Sickle Cell Disease In The Emergency Department: Confronting Barriers To Care

Constance Benson

Constance Benson has experienced firsthand barriers to proper care in the ED as a patient with SCD.

“You’re too pretty to have a disease,” declared the nurse in the emergency department (ED) dismissing Constance Benson’s reports of unbearable pain, a byproduct of her sickle cell disease (SCD). Constance, who is in her late twenties, is a professional actress and model living in Kennesaw, GA.

It wasn’t until Constance’s blood tests came back with information about her blood count that she was treated with the care and attention she deserved. “If I had a broken leg, it would be different. If I was having a heart attack, it would be different. But because I had sickle cell disease and I look like a normal person, my pain was dismissed.”

Constance’s experience in the ED is not uncommon among people with SCD, a condition that causes abnormal, sickle-shaped red blood cells that can block blood flow and limit the amount of oxygen getting to the body’s tissues and organs.

Patients with SCD often seek care in the ED when their health problems cannot be treated at home or when they do not have access to a doctor who specializes in treating SCD. Pain, which can be very severe, is the most common health problem among people with SCD and the top reason for going to the ED.

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