This week on the Health Access blog, we are cross-posting an important and personal story from our colleague Dannie Ceseña, Program Coordinator for the California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network (a project of Health Access). For over 30 years, Health Access has advocated for policies that protect patients when the health industry proposes to merge; whether that be health plans, hospitals, doctor groups, and more. Right now, the Attorney General of California is holding public hearings across the state to evaluate a proposed hospital system merger between Dignity Health Care and Catholic Hospital Initiatives. If approved, this merger would create one of the largest not-for-profit hospital systems in the country. Catholic hospitals have a long history of denying patients the care they need, citing the “Ethical and Religious Directives”, this personal experience from Dannie shows why we as advocates need to keep raising our voices.
By Dannie Ceseña
Winter 2015 was a very difficult time in my life. In fact, I almost died.
Now, a proposed merger between Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives is bringing back memories of that time.
I identify as trans-masculine, which means I was assigned female at birth, but transitioned to male. In 2014-2015 I had mostly completed my legal and medical transition. When I went to the hospital for treatment of a blood clot that needed emergency surgery, I never dreamed that discrimination and my physician’s personal beliefs would put my life at risk. But that’s what happened.
The plan was for me to check into the hospital, have my surgery, and stay overnight in case of any complications that could potentially arise. My wife would be by my side the entire time, minus being in the surgical room. I checked in and right away there were issues. When I introduced myself to the nurse, she (and I) noticed that my hospital band had the incorrect gender marker and I was placed in a position where I needed to “out” myself as transgender. She made it clear that she was not going to be a safe or affirming provider.
After asking me inappropriate questions about my transition, she told me about her church, that she’s a God-fearing Christian, and proceeded to loudly sing “church song” every time she came to check my vitals. I smiled through it all and did my best to be polite. I mean, what else could I do? My life was in the physician’s and nurse’s hands.
During my first post-op check-in, the nurse told my wife to get the car, as “the patient” is being discharged. The staff refused to answer my wife’s questions, such as why I was being discharged now, if they had outed me to other patients, and if we could see my surgeon before we leave. My wife is and can be a little feisty; you don’t mess with a mama bear. The nurse took every opportunity to dehumanize me; she told my wife that my presence made the hospital staff and other patients uncomfortable and, for the comfort of others, I needed to be discharged.
As the nurse wheeled me to the car, I started to groggily come to and stated that I was very nauseated. My wife was the only voice that I had at this point. Not once while the hospital staff was wheeling me to the car did anyone stop to take my vitals, allow me to use the restroom, or see if I could stand without falling. Had they not been in such a hurry to get me out of the door, they might have noticed that my nausea was a potential sign of infection. As my wife was driving us home, I started to vomit all over myself and the car. My sutures had come undone and I was bleeding and running a fever.
We pull up to the front of our home and my wife cannot lift me out of the car as I am still drugged, feverish, and dead weight. Our postman saw her struggling, stopped his route, and helped my wife get me out of the car and into our home. At this point, the hospital had hung up on my wife several times, so she called my Transgender Case Manager through our insurance. My Transgender Case Manager was finally able to get a hold of management and my surgeon and their exact words were, “We do not know what he, she, it, whatever the F*** it calls itself wants or needs from us. We did our job. We are done.” They hung up.
My case manager was flabbergasted. She had no choice but to call other area hospitals. The other hospitals in Orange County, which are also run by the Catholic Network refused to admit me. The common response was, “We do not treat their kind.” I am a human being and I deserve the same quality healthcare as anyone else! Finally, my case manager was able to find a hospital 40 minutes away that was willing to take me in and stabilize me. My wife was traumatized by the entire experience; my life was in immediate danger to the point where I almost died.
In 2015, I almost died because the Catholic hospitals in my area valued prejudice and discrimination over my life. No person should ever go through what I went through that winter. Regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, we all deserve quality, affordable, and affirming health care.
Unfortunately, my story isn’t the only one. The potential expansion of Catholic hospitals would further endanger not just my life, but the life of the entire LGBTQ community. You can help protect access to affirming healthcare for LGBTQ Californians, comprehensive reproductive health care, and services for low income communities.
For more information on the merger, visit the California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network’s Action page: Speak out to protect access to gender-affirming care.