by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
It could happen to any one of us. You begin to feel immense pain and realize you need to go to the hospital. You are LGBT. You are scared because you don't know what's going on. You do not want to be alone. You call a friend, who is also LGBT, to accompany you to the hospital in your time of need. They agree and you arrive, together, at the emergency room check-in. What next?
There was a time not too long ago in the United States when members of the community would have to explain and re-explain, 'No, we are not married and no, we do not have any paperwork saying he is my domestic partner, but I would like him by my side.' Or, 'No, she is not my sister. This is my friend and I would like to hold her hand before I go into surgery.' Over and over again we would have to, during our time of need, declare what our relationship status to our friend, lover, or partner was as we watched straight patients have friends, family, and near strangers breeze past the check-in counter to visit them when they are ill.
Times have changed, thank goodness, and some hospitals really did get the message that LGBT patients deserve the same treatment and dignity as all patients. We are human, we have friends, and no, we aren't all married or in a domestic partnership. Sometimes we just want our friend next to our hospital bed so we can be reassured by a friendly face and familiar voice that, yes, we will be OK. Providence Health & Services in Everett, Washington, is one of those medical facilities.
On December 9, Josh Horner, an out Gay man living in Lynnwood, began to feel pain in his pelvic area and his heart rate began to elevate. Sensing that something was seriously wrong, the young man went to the emergency room at Providence, as that was the medical facility closest to his house. Scared and in pain, Horner asked that his friend Trenton Garris, also a Gay man, join him at the hospital.
'I was dreading the check-in process because earlier this year, I was admitted to Swedish for pneumonia,' Horner told Seattle Gay News. 'It was a nightmare. It took forever for anyone to see me. They wouldn't admit me until we had the medical insurance conversation and when a friend came to visit, we had explain to each nursing and doctor shift who he was.'
But, much to Horner and Garris' delight, Providence was different. 'They just asked for my name and could see that I was in a great deal of pain and took me straight back,' said Horner. 'They didn't ask one question about Trenton other than if it was OK for him to come back with me. I said yes it was and they never questioned us or brought it up as an issue.'
According to Horner, he was admitted for tachycardia (an elevated heartbeat). Not knowing what else was wrong, the doctors began running tests and monitoring Horner. It became obvious that he would be admitted through the entire weekend. That's when Garris, a volunteer at Gay City and a student at Pima Medical Institute, decided he was going to stay beside his friend to help him through the terrifying ordeal.
'I assumed going into that situation they wouldn't let me stay,' Garris told Seattle Gay News. 'They actually let me check in with him. It really made me feel like the whole fight for freedom and rights is moving along. I felt validated as a community member. It was so refreshing. I was expecting to be treated different in a hospital setting, like so many LGBT people have before.'
'Everett is far off the Hill,' he added, 'but nobody every blinked twice at what we were doing.'
Horner also reports feeling validated. 'Before this experience, I'd never felt equal in a medical setting,' he said. 'At Providence, there was never a problem. Trenton even stayed next to me in the bed.'
To help him deal with the pain he was feeling, Horner was given morphine. Due to the drug's heavy side effects, he said, it helped that Garris was there in more ways than one. 'I felt a great deal of comfort,' he said. 'When you are in that much pain and you don't know what is wrong with you it helps to have someone near you who you trust.'
'[They're] scary places, hospitals,' said Horner. 'Not somewhere you want to be alone, all hooked up to machines.'
When Horner was sedated, Garris says the hospital staff interacted with him, giving him updates so he could help keep his friend informed of his condition.
'They have an amazing nursing staff there,' Garris said. 'They were gracious and funny and treated us like an old married couple.'
To help lighten the mood, Garris and the nurses did their best to keep the lucid Horner in good spirits. 'There were times when we were in the hospital that it felt a bit like we were on vacation, talking and laughing and playing games,' said Garris. 'The nurses even danced with us in the hallway.'
Over the course of the weekend, Horner recovered, and the two men had made some new friends among the nurses and hospital staff.
'When they discharged Josh, it was very late at night,' Garris recalled. 'He was tired so they let us sleep in the room and when it was time to leave in the morning, we had a goodbye powwow with the p.m. nurses.'
The hospital stay came to an end, but the memory and appreciation for what had happened is far from over. The two men say they will continue to praise Providence for years to come.
Cheri Russum, P.R. manager for Providence, said she is not surprised the two men had such a positive experience. 'Our policy is focused on family-centered care,' she said. 'Because family means so many different things to so many different people, we treat our patients' friends as if they were family.'
'People who have their loved ones near them when they are ill tend to do better and fight harder,' she continued. 'To us, it is important to have our patients' loved ones near them to help engage in their care.'
Providence believes in that philosophy so much that they placed sleeper couches in some of the hospital rooms.
'Our mission is not something that hangs in a picture frame on the wall,' Russum concluded. 'It is something that lives and breathes within our staff.'
Horner, who has recovered from his ailment, agreed. 'To this day, I cannot believe how much they care about their patients,' he said. 'There was not one person who even hesitated at accepting Trenton and me.'
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