By Patricia Olsen
If an inmate gets hurt or isn’t feel ingwell, you are told to put in a “sick-slip.” After a day, or two, or three, you are given an appointment with a trauma nurse who evaluates you and determines if you are “sick” enough to see a nurse practitioner. We do have a doctor, but you only see her when you’re one step from being checked into the hospital.
But, if you are a service dog, as soon as there is a problem, like a rash or a limp from playing too much, a Captain is called. Then the foundation is called and they tell the Captain what to do with the dog. In some cases, they get brought to a vet ASAP. Dogs don’t have to do a sick slip and wait days. In some cases, we inmates wait weeks.
In July of 2015 I started a sick-slip adventure. I knew something was wrong with my Chrons disease. After all I’ve had it for over half my life. Fortunately, I have a chronic-care illness so I was seen by the nurse practitioner. She was a caring woman, but could only so what the policies allowed. By mid-September it got so bad and I looked so bad that my mental health clinician walked me to medical and insisted that I be seen. My N.P. called the hospital, but they said they didn’t have any beds for a woman.
The hospital they send inmates to is a hospital that a lot of people (including staff) say they wouldn’t take their dog there. They have one floor that houses inmates; mostly males. It is a learning hospital that does have some good doctors, but not many.
It took a few days, but eventually I was admitted. It was horrible. The intern asked a lot of questions, but didn’t take heed to anything I said. Instead of treating the Chrons disease, I was housed alone and quarantined. I wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom down the hall. Instead, they brought in a plastic commode and a pile of pads. After each use, I had to put the pad in a “BIO-bag.” It got to the point where I ran out of bags and buzzed for more, to no avail. I had to open the bags to add more. It was degrading and humiliating. I was kept behind closed doors feeling completely and utterly alone. I felt as dirty as the contents of the bags.
After about a week of this, I was awoken by a doctor, who asked if my abdomen was usually this big. I looked down and it appeared as if I was nine months pregnant with triplets. I told him no, and he yelled out the door for help. I was rushed to Boston Medical Center. A real hospital.
I was experiencing Toxic Colon Syndrome. My large intestine had ruptured in multiple areas. I was sepsis and bleeding from my spleen. My veins collapsed. All I remember was the surgeon telling me I had to have emergency surgery.
While all this was happening, my mother was oblivious to where I was and what was happening. DOC rules state they cannot notify our loved ones on medical issues or our whereabouts, unless we die. My mother knew I was sick and at the other hospital. I had called her from there, but she thought it was just a normal flare-up and I would be released in a few days.
I don’t know what time it was when the hospital called her, but I was unconscious and couldn’t make decisions. The doctor told her how bad it was. The fact that my mother had to hear “We don’t think she’s going to make it,” breaks my heart to this day. But, like any good mother, mom said, “Call a priest for her last rites,” and “Do anything you can to save my baby.”
Dr. B. did a total abdominal colectomy. I was kept open overnight, and the next day they continued to drain the pelvic abscess and created an ileostomy. During the surgery I was supposed to be cuffed to the table, but the officer that was there said they don’t make cuffs big enough to go around my swollen-from-infection ankles. She stayed with me and was there when I woke up. My mother had called the hospital and they told her I was still in ICU. On the third day when she called an officer got on the phone and he said she wasn’t supposed to be calling. For security reasons she wasn’t supposed to know where I was. (Like my 80-year old mother was going to break me with all my machines and tubes out of the hospital.)
She tried to call many times after that and no one would help her or give her answers. Here in prison we were changing Superintendents and no one would help. For days this poor woman had no idea what was going on. She only knew, because they didn’t call, that I was still alive. If the system wants to punish me, fine, but don’t punish our families.
It was about two and half weeks before I was sent back to the other hospital, that I was able to call my mother. When she picked up the phone, I said, “Mom,” and she broke down. It made me so angry that this system put my mother through hell. The whole time I was in the hospital I wasn’t concerned about my health, I was worried about the stress this was putting on my 80-year old mother.
I understand this is security issues and that they can’t make exceptions for anyone, but to make our families be in the dark is not fair either. She just needed to know I was okay. What would it take just to call her and say she’s out of ICU and will call you when she’s transferred back to the other hospital.
There should be a policy where our families that are on our health care proxies be able to inquire about us. They don’t have to say what hospital we’re at, but at least tell them we are being taken care of. No one’s mother should sit for days by the phone, hoping and praying that someone calls her back.