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Woman Was Told To Walk Around The ER A Few Times After Suffering Complications After Giving Birth

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Kristen Johnson, newborn baby

The postpartum period after a new mother gives birth is a vulnerable time, both emotionally and physically.

Complications can arise that can be life-threatening, as one new mom experienced, according to a January 25 report by Fox 26 Houston.

Kristen Johnson, of Houston, Texas, felt “excruciating pain” in the days after the birth of her first child, yet it took two separate visits to the ER for her pain to be acknowledged by doctors.

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Doctors told her to walk around the ER a few times after suffering complications from giving birth.

Johnson had an induction and then an emergency C-section.

“All went well after the C-section,” she said, and she and her newborn son were discharged after four days, which is standard timing for post-birth recovery in US hospitals.

“On day five of postpartum, I developed pulmonary embolism,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know that at the time.”

“I woke up and told my husband I couldn’t breathe.”

She and her husband, Pastor Alexander Johnson, called 911 and went to the ER.

The doctor suggested Johnson had misaligned ribs, which were causing her pain.

Johnson reported, “the doctor said, ‘I’ll save you a few thousand dollars and we won’t do any of the tests.’”

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He allegedly told her, ‘Let's walk around one time in the ER and if you’re feeling okay I’ll send you home.’

Pastor Johnson explained, “we were offended. We both had fairly healthy insurance plans at the time and weren’t worried about the economics.”

“Beyond that, it just seemed a bit dismissive,” Pastor Johnson noted. “But he’s the expert in that moment so we believed that he may have been onto something.”

Johnson was discharged with a diagnosis of back pain.

She experienced the same symptoms the following day, only this time, she developed a fever. Her family encouraged her to return to the ER.

She sat in the ER for an hour and a half without any type of pain medicine or IV fluids.

When Pastor Johnson asked what was taking so long, the doctors told him they needed to figure out what was going on before prescribing any medication.

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The doctors told her that she had blood clots in her lungs that could have cost her her life.

“Eventually they took me into CT,” Johnson said. “I was maybe out of CT for 5 to 10 minutes when they came in and told me I had blood clots in both of my lungs, which could have cost me my life.”

“Because I was adamant and my husband was my biggest advocate, I'm here today,” Johnson stated. “I’m a miracle.”

Johnson has sickle cell anemia, and as her husband explained, “She’s dealt with pain crises the majority of her life, so she knows how to manage pain. When she’s in the level of pain that she was in, I know something is actually wrong.”

This time, he knew something was different. 

“She was writhing in pain,” he reported, yet she was told by doctors, “you don’t look like you’re in pain.”

Pastor Johnson described the doctors’ response as “fairly offensive, given [she’s] articulating [she’s] in pain.”

“My wife knows her pain threshold. She’s telling you she’s in pain. She knows what medicines work for her, and what medicines don’t work for her.”

“We know there’s an opioid crisis, she’s not here for that. She has an actual diagnosed medical condition.”

“We had spent most of September 2018 in the hospital, due to some preterm labor challenges,” he continued. “We were familiar with hospitals.” 

Pastor Johnson said that having conversations with medical professionals and demanding care “became second nature.”

Kristen Johnson experienced a form of medical racism when doctors don’t take Black women seriously when talking about their pain.

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The US medical system has a long, engrained history of ignoring Black patients’ pain.

A study conducted in April 2016 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that nearly half of medical students believe Black people have thicker skin than white people, making them able to withstand higher levels of pain.

The study from PNAS proves that Black Americans are systemically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans.

A 2019 study performed by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that Black people are 40% less likely to be prescribed medication for acute pain, and 34% less likely to be prescribed opioids than white patients.

Disparities in treatment show a medical system steeped in racist ideology, which Johnson experienced first-hand.

“I’m separated from my newborn son, and all I want is to get back to him,” Johnson said.

“As a young black couple it had to be that,” she said when asked if she thought medical racism played a part in her treatment.

“I think he just didn't believe me,” she says of the doctor. “It was just being dismissive.”

“I had a fresh C-section scar. They could see my medical history. It’s one of the best hospitals in the nation,” yet her pain was still ignored.

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Her experience is unfortunately not unique to Black people all over America.

As Pastor Johnson explained, racism is “baked into the system.”

“Whether it's unconscious bias or microaggressions, we experience them as a consequence of being Black in America.”

Pastor Johson stated that it’s imperative for “the patient or advocate to ensure that you speak up as loudly as necessary to ensure that the necessary treatment is prescribed.”

While he's absolutely right in his assertion that strong advocacy is necessary within the current climate, the responsibility to fix a broken system falls directly on the shoulders of the medical community itself. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges suggests that doctors continue to fight their implicit biases by collecting relevant data and establishing educational programs to dismantle commonly held racist beliefs in the medical system.

Patients should not be forced to be responsible for navigating their own treatment, and all people should be trusted as experts on their own bodily experiences. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers celebrity gossip, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.