Thank You President Obama For The Hospital Visitation But Please Know Your Work Is Not Done
It was the early nineties and my guy and I had been dating for over three years. We both worked at a theatre where we would be performing one show while rehearsing the next show. It was a grueling schedule, working seven days a week but we loved it and loved working together. Between one show closing and a new one opening there was a ten day period to change over the sets, costumes, etc. to get ready for opening night. During these ten day periods we noticed my guy would always get sick. Sure it could have been the long rehearsals or doing the same numbers that we would eventually only do once a night over and over again to get it right but whatever it was after one of the more grueling ten day periods we opened the show only to have him wake me to say that he wanted to go to the urgent care center. He couldn’t breathe. Having grown up with a brother who had asthma, this was my diagnosis but whatever it was I had never seen him like this. Here he was a six foot black man who was muscular and strong who now was almost a greenish/white color and who couldn’t put on his own clothes. As I dressed him I tried to not show my concern and at the same time keep him focused on breathing, which had become so labored that I honestly was just hoping that I could get him somewhere in time. Here I was at all 5’4” of me with the full weight of my partner on me as I took him down the stairs and put him into the car. During the drive to the urgent care center I talked non-stop about anything to try and get his mind off of the fact that he couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what else to do.
When we arrived at the urgent care center I told him to stay in the car and that I would get him a wheelchair. I walked into the center and the first nurse I encountered I asked for a wheelchair so that I could bring someone in who was having trouble breathing. She looked me up and down and in a tone that only one who has been discriminated against or looked down upon could recognize, she said, “Pneumonia?” Remember that this was the nineties and for even some health so-called professionals, gay meant HIV which meant AIDS which meant cancer and/or pneumonia, period. Knowing this was not a battle to fight to win the wheelchair and the care that my partner needed I said, “No, asthma. May I please have a wheelchair?” Slowly she walked to where the wheelchairs were behind the counter and before she brought me the wheelchair I saw her put rubber gloves on all the while staring at me. She pushed the wheelchair toward me making sure that at no time did we both touch the chair, no doubt so that she could avoid catching gay. Again I swallowed what I wanted to say and raced out to get my partner. Upon wheeling him in, the original nurse and another nurse were talking behind the admittance counter and as the original nurse came around the counter to take my partner she said, “I’ll take him from here.” As I began to walk with her she simply held out her hand to me like a crossing guard in all white and said, “Take a seat.”
I went to the other nurse that was behind the counter and asked if there was any paperwork to be filled out. She looked at me with a raised eyebrow and asked, “Are you related?” Our gaze locked with one another, “No” I said, “But I have all of his information if I can be of any assistance.” “You can’t.” was all she said to me as she got up and walked away busying herself away from where I was. I used the pay phone to call my partner’s parents who lived in the same city to let them know what was going on. They told me to do whatever I thought was best as that would be what they would do and they asked me to call them and keep them updated and that if they didn’t hear from me within a half an hour they would be on their way. I didn’t tell them that no one would allow me to even fill out the paperwork for him. I was ashamed, felt as though I had failed him and his parents. So I took a seat and waited. And waited and waited.
Finally a third nurse came out to get me. She was silent as she took me back to see where my partner was in a small room lying beneath an oxygen tent barely conscious. There was a female doctor in the room as well. She explained that my partner had asked her to explain everything to me. She explained that he had a severe case of asthma that had caused his lungs to fill with so much infection that when he blew into a tube to lift a small plastic ball to see his breath capacity, he blew a zero. This large muscular man couldn’t even make the ball rise. She explained that it was in fact his musculature that was forcing air through his lungs, the only way he was breathing at this point. She told me that they were transferring him to the hospital and due to the severity of his condition he needed to be transported in an ambulance. I was not offered the option to ride in the ambulance with him. As they wheeled him to the ambulance I walked alone back through the maze of the urgent care center in a daze.
My mind was racing. What if my partner had been unconscious? Would anyone have come to tell me what was going on or would I be left in that waiting room while he was moved to a hospital without me ever knowing? Why wouldn’t they let me fill out the form so that I could have at least felt as if I was doing something to help? Why would they stare at me and put gloves on just at the sight of me? Was it hospital policy to keep me from him while he waited to see the doctor or was this nurse just exercising her right to prejudice because there was no law or anything I could do about it and she knew it?
I can’t tell you about my drive to the hospital because I don’t remember driving there. I must have called my partner’s parents before I left the urgent care because they met me at the hospital. His mother was a retired nurse and seemed to know everyone at the hospital so I was whisked in with the family. Again I couldn’t help but wonder, what if I hadn’t had a good relationship with his parents? Would I have been going into the ICU at this point? Would anyone have told me anything? After all, there were no laws, no policy that said I had to be told. I had been with this man for over three years and I had no more rights than a stranger on the street when it came to the man I loved.
My partner was in the hospital for ten days before the entire infection had been eradicated and he was released. Through a series of tests they discovered that he had exercise induced asthma, thus the “flair ups” during the strenuous ten day periods before a new show would begin. He was put on a preventative treatment plan and was healthy and strong again in no time.
Flash forward to 2009 when my partner and I had been together for 21 years. We now lived in Nevada where there had been a law passed to ensure that we could not be married in the eyes of the state years earlier but due to some decent politicians we had won the right to register as Domestic Partners with the state as of October 1, 2009. No shoes, no rice, no guarantee that employers would be required to offer health benefits to my Domestic Partner but it gave us the right to hospital visits (and shared responsibility of any debt either of us incurred after the date of our notarized document stamped by the state). We had no ceremony, we simply went into our bank had the paper notarized and mailed it into the state with our check. A week or so later our certificate came in the mail. We were now Domestic Partnership certificate 00812 according to the state of Nevada.
I still live in fear that some uneducated person will try to keep me out of my partner’s hospital room or him out of mine and as I write this I realize that I most likely should have copies of our certificate and the law itself in both of our cars and on us at all times just in case something God forbid should happen. More hoops to jump through than our straight counterparts I think can even imagine. Even heterosexual supporters of equality for same sex partners may not know just how much we’re still treated and seen in the eyes of the law as second class citizens. They don’t have to think about the fact that we pay more taxes because we can’t file a joint income tax return due to the Defense Of Marriage Act that was passed prohibiting same sex couples to be married in the eyes of the federal government. They don’t think that should our employer grant our partner health benefits that due to the fact we’re not “married”, it’s considered additional income that is taxed unlike our straight counterparts and their spouses’ coverage. They don’t think about the hundred or so other rights they have that we still don’t have, including to serve our country.
I realize that giving same sex couples the right to marry scares many people due to their religious beliefs but I still believe that our government is supposed to enforce a separation of church and state. And while I’d like to say that after twenty-one years I don’t need or want that piece of paper validating my relationship with my government I’d be lying. You don’t have to give me the shoes and rice in your church but you have to give me the rights guaranteed me in the Constitution. And I dare anyone to look at what my partner and I share and tell me that we don’t love, honor, cherish and obey one another in sickness and in health for richer or for poorer all the days of our lives any differently than our straight counterparts.
Read More Scott @ www.somelikeitscott.com