Folks who identify with marginalized communities, I am sorry.
This week is a busy one for the #bebobabes. Really busy! We are getting ready for Black Friday next week. Black Friday creates the opportunity for folks to access our programs who may not otherwise be able to pay tuition at the full price. And honestly, when you run a feminist business the cost of keeping the doors open is very high. We pay a living wage to our team, we reward our team regularly, we give a huge portion of our profits back to our scholarship program, we pay more for software and external services in order to buy from other feminst businesses. Our HR policy gives more to our team, more time off, more care for their whole families, more accommodation for wellness, particularly mental wellness. It means slower growth and a smaller profit margin, and it feels good when we close our laptops at the end of the day. So, Black Friday literally keeps our doors open with a cash infusion to the company to survive another year.
This week my wife, Alana, who is our Director of Marketing and I found ourselves wrapped from work at 7pm and our daughter felt burned out so she didn’t go to her evening lesson. We didn’t even need to drive anywhere! What?! An evening in the week unspoken for?! So we decided to do some self-care. We recently decided to have an official wedding ceremony and our sister-in-law, Danielle, sent us a big package of treats and wedding mags. We ran a bath, filled it with dried flowers and salts and soaked and snacked and giggled and drank fancy hot chocolate from our new matching mugs that were in the same care package from Danielle (she is literally the dream SIL!!). We went to bed early. It was the perfect night to set us up for success the next day.
I woke up just before 1am yesterday morning with abdominal pains. Like bad. I did not want to wake my family so I went to sit on the floor of the upstairs bathroom. It was really bad. I started throwing up. And kept throwing up. I sobbed with the pain. After an hour I cried for Alana, who eventually came up about 20 minutes later (we have a loud fan in our bedroom and dehumidifier downstairs so she could not hear me). She rubbed my back while I vomited and cried. She brought the whole party down to our bedroom with my favourite giant salad bowl as my puke receptacle.
This continued for 10 more hours.
Now, I am pretty tough and at the 12 hour mark I begged her to call an ambulance. I do not go into the hospital just for anything. I go because I have a clear goal in mind. Something that I cannot do at home or at my doctor’s office. I needed to address my pain and I needed rehydration. I wanted to catch this before I had internal bleeding from retching bile. Alana called for an ambulance (after rushing to clean the house – reminding me of this sketch that is hilarious by the Baroness Von Sketch show where a woman living alone is choking to death but cleans herself and her house up to die…)
The ambulance comes and the two guys attending were lovely and started by giving me an intramuscular (IM) dose of Gravol which helped pretty quickly. After waiting a couple of hours in the emerge departnent I was finally seen. The attending ER doc asked if I could be pregnant. I said I had a hysterectomy in 2017… here… in this hospital. He asked if my bleeding and pain was better after the surgery. I stared blankly at him. Umm, I don’t bleed because I don’t have a uterus. You have my chart in your hand.
After enduring countless terrible experiences, both my own and while supporting my clients and friends, here is my open letter to you.
Please invest in training your staff on trauma informed care. Please do some diversity and inclusion training. Please read the charts of the patients in front of you. You are repeatedly careless and your care, especially in emerg. is abysmal.
I do not want to be asked if I could be pregnant 9 times over my 6 hour stretch in your emergency department. It is triggering. My hysterectomy was traumatic for me and the after effects are a huge source of grief in my life.
To the queer x-ray tech. Do not comment on the fact that I do not have a uterus and that I am too young to have undergone a hysterectomy. You do not know why I had my surgery. The only questions you can ask is how I feel and if I feel safe in your lab and what you can do to ensure there is as little suffering as possible in the 7 minutes we are in relationship. I am sorry, from one queer woman to another, that I expected more from you.
To the administration, something needs to be done so that every patients’ care isn’t heard by all of the folks in the emergency department. 28 people stuffed into a 150 square foot space with only curtains dividing the 5 current winners of care for that hour is unacceptable. Doctors coming out to discuss results publicly in the waiting rooms is both embarrassing and a breach of privacy.
To the girl that got ‘formed’ in front of the whole waiting room for her suicidal ideation and planning, I am sorry. I am sorry that you are struggling with a mental health crisis. I am sorry that we all heard your private and scary thoughts. I am sorry that your rights were stripped by white, male doctors. I am sorry to your family who is so scared for you. I am sorry our society is so stacked against you as a woman of colour not born in Canada. I am sorry that getting locked up is the only solution when you disclose that you need help with unwellness of your brain. It is archaic. I am sorry to anyone that heard all of this and experienced trauma or found it triggering, like I did as a suicide loss survivor.
To the many people who wept and sat alone and bled and moaned and begged for help and who were cold and who were hungry and who were hoping for a solution, I am sorry. I am sorry this is the best we have. I am sorry with Canada’s ‘free’ health care comes a loss of respect and autonomy and diligence. I am sorry we all had to sit in uncomfortable chairs facing one another rather than laying down with some scrap of privacy like our bodies ached for.
To all the care providers, please remind yourself that you have a person in front of you. That person, you are only seeing them in a moment in time. It feels like you are not interested in, or do not have the time, to gather the information to understand the bigger picture. That woman who has disclosed she is living with an addiction to crack and meth. Do not judge her. You do not know how she got there. You do not know her demons and trauma and her brain makeup and addiction susceptibility and her lived experiences. You do not know how she suffers with her addiction. She is not a leech on the medical system. Her addiction is a product of an oppressive society that has failed her. Failed to keep her safe. She is in a crime of poverty loop. She deserves love and empathy and respect. We all do.
To the nurses doing intake and blood work. Please do not laugh or roll your eyes or talk about patients so openly. Everyone sitting in that waiting room or in the chair across from you is scared and vulnerable. Even if you are laughing at something else, it feels like you are laughing at us. It feels terrible. It feels like our sickness and pain is not serious to you. It feels unsafe.
To the doctor that said there was nothing wrong with me. I do not feel you tried hard enough. I am tired of being passed from specialist to specialist with no answers. I am tired of having to be so proactive and advocate so hard just to get mediocre care. My last visit to your ER was in 2015, my medical imaging turned up nothing. I knew I had a prolapsed uterine fibroid that was causing me to literally hemorrhage to death. I could feel it through my cervix. No one could ‘see’ anything in my ultrasound. While bleeding profusely, I grabbed a medical student that was passing by my curtain room and I asked him to get a speculum and I walked him through finding the fibroid that was hanging out of my cervix. When he saw it, I asked him to page OB/Gyn and get someone down to investigate further. I was rushed into surgery 2 hours later where I declined a much needed blood transfusion from such extreme blood loss. All my medical imaging was clear and showed no explanation for my excessive bleeding. The ER staff were prepared to send me home. I took matters into my own hands to save my life. That I can advocate is a place of privilege for me. To start, I am tall, thin, white, able-bodied and femme-presenting. I have been educated at a post-secondary institution and if I don’t announce that Alana is my wife I am also read as heterosexual (don’t get me started). I am clear where my privilege shows up in spaces.
I know that folks who do not list English as their first, second or third language; or do not have access to the medical information and education that I do; or are not white; or cannot ‘pass as straight’; or who are not “visibly” owning-class (whatever that means) will experience even bigger gaps in their care than the care I received.
No one stopped and actually used their eyes to look at me and ask me questions that would provide a bit of a road map to understand why I was sitting there in front of them right now. The dependence and reliance on medical imaging is problematic. Things are getting missed in your emergency room. I had a friend sent home with a perforated uterus from her new IUD. I had another friend sent home with complete liver failure. Both were admitted for surgery within a week of being discharged, after the symptoms worsened and required longer hospital stays.
To racialized folks, I am sorry that it is even harder for you to access good care. It is not surprising when the top 9 positions at this hospital are mostly held by white people. Although I don’t want to pass over the fact that 5 of those positions are held by women.
To my visibly queer wife who is never acknowledged as my spouse in the room or who was told you cannot be sitting on the bed with me by nursing staff, you do matter and you are an amazing care provider to me when I am not well.
To the doctor who discharged me with no answers and said to come back if the list of 4 symptoms I came in with were happening. Well, they were happening while I sat in your emergency room and they are happening while I type this 24 hours later on my sofa at home. Now what?!
Not one time did I feel seen as a human that deserved respect or safety or that my privacy mattered. As soon as I put on the gown, I felt like I lost the autonomy and human rights I deserved.
Ironically, you stream propaganda boasting about your hospital and its care while in reality an absolute shit show was taking place under the flat screen televisions.
I know you can do better. Care is beyond sloppy at your hospital.
I promise to only walk through your doors only when I cannot solve the problem myself or with my family doctor or with private alternative medicine. In return, please treat me with respect. Please try harder. Please create spaces for privacy in care. Please read my chart.
– – –
To the bebo mia alumni:
I want to say a special thank you. Thank you for working to keep people safe. Thank you for taking on the emotional labour and picking up the slack where doctors and nurses and midwives are falling down*. Thank you for continuing to do this work even though you are paid a fraction of what the health care providers are (if you get paid at all). Thank you for understanding women’s health. Thank you for using inclusive language. Thank you for taking care of all genders. For learning about the modern family. For holding space during emotionally charged, and sometimes traumatic, times for your clients. Thank you for asking more questions. Thank you for listening to the answers. Thank you for understanding autonomy and informed consent. You are brilliant and doing amazing work!
Thank you to my friends that sprang into action and helped with Gray and Winston yesterday with rides, and care, and walks, and food, and changing my puke-y sheets, and check-ins, and love.
Finally, thank you to my wife who cleaned up my puke and who missed a night’s sleep and still worked and who sat in the cold waiting room and who ate hospital food alone & in private so it didn’t bother me and who is such a good care-giver!
*Important Note to any doctor, nurse and/or midwife reading this: this is not an attack on all medical staff. If you do not identify with any of the problematic behaviours I have described then I’m not talking about you. I am still talking to you though. Thank you for YOUR work. Please, if you can spare some time and/or resources please educate those around you. This kind of work matters and it makes a difference.
PS – You can read more about my hysterectomy here.
Bianca Sprague, CEO & Co-Founder of bebo mia inc.
Bianca (she/her) is a badass queer entrepreneur and mom to Graydon. She lives in Toronto and co-parents with her partner, Alana. Bianca feels especially passionate about creating access to quality pre & postnatal care for marginalized communities. She is an advocate for mental wellness for the entire family, and especially for the birthing parent, after suffering from PPD in silence and losing her father to suicide in 2012. She recognizes the barriers put in place for female entrepreneurs and believes that understanding the evolving online space can even the playing field for women* in business.
*bebo mia uses the term ‘women’ in our mission and throughout our values work. We define women as women-identified, femme-presenting, two-spirited, genderqueer, trans-inclusive, gender-non-conforming, androgynous, agender, intersex, bigender, gender questioning, gender fluid, butch, non-binary, queer positive or any person that would like to be included in this definition
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