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We didn’t know it, but the doctor had prescribed the standard pain-management treatment for patients with kidney stones: hydromorphone for the pain, followed by a CT scan. Rachel fell into a kind of shadow consciousness, awake but silent, her mouth frozen in an awful, anguished scowl.
Women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients,’” the study concludes—a phenomenon referred to in the medical community as “Yentl Syndrome.”In the hospital, a lab tech made small talk, asked me how I like living in Brooklyn, while my wife struggled to hold still enough for the CT scan to take a clear shot of her abdomen.“Lot of patients to get to, honey,” we heard, again and again, when we begged for stronger painkillers.
“Don’t cry.”I felt certain of this: The diagnosis of kidney stones—repeated by the nurses and confirmed by the attending physician’s prescribed course of treatment—was a denial of the specifically female nature of Rachel’s pain.
It seemed that arrival order, not symptom severity, would determine when we’d be seen.
As we neared the ward’s open door, a nurse came to take Rachel’s blood pressure. I knew that kidney stones caused agony but never death.
Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.
Rachel waited somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours.“My friend has been reckoning in a sustained way about her own fears about coming across as melodramatic.” Rachel does struggle with this, even now.
We didn’t know her ovary was dying, calling out in the starkest language the body has.
I saw only the way Rachel’s whole face twisted with the pain.
Most hospitals use the Emergency Severity Index, a five-level system that categorizes patients on a scale from “resuscitate” (treat immediately) to “non-urgent” (treat within two to 24 hours). Rachel was nearly crucified with pain, her arms gripping the metal rails blanched-knuckle tight.
I flagged down the first nurse I could.“My wife,” I said. Something’s wrong, you have to see her.”“She’ll have to wait her turn,” she said.