Attitude Check

An interview with Denise Bazemore


Imagine growing up with a constant feeling that you were not quite like everyone else. What would it be like to know that you were different and know that your peers knew you were different but never feeling comfortable enough to speak about that difference? This is how Denise Bazemore felt as a child. “At home my parents we so protective. I couldn’t wrestle and fight with my brothers and sisters,” says Denise. She experienced feelings of isolation at school where she often be absent for weeks at a time and return to her class as if nothing ever happened. No one would ask any questions, not her friends, peers or teachers. “I didn’t know until my 30’s when meeting with a girlfriend from grade school that the teachers told the kids not to ask me about my sickle cell, “ says Denise.

Denise recalls the feeling she had once when a friend finally asked about her absences, “I felt like someone really cared.” By the time Denise was eight-years-old, feelings of anger set in. By the time she was 12, she started voicing her anger towards medical staff. “I was just mad back then. I wanted to hurt other people, because I was hurting. “

Denise’s teenage years were a bit better as she found a few friends who understood her condition. She began to feel less isolated. During that time, Denise really enjoyed her providers and nurses at Seattle Children’s. “They spoiled me there.” She felt like she was truly understood at Children’s, they knew how to treat her sickle cell and she was sad to transition to adult care at 21.

During her transition into adulthood, Denise’s anger began to resurface. She was angry that she had to deal with sickle cell. She was angry because at times she felt like she was not treated humanely. “I felt like they [medical staff] would stick me around the hall, around the corner, or even under the ground.” The loss of dignity was crushing and in order to fight back she allowed her anger to take full stage. She recalls telling one nurse who was rude to her during an attempt to put in her IV (which was never an easy task), “I will stab you with this IV if you return.”  

Denise laughs as she remembers the day her mother confronted her. She told Denise, “If you don’t quit talking so mean to these nurses and doctors, they are going to give you something alright. Shut you up for good!” Around the same time there were several incidents in the news about nurses abusing pain medication and swapping out patient’s medications. “I got scared and realized I needed to change.” Denise began to make an attitude adjustment. She began to learn new ways to advocate for herself respectively and she began to see positive changes. The nursing staff was nicer, ER experiences became more pleasant, and her overall attitude toward her health care simply felt better.

To those who struggle to communicate with their providers, Denise’s advice is to “try talking to the person like they are your mother or a really good friend. And if that doesn’t work, try being quiet instead of yelling.” She admitted how difficult this can be, especially in the ER when your pain needs to be addressed immediately. What she has learned is that being as polite as you can be might lead to better and sometimes even faster care.

Today, Denise is 58 years old and she still finds herself having to make attitude adjustment. “Sometimes it can be so hard because you still encounter opinionated and judgmental providers, but I am trying to be calmer.” She lives in a senior home in Seattle, WA where she loves to: play cards, dominoes, watch movies, listen to live music and dance. When asked what her New Year’s hope is she laughed “to get better sleep.”

The Task Force would like to thank and welcome Denise to the board as a new member. We look forward to working with you more closely over the years.