This is the second episode in the Stolen Breath series. It details the first contact I had with the clinic where I received prenatal care.
Welcome back to the Forgotten Lives Podcast this the second episode in a series where I am investigating the death of Lillie Parkinson, my daughter who was stillborn at 22 weeks. I believe her death was preventable so I’m taking a closer look at what happened during my pregnancy, the day I gave birth, and the aftermath of Lillie’s death. I want other pregnant women to have information that might save lives
The first appointment I had at the clinic was less than stellar. As I mentioned in the first episode, I didn’t expect the same level of healthcare in Utah as I received in Michigan. This is a smaller place and for some, the culture makes it a no-go. If you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you’re an outsider. You’re not just an outsider, you’re this completely foreign entity-unless you live near Salt Lake City, or one of the surrounding suburbs. With that in mind, a good chunk of the doctors are going to be born and bred in Utah. The rest are either going to be closer to Salt Lake, or they eventually move away. It’s find for doctors to be from Utah, but what this means to me as an African-American woman is that the doctors I come across may not be comfortable treating me. So, to help reduce the chance of that happening, I looked for a doctor who had attended medical school and completed their residency, in a more diverse area of the country.
The physician group I chose was stocked full of mothers who had been through deliveries of their own, and one of the doctors had attended medical school in a Midwestern state. I thought this was a good omen because she might not be shocked to see me walk through the door. Most Midwestern cities have African-American populations in larger cities. She would have at least been in close proximity to someone with dark skin. So I called the clinic by my house at 8:00 am August 6th, but initially, no one answered. After double checking online, I realized that the place didn’t open until 8:30, so I called back at 8:30-no answer again, and again at 9:00. This time the receptionist answered. She informed me that I couldn’t make an appointment yet. First, I had to come in and take a pregnancy test. Fair enough, I thought. She told me I didn’t need an appointment, so I arranged to leave work at 3:30 that afternoon so that I could get to the clinic by 4, an hour before they closed.
So, I showed up at the clinic, talked with the receptionist who was very nice, and took the cup she gave me and headed to the bathroom. I sat the sample in a little cupboard that looked like a milk chute, and headed back to the lobby. 15 minutes later, a nursing assistant called my name. As I entered the door that led to the examination rooms, she muttered, “It’s positive.”
Now, there’s no reason for the nursing assistant to be happy for me, so I just said thank you, and followed her to the end of the hallway where she took my blood pressure and ushered me into a room. Once we were in the room, I could tell that this woman was not happy to see me. Better yet, she was disgusted that I had shown up. Maybe it was because it was after four, but in my defense, I had been at work and couldn’t have gotten there earlier. Also, it’s a clinic. I highly doubt she would have been able to leave before 5, even if I hadn’t come in. So, she goes through a battery of questions, some of which she delivers with disdain, such as “Do you drink alcohol?”
Perhaps it’s the English teacher in me that forces me to exam words and consider what they mean before I answer. I had a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve, and my husband and I had indulged in a few glasses of wine earlier in the year, but I hadn’t had a drink in several months, so I said, “Occasionally.”
“It’s important to be truthful,” she said, using a tone one might invoke when talking to a mischievous toddler. This was condescending coming from someone who was probably 15 years younger than myself, but I wasn’t going to let her ruin my joy. I was pregnant and I was over the moon.
She ran through more questions and told me she’d have to take blood. When I asked her to name some of the conditions I was being screened for, she said, “HIV.” Here’s something to know about me. My parents allowed me to get Time magazine from the third grade on. I watched the news every night. Not just the local news, but the national news as well. I have been what some might call a nerd, since I was a small child. I remember that HIV/AIDS was something President Regan ignored in the early 1980s, because it was primarily affecting a few groups-gay men and black women and men-groups the president, and a good chunk of Americans, didn’t care about. Treating HIV didn’t become a priority until a young man, who just happened to be white, contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. I remember writing him letters during elementary school. I remember crying when Elton John performed at his funeral. These were some of the thoughts running through my head. Was this some type of unconscious bias? At that point, I knew what the score was, and I stopped asking questions.
Later on, I would discover while this young woman was reminding me about how it was important to be honest, she conveniently had marked that I was single, not married, and that the father of my baby was not involved. I’d been married for 10 months at that point, and was wearing a ring, but I guess honesty was a one-way street for her.
You may be wondering why I didn’t take this initial contact as a red flag. It was, but it’s important to understand that receiving poor service, or having people be rude to me, is not something new. It’s standard operating procedure. There are times when my skin color provokes negative responses, regardless of what I say or do. I also didn’t want to judge the doctor by the way a nursing assistant behaved. So, I scheduled for the next several appointments and headed home.
On August 20th I had my initial prenatal visit(I didn’t really think of the pregnancy test and blood draw as an appointment). I’d taken the first appointment of the day at 8:30 and my husband and I arrived at 8:10. I’m chronically early. I attended parochial school as a child and one of the lessons I’ve never forgotten, is the idea that if you aren’t at least 15 minutes early, you’re late. So, we waited in the lobby for 8:30 to arrive. I expected to be called back by 8:40 or so, but the call didn’t come until 8:50. The nursing assistant took my blood pressure and told me the doctor would be in soon. At 9:10, the nursing assistant came in and put on a video about the practice. About ten minutes later, the doctor showed up. I wasn’t happy, but I tried to rationalize her tardiness. Maybe she was delivering a baby. Later, I would find out that the physician group didn’t work that way. She wasn’t out delivering a baby. She just said she’d gotten a late start. So basically, she was just 50 minutes late for the hell of it.
The appointment started off with a quick discussion of my health history, and the reassurance that all my test looked good, with the exception of a touch of anemia. I have to give the doctor credit for asking if the child’s father was involved and adding that information into her notes. Her bedside manner was okay, and I’d read reviews that she was thorough. So, remember that part. The part about all test being fine.
During that appointment we got to see Lillie for the first time. I called my husband back to the room so he could be there. Lillie was small, but there. We were ecstatic. I guess that’s why I didn’t immediately think to find a new doctor who actually care enough to be on time. But I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people are late. It happens. I should cut her some slack, I remember thinking. What a mistake. Remember, when people show you who they are, believe them.
The next day, I read over the doctor’s notes and she wrote something that should have come back to haunt her, and if the state of Utah or the health system she works for cared, it would have. on August 21, she wrote, Urine Culture NegGCL. Remember that. Something else that was interesting was the fact that she typed “No Education” I wondered what that meant. it was followed by Preterm labor, breast feeding, ped birth control Labor elective, epidural, flu/TDap, please dip urine for glucose and protein every visit. These notes were copied and pasted into each appointment. After Lillie died, I dug around in my online account and found all the education documents that I’d never been given. Why did the doctor think that I didn’t need any of the education materials? Why not at least give me a chance to say I don’t want those documents? I’m a teacher. Of course I want the educational documents.
The appointment lasted about 15 minutes and even though I was hesitant and nervous about the doctor I’d decided to go with, I wasn’t sure if another doctor would be any better. I have to admit, I have little faith in Utah’s medical establishment.
The reoccurring theme throughout this podcast will be, “Follow your instincts”. Never let a doctor tell you everything is fine if you feel like it’s not. If you aren’t getting an education at your prenatal appointments, find another doctor.
Preterm Labor Stats
March of Dimes: Preterm Labor Information