Mon | Oct 22, 2018

'True respect for all'

Published:Monday | December 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Many years ago, I was employed to one of our major hospitals. A patient had come in suffering from multiple fractures. Consequent physiological problems put him in a coma and seriously threatened his life.

He needed to be in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU), but we were told that the unit was very short staffed.

I was required to perform frequent, sequential arterial blood gases in an effort to irrefutably present hard evidence that the patient was clinging to life by the thinnest of threads. On one of my numerous trips to the ICU, I happened to notice another patient being wheeled into the critical care unit. He was a family friend who was from one of Jamaica's wealthiest and most influential families.

I was surprised to see him being taken into the ICU, the same ICU that had been refusing my dying patient, so I was compelled to inquire about the state of his health. It turned out that he was being sent to the ICU to recover from a routine (elective) gall bladder removal surgery.

In other words, this very wealthy and otherwise healthy celebrity was getting into the same ICU that an unconscious and rapidly deteriorating accident victim was being kept out of. I made my annoyance known, and my patient was admitted and his life saved.

I don't want to blame individual health-care workers for such happenings; I want to blame the lingering classist/segregationist programming/culture that lingers on our streets, in our businesses, in our security and judicial systems, and even in our health-care facilities.

Deep-rooted prejudices

Inextricably ensconced deep within the psyche of many Jamaicans is the erroneous belief that some people are better than others, and, therefore, their rights and lives are more important than those of other less-fortunate citizens.

And, I am led to wonder if a very fair-skinned Jamaican, or a well-known entertainer or the relative of a known politician, or someone from the upper echelons of society ended up in the emergency department of a public hospital (out of urgency), would he/she have suffered the torture and the indignity of writhing in pain on the floor before dying? I don't see that happening.

Although it might not have saved his/her life, someone would have cut corners and bent the rules in a Herculean effort to assist him/her. In spite of the proper procedures and triaging, someone would have usurped the 'system' and fast-tracked that patient. If nowhere else, our essential services must be colour, race and socially blind.

I have many examples of seemingly inflexible systemic rules, regulations and procedures being applied to the average Jamaican, but not to the popular or to the privileged. Such happenings remind me of the powerful and enduring quote from George Orwell's Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

How we treat others

A few weeks ago, when a bespoke cabinetmaker installed a horribly botched wall cabinet in our kitchen, I asked him if he would have given Butch Stewart such an awful job. His reply was simply, "No." That speaks volumes about how we respect and, therefore, treat one another. It stood as an affront to me, so I insisted that he replace, rather than repair, it.

Would a car filled with young, upper-class-looking males be stopped and several of them 'draped up' and searched in full view of the public just because they may appear suspicious? I've never seen that happen.

Would some taxi operators dangerously drive down on upper-class-looking pedestrians crossing the street in a bid to intimidate them into getting out of the way quickly? I've never seen that happen. I could go on and on and on.

Whatever happened to the beginning of the second verse of our national anthem, "Teach us true respect for all ..."?

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and