Vern Traversie and His Two and a Half Year Wait for Answers
Two and a half years ago, something happened to Vern Traversie. And in the weeks and months to come, the Lakota elder from South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is hoping that a court trial will determine, once and for all, what took place at Rapid City Regional Hospital in late summer 2011.
Traversie underwent double-bypass surgery at the hospital on August 26, 2011 and was discharged on September 8. On the advice of an anonymous hospital employee, he had his home health-care worker from Timber Lake-based West Winds Home Health Care look at his abdomen and take photos.
The photos show scars from the 2011 surgery and prior procedures, and they show what seem to be deep, scattered wounds. Some of them appear to make three Ks. Traversie said his doctor at Indian Health Services in Eagle Butte was shocked, as was his pastor, who called it a hate crime.
“Nobody wants to call it that, and when the FBI interviewed me, they said it wasn’t, but that’s what happened,” Traversie said from his home in Eagle Butte. “It was a racial hate crime.”
He said he asked his nurses at the time why his abdomen hurt so much. He also recalled that large numbers of people kept coming into his hospital room, asking to look.
“There must have been 20, 30 different people,” he remembered. “I didn’t understand what was going on, why they were all so curious. Was it a unique surgery? I could feel the stitches in my chest, but I had so much pain in my abdomen.”
Traversie said he requested a transfer to the rehab hospital, partially because he needed to practice walking, but also because he was afraid of a male nurse in the hospital’s ICU.
“He threatened me, he intimidated me, he grabbed and threw my arm up and down, and he used the F-word,” Traversie said. “I was sure he was going to start beating me. And I don’t think he was ever chastised or disciplined.”
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