"He Went to the Hospital for Help. He Left With a Bullet in His Chest."
Contrary to popular belief, the phrase "First, do no harm" isn't actually part of the Hippocratic Oath — the oath that doctors swear when they graduate from medical students to full-fledged physicians. Maybe that's why those running hospitals feel that it's ok to arm their security guards with lethal weapons, which are intended for nothing else but to do harm.
This is a disturbing new trend among hospitals. More than half the hospitals in the U.S. state that their security guards are armed with guns, and an equal number carry Tasers. This puts vulnerable patients — and their families — at risk of the shoot-now-ask-questions-later mentality so prevalent among law enforcement.
Guns have no place in hospitals.
Hospitals are supposed to be safe spaces. Places of sanctuary, so to speak. Places where healing occurs. Where, when death or disability does happen it's in spite of — not because of — the best intentions of staff.
This is rapidly changing. As the culture of fear becomes ever more entrenched in society, hospitals are becoming places not just to turn to when you're injured, but where you may sustain injury. Thanks to the growth of the "us-vs-them" mentality, if you have a breakdown at your local hospital, you might just get shot.
If the Drugs Don't Kill You, Security Might Finish the Job
I'd like to tell you the story of Alan Pean. It's not my story. I read it in the news like everyone else. It is, however, a lurid illustration of something that is happening more and more often across the country. Agitated patients who've turned to hospitals for help are finding themselves in jail, in the ICU, or even dead thanks to trigger-happy security guards with live bullets.
Here's what happened to Alan.
Alan had bipolar disorder — what we used to call "manic depression." Although it's been the flavor of the week in mental health diagnoses for some time, true bipolar disorder alternates bouts of depression with episodes of hyperactivity, delusions, and even hallucinations. People in the "manic" phase of bipolar disorder may see or hear things that don't exist.
They may think they can fly, or stand in front of a moving train without getting hurt. They may think that aliens have put implants in their brain or that the secret service is tracking them. In severe cases, they can combine the worst parts of schizophrenia and ADHD.
Alan was having a manic episode, and while he was having delusions and hallucinations, some small part of his mind knew he needed to get help. He drove himself to the nearest hospital. He crashed his car in the hospital parking lot and was taken inside, where he was examined for injuries. He repeatedly told the staff, "I'm manic! I'm manic!"
The doctor who examined him dutifully put down "bipolar disorder" in a note on his chart. However, although Alan believed he was a "cyborg robot agent who was being chased by assassins," no one bothered to call in a psychiatrist.
His father, brother, and a friend all told the hospital he was bipolar. Again, no one bothered to involve a psychiatrist. Instead, he was diagnosed with minor scrapes and put on a surgical ward for observation. And still no one bothered to call a psychiatrist — even though the hospital has a psychiatric ward. Instead Alan was prescribed a muscle relaxant because he said his back hurt. And-The drug prescribed is known to make psychotic symptoms worse.
Of course his condition deteriorated.
He wandered naked through the hall, but replied politely and went back to his room when asked. He even allowed staff to put a hospital gown on him, although he wouldn't let them tie it. The next morning the hospital wanted to release him. His parents, who'd recently arrived, were horrified. They insisted that a psychiatrist see him.
The hospital didn't think that was necessary. So while they were waiting to plead their case to a hospital bureaucrat, Alan's parents went to rent a car so they could drive him to a psychiatric hospital themselves.
When they came back, he was lying handcuffed and bleeding on the floor, riddled with Taser punctures and a bullet hole in his chest.
Not tying a hospital gown is dangerous behavior?
While they were gone, a nurse had called security. It's not clear why, but it appears to have been because Alan refused to let anyone tie his hospital gown. And that's where things really got crazy.
The guards who responded were off-duty police. It's common practice for security firms to hire policemen, both active and retired. And it's not uncommon for police to moonlight as security guards. They rushed into Alan's room without a word and without any doctors or nurses with them. When Alan threw a hospital tray at them — no doubt thinking, in his delusion, that they were the "assassins" who'd been chasing him earlier — the guards responded as police too often do these days.
They Tasered him. Multiple times. And then they shot him in the chest at close range. And handcuffed him. And even though they were in the middle of a hospital, they didn't alert a doctor that someone had been shot.
Of course the hospital defends these actions. And although he was the one who nearly died thanks to the reckless actions of these so-called "security" guards, Alan found himself charged with assault. He had to post $60,000 in bail before he could leave the hospital and will face a trial at some point in the future.
To add insult to injury, after he left the hospital prosecutors tacked on a reckless driving charge.
The "security guards" face no consequences. Even though they shot a disturbed man, naked and unarmed with anything but his hands and a hospital tray, their behavior is deemed acceptable. No suggestion that they should have used less force — physically subduing him, for example, or pepper spray. In fact the very reason they were called up in the first place remains murky.
What isn't murky is the fact that this is not an isolated incident involving a couple of overzealous cops. While this story is the one in the spotlight at the moment, this kind of thing happens all over the country on a regular basis. And it's becoming more common each day.
It's bad enough that we need to worry that the police may shoot first and ask questions later. We shouldn't have to worry that a trip to the hospital might end in bloodshed too. If your local hospital arms their guards, write a letter of protest. Start a petition. And if you find yourself feeling emotional at any time during your stay, make it very clear that you're not a threat.
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