I knew it was coming. With how 2015 was full of fear and vaccine bullying, I’m not surprised that vaccine discrimination would be next. Many of us have already experienced it privately in one way or another, some by a pushy physician at a medical clinic and others by a bossy school nurse, and it looks like more places are officially adopting the practice.
No matter where or when it happens, being discriminated against is uncomfortable. When that discrimination includes judging, trampling ones parental rights, and denying medical treatment, it’s more than uncomfortable. It’s downright frightening.
I’ve yet to be completely turned away from a clinic or from receiving services after being asked what my child’s vaccine status is. Most of the time, it’s no one’s business to hear that sort of personal information. Other times, when vaccines could be relevant, I tread lightly when offering that information. If I fear that treatment could be jeopardized, I tend to begin with a caveat, “Because my son suffered a vaccine injury, we do not completely follow the recommended vaccine schedule…” and hope that the person who’s listening is actually listening to what I’m saying. Most of the time I am being heard, but one night several years ago, I was not.
That happened when I brought my daughter to the Emergency Room. She’d been fighting a viral respiratory infection for just over 24 hours. With how young she was at the time, I knew it could turn into a serious situation. I’d consulted with our pediatrician, followed her suggestions, and was able to bring some relief during the day. Unfortunately, though, things went from bad to worse - and quickly - once night fell. Knowing that she needed help, I bundled my baby up and headed to the ER.
We were ushered back right away, but instead of treating my child, the ER doctor we were assigned insisted on wasting time. That began after his question, “Are vaccines up-to-date?” was answered with my, “No, we’re selectively vaccinating.” response.
At that point, the doctor completely ignored the medical emergency that my daughter was presenting and opted to berate me about vaccines. In an attempt to belittle me in front of the team of night-shift nurses, who were standing at the ready waiting for the doctor to respond to and act on my daughter’s current condition, he continued to question me. The nurses said nothing, and when the doctor continued his tirade, the nurses looked down. Knowing my rights, I didn’t let that man’s words bother me. I kept my head held high and calmly waited for the doctor to finish the verbal assault.
Keeping my chin up helped me stay poised, but that further infuriated the ER doctor. I don’t think he meant me in particular, but that’s when he went so far as to declare that I was responsible for the return of “vaccine-preventable” diseases. “It’s selfish people like you causing other people’s kids to get sick!” Without skipping a beat, he began to cite non-US “vaccine-preventable” statistics. Those statistics could easily scare the socks off of someone, but I recognized the statistics and knew that he was using them as scare tactics. Maybe he thought that using scare tactics would make me change my mind about the decision I’d made for my children about vaccines, but it didn’t.
While he spoke, I remained calm. That only angered the man with whom I was about to entrust my child. Then, switching his approach, and probably in the hopes of making me cave to “catch up” on the vaccines that he insisted that my daughter was “missing”, the doctor said she could get them that same night. I stared at him in disbelief. If I’d been able to record him to show him how foolish, unprofessional, and dangerous he was, I would have. But I was more concerned about why I’d brought my daughter to the hospital and needed to get the doctor to remember that, too.
I quickly formulated a response.
Standing my ground, I politely declined the vaccines then he was offering. Then, pointing to my child, whose breathing was worsening, I smiled, thanked the doctor for his very strong opinion, and said, “Now that we got that out of the way, can you please remember why I brought her in tonight? She is sick. She is struggling to breathe, and she needs help. Will you help her?”
He did. But he did so without any compassion.
Using the worst bedside manner while glaring at me as he made his assessment, I avoided eye contact unless absolutely necessary. Discreetly, I pulled my phone out of my purse and texted my husband. I let him know that the situation was tense, but that we were finally getting medical help. Slipping the phone in my pocket, I stayed as close to my daughter’s side as I could while continuing to watch and listen.
The doctor was almost done with his assessment. Throwing his gloves down on the bed that my daughter was lying on, he barked his orders: Breathing treatments and steroids. Observe. Repeat breathing treatment if necessary. And with that, he stormed out of the room.
Not wanting to rock the boat any more than I had just done because I feared that this doctor could retaliate, I had watched his every move. I would do the same with each nurse and respiratory technician who entered the room that night.
They watched me, too. Some of the staff was sympathetic, but none were apologetic.
A parent should never fear what a person with power could do to their child, but fear is exactly what I felt that night in the ER. Instead of building bridges and providing immediate care, I was treated horribly. I was targeted as “one of those moms”, and my daughter’s medical treatment was unnecessarily delayed.
I’m no doctor, but it turns out, I was right to bring my daughter to the ER that evening. She was sick. She was struggling to breathe. She did need medical attention. And after the doctor stopped defending the almighty vaccine program that I was not interested in, he, too, agreed that she needed treatment – and quickly.
Thankfully, within a few hours, things got better. I’m glad for that. I’m glad that I experienced what I did with that doctor, too. Even after the raised eyebrow, the fuzzy eyeball, and the unwelcomed lecture made in a judgmental tone, I will never forget what it feels like to be discriminated against because of health care choices that I have made. Nor will I ever let it happen again.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.
Have you been fired from a practice or been denied medical treatment or services because of you/your child’s vaccine status? What have you done or said when you’ve found yourself face-to-face with a vaccine bully? Were you successful in defending your rights? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.