Braille Monitor                                                 July 2010

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Fall Risk

by Hannah Lindner

Hannah LindnerFrom the Editor: Hannah Lindner is a college student at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has already learned that disagreeable experiences can sometimes strengthen and empower us. They can also teach us to speak up and advocate for ourselves and our right to equal treatment. Of almost equal importance, they can provide a powerful opportunity to teach others about the abilities of blind people. Here is her story:

For the most part the day had been typical. It was a Monday in the middle of the semester. I had gone to classes, including one in which I had taken a mid-term. I worked and squeezed in a little homework. I had barely enough time to attend to my personal needs. The only new addition to my routine was to have a dorm nurse come to my room to check my blood sugar once or twice a day because my levels had suddenly begun to read high and I did not yet have a talking glucometer. I had begun taking an oral medication, and I needed to know how well it was working.

That night, however, things went crazy. It was around 9:00 as I was finishing homework and getting ready for bed, anticipating spending eight hours at my internship the next day. That was the time the dorm nurse could visit, and, being at least two hours after a meal, it was an appropriate time to check my blood sugar. The procedure was typical until the student nurse announced 538 as the level displayed on the meter screen. She was worried that I might have to go to the hospital for insulin to bring the level down. I called my mother, who is also a nurse, and told her the situation. She said that I should go to the hospital because the high level could begin to damage my internal organs, particularly my transplanted kidney. By this time I could hear the deans and residential staff gathering in the lounge across the hall for their weekly meeting, so I knew I couldn’t reach anyone on the on-duty line. I called the desk and attempted to explain the situation to the worker, but I was quite anxious by this time, and all I could really get out was that my blood sugar was extremely high and that I had to go to the hospital. A moment later both deans came to my door wondering what was going on. As I was telling them what I had told the desk worker and how high my blood sugar was, the dorm nurse Nicole came back. They discussed who could drive me to the hospital, and they decided that Nicole would drive me. We drove to Brian East emergency room, which is where my adventure began.

After waiting a few minutes, Nicole and I went back to the triage area, where I answered the usual questions about myself and my health. Of course, among the topics of interest to the triage staffer was my blindness--what had caused it and how long I had been blind. After I answered these questions, she commented that my blindness made me more likely to be a fall risk and adorned my left wrist with a yellow band reading “FALL RISK.” As the band was being put on, I said that I didn’t believe that blindness made me or anyone else more of a fall risk. I was even more taken aback when my words were met only by the statement that I could hit things in the hall. This statement was only an excuse; she hadn’t really acknowledged my words or point of view. I thought that’s what the cane in my hand is for, but the discussion had ended. Nicole and I were already being led into the room where I would stay until I was either admitted or considered stable enough to return home. I was given a gown and instructed to change into it. I began talking to Nicole, trying to decompress from what had just happened. I was very unhappy and in a heightened state of anxiety, which they said was caused by my elevated blood sugar level. It created a personality that I began referring to as “Crazy Hannah.”

“I don’t know why people can’t just have a little faith!” I said as I tossed one of my snow boots to the floor in disgust. Nicole tried to calm me by saying that they were only trying to do what was best and safest. She assured me that she knew better than to think I was a fall risk, at least under normal circumstances, but these were not normal circumstances. While I understood that the staffer might have been well intentioned, the fact remained that labeling me had not been necessary. Whether or not she had intended it, she had been blatantly condescending to me. She and Nicole, as well as anyone else who passed us, could see that I was alert and could walk just fine, although I did find it helpful to walk with a human guide, not because of disorientation or instability, but for convenience in an unfamiliar area. I was in the emergency room, being treated for a serious condition and being transferred here, there, and everywhere at record speed.

After I got into the bed, I desperately tugged at one of my bands until it fell off. I assumed it was the one that had just been applied and had caused my indignation. I attribute this action to the state I was in. Soon afterward one of the many people that were bustling in and out of my room discovered the fallen band. I was informed that my medicine allergy band had fallen off, and the staff member replaced it. “Drat,” I thought. “Wrong one.” After that nurses were busy drawing blood, trying to start an IV, treating my blood sugar level, and locating the doctor. In short, they decided to admit me for the night.

By this time it was almost 11:00, and Nicole had to leave because she had a big test in the morning. Since I had asked if possible for someone to be with me in that crazy emergency room, she called the deans to see if one of them could come until I got settled in a patient room. Shortly after Nicole left, Mrs. Merth, the head dean of women, came. I told her about being labeled a fall risk, and she also tried to encourage and comfort me. Although I was still exasperated, her presence was calming.

About midnight I was moved into a room on the orthopedic unit because the hospital was busy and there was nowhere else to put me. In the admission process we told the nurse about the fall-risk band, and she said that almost everyone on that unit was declared a fall risk. Then she added, to my great relief, comfort and encouragement, that the nurses use their own judgment about whether a patient is actually at risk of falling. When we finished the admission process, I told Mrs. Merth that she could go get some sleep and that I would try to do the same.

Having received at least a liter and a half of fluid in the emergency room and a much slower but constant drip in my room, I kept having to get myself to the bathroom. Each time I had the nurse help me because the IV was hooked up and I didn’t want to get wound up in the lines and cords. The nurse observed me walk several times. In the early morning, when she was getting ready for the day shift to come in, we were talking about my bands because she had to put another band on me because of one of the medicines I was taking. My fall risk band came up in the conversation, and the nurse said she was going to take it off, saying “I don’t know where they got their numbers on that. You move better than 95 percent of the people on this floor.” I explained that the emergency room staff had applied a stereotype to me as a blind person. When she was ready to remove it, I handed it to her, having slipped it off a moment before after she said I didn’t need it. I asked her to put it with my things, explaining that, when things like this happened to blind people, we often write stories to inform others and that having the band in my possession would serve as a reminder--as if I needed one. When she left that morning, I decided that she had been very pleasant, fair, and open minded toward me and had willingly learned something about blind people and the stereotypes that we face.

That hospital stay lasted three days, but never again was I treated differently because of my blindness. I did have to affirm my capabilities to people on a couple of occasions, but they at least gave me the courtesy of listening to me. I received some education while I was there, including how to administer insulin. They seemed quite willing to teach me this technique. Although for the moment I no longer have to administer insulin because my levels are well controlled on one oral medication, it was helpful to learn how in case I need to use this knowledge in the future. I still have my fall risk band, really just as a keepsake now to remind me. But I will never forget the events of that day and that hospital stay, and I think of it as an experience I can use to help others.

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