Alex Blaze

Lesbian couple separated at hospital

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 05, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: California, lesbian, LGBT, marriage, orbin, Prop. 8, rights, visitation


"By that time, I was going in and out of consciousness. The paramedics wanted nothing to do with Teresa and she had to practically fight them to be allowed to ride in the ambulance. I remember one of them was very nice and agreed to let her ride with me in the back. Once we got to the hospital, they wheeled me into a hallway and left me, refusing to allow Teresa to be with me."

Orbin said the paramedic told the nurse on duty that she had collapsed after marching 14 miles for civil rights, and the nurse gave her a dirty look and said "ooooh." She continued, "I asked if Teresa could come back with me, but the nurse told me I was in a no visitor zone. When I asked her why everyone else had visitors, she said 'those people are different'."

Orbin said she went to sleep at that point, but she was awakened by a nurse giving her the benzodiazapine Ativan, a drug that causes her to have severe migraine headaches. It was then that she discovered just how bad the situation had become.

"Teresa was finally able to make her way up to the front desk and convince them to get a cell phone to me. When I talked to her, she said she had told the nursing staff not to give me Ativan, but they refused to listen to her. They refused to take my medical cards from her. They refused Teresa's offer to have my advance directive and power of attorney faxed over from UCSF."

Orbin said she asked the nurses several times if Rowe could join her, but each time they refused.

"They just kept looking at my Marriage Equality shirt and giving me dirty looks," she said.
Orbin and Rowe were not reunited until a doctor intervened a few hours later.

"When the doctor arrived, I asked him if Teresa could join me," Orbin said. "He asked me why she wasn't already with me, and I told him the nursing staff told me I was in a no visitor zone. The doctor gave me an odd look and said, 'I will take care of that'. He left the room, and a few minutes later Teresa came in, but she said she was told by the front desk that she could only stay for a few minutes."

However, Orbin said the nursing staff suddenly had a change of heart while the doctor was present and allowed Rowe to stay with her until she was discharged. "They finally figured out that we were not happy and one of the nurses came up and told Teresa that she could stay," she said. "Once she was back there people started being more kind to us, but I truly believe they were just trying to cover themselves."

It just goes to show that we've got our work cut out for us. Rowe had power of attorney and the hospital still denied her the right to even give them Olbin's medical cards. If they were married, there's nothing really stopping a hospital, in the heat of the moment, from breaking the law and doing the same thing.

As we've heard from Obama and the moderate right, hospital visitation and power of attorney rights are usually seen as the first step towards same-sex relationship recognition, the most obvious and easiest rights to grant. These people work in a hospital and saw that situation firsthand and were still able to illegally keep these people apart. It's pretty scary to be in a hospital and have no one on your side because the person you trust, be they a boyfriend, girlfriend, distant family member, parent who hasn't adopted you yet, or a close friend, isn't allowed to look out for you.

But even then, some people just look at a same-sex couple or queer individual as less-than. That stuff runs deep.

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This reminds me that I need to canvas local hospitals to see which ones are staunchly GLBT friendly. A trip to the ER would be a nightmare situation for me, all things considered; if they didn't understand my situation I could be in some serious trouble.

mixedqueer mixedqueer | June 5, 2009 4:48 PM

wow what a nightmare!

This is tragic and very frightening. We need lots and lots of people to read this story - so many people have never stopped to think what it means to deny these very basic civil rights.


Rick Sours | June 5, 2009 8:43 PM

My Partner John and I live in Florida and have
Medical Power of Attorney over each other. It
is shocking that this could happen.

you know, the irony is I'm in Savannah with my sister in the hospital. No questions, no looks, I am her sister and no questions asked.

not even an ID asked for.

it's such bullshit.

Before we had same sex marriage in Mass I was in a situation where a bisexual couple both female who had two kids together had to use me as the information go between. The hospital would not tell the same sex partner anything about the surgery going on and would not let her into the recovery room. But because I was listed as the clergy for the patient they would freely update me with no problem.

I'm sorry Orbin and Teresa encountered such poor examples of the nursing profession. The article below might be of use to people in similar situations in the future. A few things I'd add to the article would be to:

A. If after regular working hours when the nursing supervisor is not helpful ask to speak to the medical officer of the day (MOD). He/She is overwhelmed with issues and the easiest and therefore most likely solution for the MOD is to tell the nurses to quit yanking your chains.

B. If during regular working hours call the hospital administrator's office for assistance.

C. Keep relevant documents like certified copies of your power of attorney with you. Your local courthouse and sometimes notaries can certify key documents.

D. See for information on "health care proxy."

E. As worried as you may be give health care providers reasonable amounts of time to handle your requests before elevating things to the next level. The nurse who you think is ignoring you may be dealing with ten other issues.

F. When you get with your partner don't ask for too much non-essential assistance from your nurses and doctors. Partners, gay or straight, can quickly turn even the most compassionate medical providers against them if the partners run the providers ragged over issues like unimportant dietary preferences, requests for toiletry items, demands for endless specialty consultations for things that could have been handled ahead of time out-patient, etc. Your failure to plan ahead is not a mandate for your partner's misc. issues to be someone else's emergency.

How to Make Yourself Heard in the Hospital
Tuesday, December 12, 2006; Page HE04

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a nonprofit organization that evaluates hospital care, recognizes the dangers of miscommunication in hospitals. "Sometimes caregivers don't realize that how they deliver a message can shape a patient's perception of the care they receive," says JCAHO media relations manager Charlene Hill.

Here are some steps JCAHO recommends for a patient who feels he or she is not being treated properly by a hospital staff member.

1. Address the staffer directly, explaining the problem. The staffer may be unaware of it.

2. Relay your complaint to the nursing supervisor.

3. Ask your primary care doctor to intercede for you in dealing with a brusque hospital caregiver or clarifying insufficient information from a specialist.

4. Enlist the help of a healthy friend or relative who can speak up and seek an explanation for a staffer's words or behavior.

5. Enlist the help of a supportive staffer.

6. Make your complaint known to the hospital's ombudsman. Most hospitals have one on staff.

7. If all else fails, register your complaint by contacting JCAHO at Or send e-mail to [email protected] or a fax to 630-792-5636.

This is one of my worst nightmares. If I were the partner outside the ER, I'd probably end up getting myself thrown out or thrown in jail because they'd have to restrain me to keep me from going back with Jerame.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 6, 2009 10:42 AM

Bil, having been the partner outside I wish I had lied and said I was my partner's nephew or something. As it was, the Catholic hospital caved and allowed me to his bedside after I invoked the name of my attorney.

Because it is bullshit as Sara mentions I think the important thing is to be there, so lie to the devil if you need to. It ain't a sin.

So much of our medical system is church founded and so many churches will view us for years as second class citizens until civil unions or "marriage" unite us legally.

YES, BIL! I would go bat-shit CRAZY on anyone who prevented me from seeing my partner, just as ANY (any) ANY heterosexual would. No one would blink an eye if a HET got violent while being prevented from seeing a spouse - most folks would see it as 1,000% justified.

You do NOT mess with myself or my family - PERIOD. I simply cannot think, speak, or act UN-equal any longer in America. I've HAD IT.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 7, 2009 7:29 AM

John, have a good lawyer on speed dial. America is neither equal or just, but can be persuaded to be fair. I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

I know you mean well Robert, but I dunno -

Sure, you advice sounds great "in theory", but I know the actual event would play out differently in real life for myself. Teddy's advice sounds nice also, but when applied to our "movement" it seems to have made us to be regarded as the meek, apologetic cowards that we appear to be to society at large (I have heterosexuals question me persoanlly as to why we're so timid in our demands for equality).

Perhaps if more hospital workers were seriously injured and/or killed while holding us back from our loved ones, maybe THEN our country would realize the evil cruelty of preventing family from seeing other family members in hospitals. Luckily I do not represent anyone but myself, so while gay organizations will fall over themselves criticizing my cold corpse for NOT being representative of our community, I'll die knowing that I actually FOUGHT for something. My own life experiences have pushed me to this edge - I've HAD IT with being treated unequal.

To clarify - Our "equality movement" is unique in 1 very striking way - these "rights" are not just about individual rights; they are also about that individual's FAMILY. Family rights. Family AND children's rights (minors who are 100% dependent on their parent's rights).

I realize "giving" our families equal protection under that law is a BIG DEAL in America, but....MY GOD....we're talking about our FAMILIES here. Switch orientations:

A father is held back from being with his daughter at the hospital. His baby girl. Father freaks, happens to be in-shape, and "goes insane" on whomever is in his way.

"Killing" may be accidental in a fit of rage, but law-injustice-rational aside, some people WILL go ape-shit-crazy when fighting to see a loved one with a total inability to weigh the consequences. FAMILY means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Even if the jury finds the father above guilty, I'm not sure they'd not blame him a bit. Some may have reacted in the same way.

Of course, in all honesty, in this situation I could VERY WELL fall to the floor in a fetal position and cry uncontrollably. Again, who knows until it happens!

This is dreadful, not only were you prevented from being with your partner but possibly more importantly they would not take into account your power of attorney or take from you medical records. Failure to do this could have had serious repercussions.

Bearing this in mind I would consider the possibility of suing. I am not American and am not familiar with your State or Federal laws.

I think the only way such Neanderthal attitudes will change is to hit the corporations in the pocket and with bad publicity. This may bring about change in corporate work practices from which peoples own attitudes will begin to change.

At the very least a stiff letter of complaint to the Chief Executive of the Hospital is in order! Senior management may not be aware of the attitude of the shop floor workers which may differ from company policy!

The fact that they wouldn't accept a faxed copy of their medical power of attorney papers is sickening. Also, the fact that they didn't listen when she told them about reactions to medication could have KILLED her!

I smell a lawsuit.