“Do you know how to read?”

That is the first question Jama Matthews was asked on the phone by a nurse at the front desk of Ascension St. Vincent Women’s Hospital.

The 28-year-old who had taken Plan B and experienced spotting a week or two later took a pregnancy test at home. After seeing it was positive, she informed her boyfriend that she needed to get professional confirmation.

“Excuse me?” Matthews asked the nurse on the phone.

She had no idea that simple routine pregnancy testing would lead her to spend four days in two different hospitals with no food in her system recovering from a major surgery.

RELATED: Indiana’s maternal mortality rate went from bad to worse

“I said do you know how to read because if you knew how to read, you would understand that Plan B causes bleeding, and if you are bleeding that means you’re not pregnant,” the nurse said to her in condescending tone.

Black patients & white coats

Ascension is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit and faith-based healthcare systems.

“We must all ensure that individuals are treated justly and respectfully with equal access to opportunities and resources. We must provide an inclusive culture,” said Ascension President and CEO Joseph Impicciche, JD, MHA on the importance of diversity and inclusion for the company on their website.

The Indiana State Health Department found that there have been over 30 complaints in the last five years under the Ascension St. Vincent umbrella.

Almost all investigations concluded that the complaints were unsubstantiated with a lack of sufficient evidence.

Ascension St. Vincent declined to comment for this story due to patient privacy laws that prevent them from discussing a patient’s treatment.

Matthews explained to the nurse that she was there to confirm a pregnancy.

“She went, ‘Oh. Okay. Let me see what I can figure out.’ She didn’t offer an apology. Shortly after that, they put me in a room,” said Matthews.

A urine test determined that she was pregnant.

‘If you don’t have any additional questions, you’re free to go’

While performing a pelvis exam, a doctor concluded that Matthews’ cervix was closed, which would indicate a healthy pregnancy, and she could go home.

“She was like, ‘the only other thing we’re going to do is draw some blood to determine your HGC levels, and maybe, we can determine then how far along you are,’” said Matthews.

She was told that lab results would take up to an hour and a half.

After two hours went by without someone checking in, Matthews was surprised when she overheard staff talking about a shift change in the hallway, so she never saw the original doctor again.

“A totally different person comes into the room, and all that she has to say to me is, ‘If you don’t have any additional questions, you’re free to go,’” said Matthews.

After the new staff member told Matthews she was a resident, Matthews explained that she was waiting for her lab results. Aside from being left in a room for two hours, she did not feel comfortable about not receiving her results.

Matthews said the resident then scoffed.

“She had to do nothing for me at this point but her job, and she was irritated because I said it was disappointing that no one has let me know anything,” said Matthews.

It could be an ectopic pregnancy

28-year-old Jama Matthews said she was fearful of getting an emergency surgery at the same hospital where medical staff had mistreated her.
(Photo/Jade Jackson)
28-year-old Jama Matthews said she was fearful of getting an emergency surgery at the same hospital where medical staff had mistreated her. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

The resident told her that the results could take all night, so they would just call her.

Matthews said she was not okay with that either. Because she had been waiting for such a long amount of time, she felt she should get some type of information before leaving.

So, the resident agreed to check on her results.

“Sure enough, she walks over the computer, and to her surprise, my levels were much higher than anticipated. So, not only were my results in but they were surprising. She literally gasped,” said Matthews.

The resident went to get the main doctor.

Even though they were just trying to send her home, Matthews felt if she did not push to hear the results, she would never have known how alarming they were.

According to U.S. Department of Labor, the legacy of racism in America continues to negatively affect Black health outcomes. It is implicit bias that forces many to advocate for themselves.

A new doctor comes into the room, and as they check her results, Matthews said both the doctor and resident tried to keep her calm so as not to worry her even more.

They wanted to do a vaginal ultrasound.

“They told me, ‘This could be pretty serious, or you could just be very pregnant. We just want to confirm.’ As they’re probing around, they see a mass,” said Matthews.

They told Matthews that they could not confirm it, but that they did not see a sac inside the uterus. Since her HGC levels were so high, they should have been able to recognize a growing pregnancy.

Black patients + white coats: Matthews would drive to another hospital

They said the mass could be a cyst, it could be a fibroid, or it could be an ectopic pregnancy.

If it was ectopic, it would continue to grow inside the fallopian tubes. If left untreated, it would rupture.

The professionals stepped out to talk before returning and telling Matthews that they wanted to perform emergency surgery. They said they would give her a few minutes to call someone.

“I’m like, ‘What?’ They wanted to operate and make sure that it’s nothing, and I let them know that I’m not okay with that because from the time that I’ve been here, I was told three times that I could go home. Now, on the fourth, I need surgery?” said Matthews.

Matthews would sign out AMA (against medical advice).

She pulled the new doctor to the side to speak about her concerns because she did not feel comfortable with the second resident.

“I told her I was spoken to like I was an idiot and asked if I knew how to read; ‘I was already told by your colleague that I was fine. I’m sorry that I’m now fearful,’” said Matthews.

She said the new doctor was understanding but worried.

The doctor gave Matthews her personal cell phone number and told her not to hesitate to call her.

Matthews would drive to another hospital not knowing her experience there would be just as harrowing.

Black patients and white coats is a part of an ongoing series to highlight the disparities in Indiana’s healthcare systems.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at 317-607-5792 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON