Podolsky: I was drugged at AEPi. Evanston Hospital failed me.

Isabel Podolsky, Op-Ed Contributor

Content warning: This story contains mentions of drugging.

I was one of the students who reported being drugged at Alpha Epsilon Pi on the night of Sept. 23. However, the story I’m going to tell has nothing to do with Greek life. Rather, it’s about the ordeal I experienced traveling to and while inside the emergency room of the Evanston branch of the NorthShore University HealthSystem. 

The night I believe I was drugged, I had consumed two drinks over a period of three hours. I took two sips of a “non-alcoholic” drink that was offered to me, only to realize 30 minutes later that I had been drugged. I ended up on a couch in Kemper Hall, dissociating, able to speak coherently but unsure if I could move my body. 

I was aware that I had been drugged, so I called my parents. They wanted me to go to the hospital, as they believed I would receive appropriate care in an emergency room. Visiting the hospital would also ensure that I could get tested to determine the drug in my system. I resisted calling for medical assistance at first because I knew that doing so would bring University Police to the scene, but, as my condition deteriorated, I capitulated and allowed the residential director to summon EMS personnel. 

My memory is patchy, given my situation, but moments stick with me: One EMS worker, standing above me and shaking her head with an expression on her face that said I should have known better. Another EMS worker, after declaring that my physical state warranted bringing me to the hospital, deciding it would be okay for me to walk myself down to the ambulance and not providing any sort of assistance when I did so. The EMS team telling my friend she couldn’t ride in the ambulance with me because she wasn’t family, though my family lives 600 miles away. Then, at the very last minute, after she’d worked out alternative arrangements to get to the hospital, the EMS team reversing course. The attendant in the ambulance choosing to have me sit upright on a bench and condescendingly asking me to move to my “other right” when I struggled to find the seatbelt, which was a challenge for me. At that point, the drug had made my vision incredibly blurry. I should have known even before I arrived at the hospital that I was going to be belittled, disbelieved and mistreated.

I spent two hours in emergency room 20 at Evanston Hospital. I was unattended (not even provided with fluids or a blanket) for around three-quarters of this time period. Initially, my vitals were taken (something one hospital staff member thought necessitated asking me to take my shirt off) and I did a urine test, which I was informed would be a full drug panel. I requested a blood test, too, since I know that these tests are more accurate, but was told it would be too “difficult.” I later found out that, instead of conducting a full drug panel with my urine sample, the doctors only tested for marijuana and Valium. The reasoning behind this? I wasn’t “physically assaulted,” so they couldn’t conduct a full drug panel without going to a crime lab. 

I will never know what drugs were in my system that night. Moreover, it means evidence in the investigation against those who drugged me doesn’t exist. I wasn’t the only victim. The doctor’s negligence is an injustice to all of us.

The recurring theme of my hospital stay? The staff didn’t believe me when I said I was drugged. They told me I “probably just couldn’t hold my liquor.” My discharge papers list “alcohol intoxication” as my reason for admittance. Though there are many things I don’t know about that night, I can affirm that I was not drunk, and I am horrified that my words were not taken at face value. This is why victims do not come forward. 

That being said, even if I were drunk, that would not be an excuse to withhold necessary medical treatment or act without basic human decency. Operating under the assumption that the doctors believed I was just very drunk, when I requested to have an IV of fluids administered, I was ignored. Had I been suffering from alcohol poisoning, this IV would have been necessary. It was apparent the medical staff at the hospital did not care, and would never care, to assist someone they perceived as just another girl who made dumb choices at a fraternity party. 

After 90 minutes with no further medical attention, a time period during which I was permitted to doze off when doing so could have led to serious complications, I was unceremoniously given my discharge papers and told to leave. My friend and I had to walk ourselves out of the hospital, with no more guidance than an attendant sitting at his desk screaming, “Wrong way!” as we sought an exit sign. I made it back to campus at 4:30 a.m. feeling more violated than when I had arrived. 

I am writing today to hold the Evanston Hospital accountable for how they treated me. The medical professionals tasked with protecting my health failed me. I don’t feel safe knowing that, if this happens to me or somebody else again on this campus, we can’t trust that we’ll receive appropriate and compassionate medical care. The hospital dismissed me and denied me the ability to know what drug I and others ingested, but they can’t take away my ability to publicly call upon the administration of the NorthShore University HealthSystem to do better. 

Disclaimer: While my visual memory from that night is perfect, my memory of what was said to me is not. My close friend, who was with me for the entire night, relayed everything that was said to me when I regained full cognitive function the next morning. These words are quoted directly when possible.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern. This story has been updated to clarify language.