California lesbian couple allege discrimination at Fresno hospital
"As I was laying there all alone, I wondered how many people from the LGBTQ community die by themselves because they are denied a basic right. The thought frightens me."
That's what Kristin Orbin, 29, said about her ordeal at Fresno Community Hospital and Medical Center on Saturday, May 30th.
Orbin and her partner of 3½ years, Teresa Rowe, 30, who live in Northern California, were in Fresno for Meet in the Middle 4 Equality, an event protesting the California Supreme Court's ruling upholding Proposition 8.
After marching 14 miles in Central Valley heat, Orbin (who is epileptic) collapsed and suffered three grand mal seizures. A doctor at a first aid center had difficulty finding her pulse, so he called 911.
Orbin said the discrimination started as soon as the paramedics arrived.
"By that time, I was going in and out of consciousness. The paramedics wanted nothing to do with Teresa and she had to practically fight them to be allowed to ride in the ambulance. I remember one of them was very nice and agreed to let her ride with me in the back. Once we got to the hospital, they wheeled me into a hallway and left me, refusing to allow Teresa to be with me."
Orbin said the paramedic told the nurse on duty that she had collapsed after marching 14 miles for civil rights, and the nurse gave her a dirty look and said "ooooh." She continued, "I asked if Teresa could come back with me, but the nurse told me I was in a no visitor zone. When I asked her why everyone else had visitors, she said 'those people are different'."
Orbin said she went to sleep at that point, but she was awakened by a nurse giving her the benzodiazapine Ativan, a drug that causes her to have severe migraine headaches. It was then that she discovered just how bad the situation had become.
"Teresa was finally able to make her way up to the front desk and convince them to get a cell phone to me. When I talked to her, she said she had told the nursing staff not to give me Ativan, but they refused to listen to her. They refused to take my medical cards from her. They refused Teresa's offer to have my advance directive and power of attorney faxed over from UCSF."
Orbin said she asked the nurses several times if Rowe could join her, but each time they refused.
"They just kept looking at my Marriage Equality shirt and giving me dirty looks," she said.
Orbin and Rowe were not reunited until a doctor intervened a few hours later.
"When the doctor arrived, I asked him if Teresa could join me," Orbin said. "He asked me why she wasn't already with me, and I told him the nursing staff told me I was in a no visitor zone. The doctor gave me an odd look and said, 'I will take care of that'. He left the room, and a few minutes later Teresa came in, but she said she was told by the front desk that she could only stay for a few minutes."
However, Orbin said the nursing staff suddenly had a change of heart while the doctor was present and allowed Rowe to stay with her until she was discharged. "They finally figured out that we were not happy and one of the nurses came up and told Teresa that she could stay," she said. "Once she was back there people started being more kind to us, but I truly believe they were just trying to cover themselves."
Calls to Fresno Community Hospital and Medical Center for comment have not been returned.
The couple said they have never experienced such blatant discrimination. They are both so upset over the incident that they have contacted the ACLU for legal advice. Orbin said it was particularly upsetting that the hospital staff continually refused to acknowledge Rowe as her spouse, and failed to treat either of them with kindness or respect.
Another reminder of just how much work needs to be done to achieve true equality in the United States.