Treat Emergency, Not Disability

18 Aug 2014 by LARRY P. JOHNSON

One afternoon several years ago, I was having lunch with my daughter and her family when suddenly the spoon of soup I tried to lift to my lips felt very heavy. So I put it down and promptly passed out. My daughter caught me and kept me from falling out of my chair. The restaurant owner called 911. The EMS team was there in five minutes. I came to as they were checking me out. My blood pressure was down, and I felt woozy but no pain. They loaded me into the ambulance and whisked me off to the hospital. I was quickly wheeled into a small examining room. My worried children were all gathered round.

In walks the cardiologist. He looks at me and asks: “So are you totally blind?” “Yes.” I mumble. “How long have you been blind?” he asks. “All my life.” I am a bit puzzled by this line of questioning. “What was the cause of your blindness?” he continues.“Is this really relevant to why I’m here?” I ask.

Ignoring me now, he turns to my daughter and asks what happened. She tells him. He responds by scolding her: “Well, the next time it happens don’t keep him upright, lay him down on the floor.” He had yet to examine me.

What brought me to the hospital emergency room was not my blindness.
But, sometimes when a person has a visible disability like blindness or is in a wheelchair, it’s what doctors, nurses or ER technicians will focus on first.

Is this unusual? Apparently not. I recently read about a mother who took her daughter to the ER because she fell and broke her arm. But because the triage team at the children’s hospital had previously treated the daughter for asthma and multiple allergies, they insisted that she blow into the Peak Flow meter and get ready for the epinephrine shot. The daughter protested, “But what about my arm?”

The opposite can also occur when first responders fail to recognize a person’s medical condition or disability. Assumptions can be wrong and sometimes very dangerous. Police, firefighters, doctors and ER technicians need to be made more aware of how best to assist disabled individuals. If we are in an accident, experience a momentary disorientation or a seizure, or find ourselves in the ER, we are under stress. We are definitely not at our best. Medical personnel may draw the wrong conclusion that our disability renders us incompetent, unable to discuss our symptoms or medical history, or, worse, first responders may misinterpret our condition or behavior for something other than our disability or illness.

The job of first responders and medical professionals in an emergency situation should first be to correctly identify and address the emergency, next take the time to show compassion toward the individual and then do what they can to lessen the pain and anxiety. An important way to do this is to treat each individual as a person first. In an emergency situation, we want to receive competent care. And we want to be treated with dignity and respect. And that’s how I see it.

Contact Larry Johnson via email at or visit his website at

Larry Johnson is a San Antonio based Journalist who regularly contributes to the Jason’s Connection Magazine. This article first appeared in the San Antonio Express-News on July 12, 2014 and has been published with permission from the author.