Well well well, wouldn’t you know it, I managed to get discriminated against twice in one night! Saturday was quite the exciting night, as it involved me being ill enough that we were wondering if we should head to an ER before I went all floppy and semi-responsive and started having pain in my chest and difficulty breathing. I also had a dehydration-induced migraine.
Looking back, I think the difficulty breathing was just that I was having difficulty doing ANYTHING. When I get dehydrated, I have this alarming tendency to go from okay to NOT very quickly. And, well, there’s not much like throwing up everything and continuing to throw up liquid out of your previously empty stomach to make you dehydrated.
I wasn’t able to help move me much, and we live in a narrow little row house. Without my help, the boyfriend really can’t get me down the stairs. He was getting scared and I was getting less responsive, and complaining that my chest hurt, so he called an ambulance. I think it was a wise move given the situation.
Except, y’know, that the ambulance wasn’t terribly helpful. First off, because we live in a narrow little rowhouse, they can’t easily get the gurney upstairs to the bedroom. So they sent one of them up to help the boyfriend maneuver me. After correcting him to not lever my shoulder (dislocated Thursday), I still had to manage to walk down the hallway, which was a near thing. My legs were shaking, and I’m still surprised I didn’t just fold up. Being vertical and dehydrated for me puts me at a high risk of collapse or faint.
We managed to get me down the stairs and to the gurney waiting outside our front door. They get me on the gurney and strap me in, then wheel me into the ambulance. As this is happening, the boyfriend decides to drive to the hospital because he thinks the ambulance will be too crowded with him and the service dog inside. One of the EMTs is pretty cool and says something that we later realize may have been a warning about the ER, but the other one…the other one, who was driving, decides to stand outside the doors of the ambulance and harass me over the service dog. What do I think he’s going to do to me in the ER? It’s unfair to other people to bring my dog into the ER. Why do I think it’s okay to do that? So on and so forth. I eventually tell him to knock it off, which he reacts to in surprise as if he wasn’t being completely inappropriate.
(Incidentally, my ankle partially dislocated on the way to the ER. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but my feet were strapped in and we hit a little bump and there went my ankle. It certainly added to the misery of the evening!)
So we get to the ER. By the time the ambulance gets there, the boyfriend is already there with Hudson, arguing with security about letting my service dog into the ER. Yeah, you got that right, security said no service dog in the ER. It’s discrimination. We’ve taken Hudson into other ERs. We would have gone to the one we know is service-dog friendly (where, in fact, they love Hudson – yeah, they’ve seen him that often), but when you’re in an ambulance, you don’t have all that much choice over where you get taken.
So the boyfriend argued with security. The first guard seemed like a decent human being, but one hamstrung by policy. He had to call his supervisor, and THAT guy…that guy was the worst we ran into all night. He said that “human rights trump animal rights” and ignored that it wasn’t Hudson’s rights he was trampling, it was MINE. When I was brought from registration to triage, I noticed that Hudson and the boyfriend were gone, so I asked where my dog and my boyfriend were. The triage nurse explained to me that they weren’t allowing the dog. I told them, it’s like taking away someone’s prosthetic leg. They argued that since I was in a wheelchair and would soon be on a gurney, I didn’t need the service dog. I requested her supervisor. Her supervisor came out, and they asked me what exactly Hudson does. I explained a list of the things he does, and they said that since they could do all of that for me, I didn’t need Hudson. I told them again that they were taking away my independence, that the entire point of a service dog is being able to do those things for myself. I told them it was like taking away someone’s prosthetic leg, something they had no right to do. They told me that they had to keep the dog out just in case someone came in with asthma and a dog allergy. now, if they HAD a patient like that in the ER and couldn’t sufficiently separate us, that would have been a reasonable reason not to allow Hudson in. However, the theoretical possibility is not. Hospitals are allowed to restrict dogs from places like burn wards, where the slightest contagion can cause dangerous infections. However, they are NOT allowed to just blanket refuse to allow service dogs into their facility.
The security supervisor kept after me. The guard said they were trying for compromise and I said no, you don’t want a compromise. You want me to do things the way you want. The guard said no, but the supervisor said ‘I won’t lie to you, you’re right.’ I said that’s a bully’s version of compromise, and you’re no better than a schoolyard bully throwing your weight around.
The ER supervisor said I had the option of going elsewhere. Bullshit. When you’ve been brought in by ambulance because you’re barely able to stand with tons of assistance, you don’t have the option of going somewhere else. Especially when somewhere else is on the far side of the city. I told them to just get me through and get me out of here.
The security supervisor followed the boyfriend outside, where he was waiting with Hudson, and started harassing him. He said that the boyfriend was ‘making trouble’ (by standing quietly outside after he’d given up on being able to protect my rights?) and kept after him about the dog being unnecessary in the hospital. The boyfriend eventually took Hudson home, because he didn’t have any other options, and returned for me. I think it was the first time in his furry little life that Hudson’s been left entirely alone, and to be honest I was worried he’d hurt himself trying to get back to me. He’s always had someone with him – his puppy-raiser, his kennel-mate, trainers, me.
So I was left completely alone. I was reliant on the nurses answering the call button (which took forever) for the most basic of things – needing to pee, needing the lights shut off and the door closed because of the migraine, wanting the damn monitor to stop beeping because it felt like someone was driving spikes into my head every time it beeped. Things that my boyfriend or my dog could have helped with. I had to wait for an HOUR at one point to get the call button answered, and the nurse walked in and pushed the ‘off’ switch without even asking me why I needed her, abandoning me with the fluorescent lights still on (my god are those things painful with a migraine) and the door open to all the noise of the ER including a woman yelling. I was in so much more pain than necessary from all these little things that could have been done for me if I hadn’t been trapped alone by their discriminatory policies. Bullshit they could do these things for me. Bullshit that I’d be okay without someone to help me. Bullshit bullshit bullshit.
I think my boyfriend being kept from me was retaliation for being ‘uppity’ and demanding my rights. Another claim to file.
They have the right to bar a dog with reason – if the dog presents a danger to others (actual, not theoretical) or if the dog is out of control and behaving inappropriately.
I spoke to the security today and was informed that what happened was against policy. However, as 4 people acting within their job capabilities denied me access, it’s still a violation for which they are liable. I plan to sue them. At the very least, they are liable for a $10,000 dollar fine. I also want training to EVERY employee mandated. I’m torn about whether I’d prefer a formal apology or money damages; the whole situation was egregious, I suffered more pain because of it, and damn is it ever upsetting to be discriminated against. I cried as I lay there, alone and in pain, and they need to pay for that.
At this point, as I see it, I have 3 choices: the first is to take my case to the Department of Justice, which is the federal branch that prosecutes ADA violations, the second is to take my case to a comparable state agency, and the third is to find a lawyer and prosecute the case myself. I’m inclined towards the third option because if I take it to a government agency, I have virtually no control over what happens and what is demanded as reparation on my behalf.
But believe me, no matter which path I end up taking, I WILL be prosecuting this. It was a horrific experience, and I do not want anyone else to go through it. With cases like this, the only way to get through to people is to hit them where they’ll feel it – the pocketbook. I hate that this is the only way to make people really learn lessons, but so be it.