I was racially abused on Friday night, and it meant I spent the rest of my night gritting my teeth and wanting to punch someone.
We were sent to a ‘standard’ abdominal pain with vomiting. The patient, a black woman, had vomited ten times that day and had lower abdominal pain. As always I treated the patient with respect and compassion (as that is my ‘default setting’). All her observations were within the normal limits. Talking to the patient was a bit tricky as she insisted on having me ask every question at least twice before answering.
So we took her to hospital, where I handed over the patient to the triage nurse. She was happy to have another nurse perform a further assessment (for example an analysis of the patient’s urine). Unfortunately the place for this assessment was physically full, so we were asked to take the patient into the waiting room until some space could be made. My crewmate did this, while I booked the patient in with the reception staff.
My crewmate told me that when the patient saw she was going to be put in the waiting room, she let out a loud ‘tut!’.
My crewmate then joined me in the reception area which overlooks the waiting room.
The patient then threw herself on the floor and pretended to be unconscious (trust me, when you’ve seen people really pass out in a chair, you can tell when they are faking it).
The waiting room erupted with two people jumping to her aid. The security guards went to get a nurse. Then a lot of the people in the room started shouting at us to come and help. Never mind the half inch thick glass between us and them.
We told them that some nurses were on the way.
“Look at her! Look what’s happened to her!”, shouted one man.
“Yes mate”, replied my crewmate, “there’s nothing wrong with her – all she’s trying to do is get seen before you”.
The patient was loaded onto a trolley and taken into the main area of the A&E.
The crowd in the waiting room then started moaning at us…
Then both my crewmate and myself heard the comment that would have us angry for the rest of the shift.
“You wouldn’t treat her like that if she were white”.
My crewmate stormed out of the department – he was, quite rightly, fuming.
All I could do was laugh loudly at the black teenager who had said this – “Well, if you are that stupid, you’ve just opted out of talking to me”, I said to her.
I booked in the patient and left the hospital.
Here is the thing that made my crewmate and I so angry. We like our job – we both like helping people and we’ll help anyone, we don’t care about what colour their skin is, which religion that they believe in, or if they can speak English or not. I don’t even care if they are an illegal immigrant. We sure as hell don’t do this work for the pay. My crewmate is a trained plumber, so he could be earning much more money installing radiators.
We don’t need to work in this area – I could put in for a transfer to a more ‘white’ area tomorrow. But I enjoy working in East London – it’s a challenge and I enjoy working with all the different cultures that make up our ‘demographic’. For me, a predominantly white area would be incredibly boring.
But…that comment, “You wouldn’t treat her like that if she were white”. It made me despair as to how we are seen by the non-white population. Are we all seen as being racist? Does the assumption that I would treat a patient better if they were white sit in the minds of the people I treat? Is this why I get so few “thank you”s? When I walk into a household, do the people there think “I won’t get good treatment from these two, they are both white”?
I wish I’d gone around to the person who had made the comment and challenged her. I wish I’d gone into the waiting room and explained exactly what had happened. But…as I mentioned yesterday, the uniform that I wear makes me more passive than I would normally be. So I turned the other cheek and walked away.
I’m still fuming.