It could be you. It could be your mom, your baby, your sister…. Unfortunately, it was my sister.
It has become a big story. As well it should be. On May 9, 43-year-old mother of three Edith Isabel Rodriguez died on the waiting room floor of the Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital ER in Los Angeles. She died after lying there for 45 minutes writing in pain and vomiting blood from a perforated bowel. Nobody helped her. In fact, the only attention she received was from a janitor who periodically mopped up the blood, and from her boyfriend and another patient who called 911 to have Rodriguez transported to another hospital that would help her. Their urgent pleas were rejected and rebuked.
MLK-Harbor is a county hospital for mostly indigent patients. It has a sad history of negligent practice and patient neglect. It tried to pass off Rodriguez' death as that of a "quasi-transient" with a history of drug abuse. That may have been true enough, but it told only a small, whitewashed part of the story. The ER surveillance camera told a larger, much uglier part. Those who have been allowed to see the video say that it revealed Rodriguez' entire ordeal in harrowing detail. It showed her agonizing on the floor. It showed her vomiting blood. It showed the janitor making his rounds to mop up the blood. And it showed the shocking indifference of the ER staff to her plight.
"Here's a person crying for help. Will no one help?" asked noted bioethicist Arthur Caplan. "What kind of a society are we when we can't even render aid to someone who's in their own blood and vomit on the floor and you're mopping around them? It's a kind of morality tale of a society gone cold."
Indeed, what kind of society are we? And what do we do about it?
I believe that incidents like these are not the result of any one cause. They result from many interrelated psychological, social, and cultural causes. Consequently there is no simple solution to the problem. I believe that part of the solution may be deterrence. That is, the hospital personnel who callously let this tragedy happen should be exposed to the public, prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, sued to the limits of their personal responsibility, and permanently barred from the healthcare field.
But beyond that, I believe that we need to see that video, learn everything we can about this awful story and others like it, make ourselves more sensitive to the pain, suffering, and needs of others, and realize that what happened to Edith Rodriguez could happen to us or to someone we love someday if we let it.
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