108. Separate And Unequal

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Henry clutched Sarah's shoulder, as they sat, waiting to see a doctor.

He'd driven her to the closest hospital from the Coyote's ballpark.

Shadyside General was a small, segregated hospital on the East Side of Pittsburgh. It looked more like a mansion than a medical facility ... a red brick structure, two stories tall. White patients were seen on the first and second floors, while coloreds were treated in the basement.

But the basement door was locked today. Taped on the door, a sign read:

Due to an outbreak of Spanish Flu, the Negro section has been closed until further notice. For emergency treatment only, report to the first floor and check in with the admissions nurse.

Now sitting in the waiting room, Henry's frustrations continued to rise as he wiped the sweat from his palms onto his dirt-stained uniform.

Sarah was conscious, but she was clearly in pain. She had reported to the admissions nurse that she was feeling nauseous and lightheaded. At times, she would clutch her stomach and groan. And she kept screwing up her face as if the pain would increase and then subside in a never-ending cycle.

Henry wondered if Sarah was going to give birth early. That wouldn't be good. Not this early in the pregnancy. He could tell she was doing her best to hide the discomfort. He just wished there was something more he could do.

Henry had already gone up to the admissions window twice after checking in. Each time, the nurse had informed him that it would be a bit longer before any of the doctors could see her.

Maybe he should have taken the extra time to drive to a Negro hospital. But he'd been in such a hurry to get her to a doctor, and Shadyside General was only ten minutes away.

But now they were here, and they were being ignored. Nobody on the white staff seemed to be concerned in the least that a pregnant woman had fainted.

Henry's anger started to simmer. How could these people ignore her? Just because she was black? She was still a woman carrying a child! Henry just didn't understand how any decent person could let her sit here in pain, especially considering she was carrying a baby. His wife and his unborn child could be in danger, and nobody in this place was giving her the attention she needed.

Henry watched as the waiting room door opened, and a white woman strolled in with a small, white cloth wrapped around her index finger. The cloth was spotted with blood. Probably a minor cut, needing stitches. She walked up to the admissions window, her teeth clenched.

"Hello, there. I was washing the inside of a glass and it broke," the woman told the admissions nurse. "The glass cut the side of my index finger, and it started to bleed."

"Oh, honey, let's get someone to look at that," the nurse said, full of sympathy. "You can just come on in through that door next to you. I'll have the doctor look at you right away. We can take care of your paperwork later."

Henry felt his jaw drop. The woman was taken back to have the doctor look at her. For a cut on her finger! This was the final straw. He wasn't about to just sit back and watch his pregnant wife get ignored, so that a white woman with a scrape could be given priority.

"Hang tight, Sarah," Henry whispered into her ear. "I'm going to find out what the holdup is."

Sarah winced and nodded.

Henry gave her a soft peck on the forehead and hurried over to the admissions window again.

"Hey, when is my wife going to be seen?" Henry asked the woman behind the counter.

The nurse looked up from her paperwork. Her ancient eyes narrowed in disapproval. She had snow-white hair, tied into a tight bun that matched her personality. She drew her face up into a mean, little scowl. "As I've already told you, Sir, we're short-staffed today due to the ballgame today. Your wife will be seen just as soon as possible."

"As soon as possible? And what does that mean? After every single white person with a little nick gets seen?"

"Excuse me?" the nurse said in a sharp tone.

"No, you're not excused," Henry said, the words boiling. "My wife is pregnant and she fainted. Now, you want her to sit here and wait? You really think a little cut on a finger is more serious than a pregnant woman losing consciousness? Seriously! Take a look at her! She's in serious pain!"

"Sir, you need to have a seat and wait!"

"No! I'm not waiting any longer!" Henry shouted, noticing the gold cross chain around her neck. "Let me ask you something. Are you a Christian woman?"

"What?" the nurse snapped. "How dare you ask me that? Of course, I am!"

"And do you think what you're doing now is right?"

"Mister, you need to go sit down! If you don't get away from my desk this instant, I'm going to have to ask you to leave!"

"Ask me to leave?! Just take care of my wife for God's sake!"

"Hey, what's going on out here?"

Henry glanced to his right to see a young white doctor standing in the doorway. "Doctor, it's my wife." He pointed across the room to where Sarah sat, holding her head and doubled over in pain. "She's pregnant and she fainted at the baseball game. We've been waiting here for over an hour. Could you have a look at her? Please?!"

The doctor looked at Sarah, then at Henry, and nodded.

The nurse shot her hand up. "Dr. Bradley, what about the lady with that awful cut?"

"You mean the one with a small cut on her finger?" Dr. Bradley said in mock disbelief. "She can wait." He paused for a beat as if considering what he was about to say. "You and I are going to have a chat about this incident later."

The nurse gaped.

Dr. Bradley turned to Henry. "Go get your wife, and come with me."

Henry ran over and helped Sarah to her feet. He eased her into a wheelchair parked against the near wall. Then he rolled Sarah through the door, leaving the waiting room behind.

As he navigated the hallways behind the doctor, Henry said a silent prayer of thanks. Sarah was going to get the help she needed now. This doctor would examine her and help her to get better. She was going to be fine. Henry repeated this to himself, as he followed the doctor into the depths of the emergency department.

Sarah was going to be fine. She had to be. She just had to be fine.

Author's Note

"We are all jars of clay, fragile and poor, yet we carry within us an immense treasure."

- His Holiness Pope Francis

Printed with permission from His Holiness Pope Francis and the Vatican

From my upcoming book "COREAGEOUS".  

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