Moving Forward Series


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

I was speaking to a fellow peer the other day that had told me of a time she had been in a hospital for six days.  During this time, due to the lack of knowledge from medical staff that was caring for her, she was not even given a bed bath. They quite simply did not know how to handle her condition, which is spina bifida.   When I learned of the hardship she had endured during her stay there, I immediately went online to find attorneys that deal with medical negligence, as well as, civil rights.

On multiple occasions even I have encountered doctors and medical staff who are simply not trained to handle issues I have with a spinal cord injury.  For instance, many urologists want to write us a prescription for antibiotics every time they take a urine sample.  They don’t realize that we already have colonized bacteria in our urine because many of us catherize.  So, for those who are new to living with such a disability, they have the job of learning how to be his or her own advocate, which I feel is as much as a challenge as the disability itself.

Unfortunately, many doctors will actually get insulted when we guide them on how to treat our condition.  I have told several doctors over the years that they don’t need to be prescribing me antibiotics every time they take a urine sample.  In fact, they should be instructing me on how to naturally flush my body with adequate fluids such as cranberry juice, fresh squeezed lemonade or water.   Many don’t realize that I shouldn’t be taking antibiotics unless I have a fever.  This is for the simple reason that my body will eventually become resistant to the antibiotics, and so when I really do have a urinary tract infection the antibiotics will no longer work.  At that point, the only way to treat the infection is to go into a hospital and have medication given at a higher dose given intravenously.

In regards to my friend, she felt that she didn’t want to get legal counsel for the way she was mishandled.  As much as I wanted her to make that call, I also understand why many of us feel like it is just not worth it.   We don’t feel this problem is ever going to get better.  However, as I explained to her, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, then we have no room to complain if we never see a change in treatment and attitudes towards us.

As a woman, I have been in a few situations where I have felt uncomfortable even as medical staff has taken care of me while I was staying in a hospital.  Yet, I know that I must speak up in order to protect myself, too.  I wasn’t comfortable talking to the medical staff directly, so in telling my mother, she spoke with my caseworker in the hospital.  Afterwards, only female staff members were allowed to come in my room.

We are vulnerable.  Our disabilities make us this way.  Even more so, our disabilities make us lack confidence to advocate for ourselves.  However, change must happen and we shouldn’t have to go to a specialized hospital in order to be treated with dignity and respect.

So, when should we speak up for ourselves?  I believe that we must find the strength to become verbal while living with a disability.  In addition, I feel that knowing our rights will empower us to be confident enough to stand up for ourselves when we feel like we are being disrespected or violated in some way.  Even more importantly, we should not be afraid to seek legal advice when we know that our needs are not being met.   Having a bath or shower at a hospital is basic.  Having a doctor check you out to make sure you are healthy is basic, too.  However, it is a violation of medical ethics when they are not diligent in making sure that we too are receiving their upmost attention and care.  Of course, I would also say that sometimes you need to find another doctor, asked to be transferred to a different hospital, et cetera but again we are only masking the problem.  Physicians and medical staff must not be so proud that they cannot take advice or well-intended knowledge.  Especially from a person who has not only been living with the disability for years, but has full capability of understanding how they should be treated.

As for my friend, I am still trying to convince her to make that call.  My goal is to find a way to make her understand that we must be our own best advocates.  In addition, we must never let anyone think that because we are disabled we can be easily ignored.

For more information on finding legal advice if you even suspect that your rights have been violated, please go to:

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