Doctors' Ignorance Stands In The Way Of Care For The Disabled
May 17, 2014 2:13 PM ET

"Something curious was happening in the emergency room. Eight patients had come in within minutes of each other. Almost instantly, the junior resident, two interns and a medical student signed up for all of the them ? except for one.

Half an hour passed, then an hour. As the senior resident doctor at the time, I supervised the others as they tended to the middle-aged man with chest pain, the elderly woman with a broken wrist and the teenage girl with a sore throat.

New patients kept coming in, and they, too, were seen quickly.

Still, there was that one patient everyone seemed to avoid, a man in his 20s with back pain. I watched as the medical student picked up his chart, then placed it back on the rack. Nurses, too, weren't going to his room. Finally, I assigned a team to care for him.

"We drew the short straw here," I overheard the nurse say.

The resident sighed. "I already ordered labs and an X-ray. It's going to take too long to examine him, so let's just get this started."

What was different about this patient? Was it a dangerous, contagious disease? A mental health problem marked by a violent streak? A history of weekly drunken visits to the ER?

No. All he had was a wheelchair."