the staff were spending their time socializing and gossiping.
By this time, I was still in pain and mentally foggy from the pain meds they gave me, so I filed a complaint with the department of health. I feel bad, in some ways, about having done that, but seriously, there’s a problem if they can’t even keep their rooms clean with the huge staff they had. I was also super mad and hurt that they seemingly pulled the obesity card out of their hats because they couldn’t come up with a better answer. If they treat me like this, I can only imagine how they treat people who are bigger than me – and there were plenty of them in the waiting area.

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  1. Susan

     /  June 24, 2009

    Wow, I am so sorry you had to go through all that. I’ve had repetitive kidney and bladder infections and not once has it been suggested that my weight was any part of my pain. You got substandard care.
    You know a previous comment (on another post) suggested complaining to your insurance company about shoddy care and asking for your copay to be refunded as well. This seems like a brilliant idea. If a housing contractor gave this kind of shoddy work, there would definitely be financial repercussions. Maybe reporting them to your local Better Business Bureau too. I think it’s time that health care should live up to the standards of other service providers.

  2. emgee

     /  June 24, 2009

    How about a complaint to the AMA?
    When I was much younger (25 years), thinner, and more easily intimidated, I went to Planned Parenthood and talked about some itching I had been having. The dr. told me it was because I was too fat and, after bathing I should dry my crotch with a hair dryer. I was so mortified that I didn’t go back the next time until my “too fat” disease had created raw flesh halfway up my thigh. When I went back, I was told it was a yeast infection so bad they brought in people to see it. Then the nurse said, “I bet you’re glad it’s not something worse!”
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not banging PP, I support most of their work, but these particular people’s treatment caused me to avoid treatment until the pain was so bad I couldn’t stand it any longer.
    It would be great to do a survey of women to see how many avoid or postpone going to the dr. just because they know they have to get on the scale!

  3. Charlotte

     /  June 24, 2009

    If that hospital was up for some kind of inspection, I shudder to think what they would find there. That place sounds very poorly maitained. Blaming your problems on your weight is extremely lazy, especially because they didn’t even weigh you. It’s like the doctor took one look at you and was like “oh there’s no need to weigh her, she’s obviously obese and that’s what’s causing all her problems.”
    I’m so sorry you had to go through that awful experience just to get subpar care.

  4. lilacsigil

     /  June 25, 2009

    Good on you for filing a complaint. It’s really hard to stand up for yourself when you’re sick (and you shouldn’t have to, since you’re going there for help!) but I’m glad you did something to help the next person.

  5. Catgal

     /  June 25, 2009

    Did you ever find out what the actual issue was?


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