Heather Avant always dresses up when she goes to the emergency room.
“I’ve been conditioned to act and behave in a very specific way,” said Avant. “I try to do my hair. I make sure I shower, have nice clothes. Sometimes I put on my University of Michigan shirt.”
It’s a strategy to combat discrimination the 42-year-old photographer in Mesquite, Texas, has developed over a lifetime of managing her sickle cell disease, a rare blood disorder that affects an estimated 100,000 Americans. The hereditary condition can affect a person of any race or ethnicity, but Black patients, like Avant, make up the majority of those afflicted in the U.S.
For people living with the disease, a sickle cell crisis can happen at any time. When it does, their rigid, sickle-shaped red blood cells become stuck in their blood vessels, blocking flow and causing extreme pain or breathing difficulties. A crisis can escalate into life-threatening complications such as strokes, seizures, and sepsis.
When a pain crisis can’t be managed at home, patients head to the ER to get the high dosage of opioids they need, in addition to IVs to help with dehydration or even blood transfusions. Yet staffers in emergency departments — already overextended and grappling with nursing shortages — don’t always have experience in t …