Wednesday, November 6, 2019

When you're the patient, health care no debate -- Nov. 7, 2019 column


Inspired by a Facebook friend, on New Year’s Day I started walking every day.  

On my 295th consecutive day, Oct. 23, I left my house about 8 a.m., planning to be back in about 75 minutes to get to work. I didn’t get home until Nov. 2.

An hour and nearly 4 miles in, I was in the home stretch when my reportorial instincts kicked in. Distracted only for an instant by a police car across the street, I slipped on one of Old Town Alexandria’s charming, but treacherous, brick sidewalks.

I grasped at the tall brick wall on my left but couldn’t catch hold, nor could I regain my balance or stop. I tumbled down hard and couldn’t move. I hurt.

“Are you all right?” asked a passerby on his way to work, which struck me, even then, as an odd question. But his eyes were sympathetic as he helped me up and held my hands.

“Can you stand?” I didn’t know. He let go, and I crumpled to the ground again. More pain.

And that’s how a freak accident landed me in a crash course on American health care.

I’ve reported for decades on health care policy and the politics of health care, but it’s entirely different to see the medical system through a patient’s eyes. When you, or someone you love, is a patient, all you care about is getting well.

My ordeal could have been far worse. I’m active, have good insurance, and kindness and compassion were manifold from the start.

The policewoman from the cruiser across the street and her ride-along medic assessed the situation and called an ambulance. The driver told me he’d take a longer way to the Inova Alexandria Hospital ER to avoid the city’s potholes and work zones.

In the X-ray department, the technicians who had to lift me by sheet onto the X-ray table were gentle and apologetic for adding to my discomfort.

The x-ray showed I’d fractured my right femur or thigh bone in three places. I’d joined the broken hip club. I was immobilized until surgery the following evening to pin it back together.

A couple of days later, I was moved to Inova Rehabilitation Center at Mount Vernon Hospital, where I spent a week in intensive physical and occupational therapy, learning to coax my right leg to move.

I’m home, beginning an in-home regimen of physical therapy to be followed by a long stint of out-patient physical therapy. I hope for a full recovery.

In the hospital, I kept an eye on impeachment proceedings, President Donald Trump’s twitter attacks and other news of the day, but the contrast between the bitter divisiveness in the nation’s capital and the shared purpose at the hospital across the river was striking.

With all the shouting in today’s meanspirited politics, I’d nearly lost hope decency and moral grounding could prevail in our country, but I was wrong. My accident renewed my confidence in America.  

I am in awe of the cheerful nurses and aides who carry the brunt of medical care on 12-hour shifts. Those long days and overnights are tough duty. The doctors, PTs, OTs and other staffers I met were also unfailingly thoughtful, polite and kind.

The medical team was diverse, with many members born outside America but sharing enduring American values.

We are lucky to have immigrants like Hiwot, a tech who came here from Ethiopia 14 years ago. The single mother of two girls, she works three 12-hour days a week, and, because she has dreams, takes classes and studies the remaining days to become a registered nurse.

“I want my daughters to be proud of me,” she said, quickly adding, “They would be anyway.” But with an education, she said, she’ll be able to help them more later.

When I told Dr. Galina Kolycheva, my rehab physician, I was impressed with the dedication of the staff, she said simply, “They want to help.”

Hiwot rolled me out in a wheelchair for my departure, wished me luck and asked:  “Can I give you a hug?”

Absolutely. I wanted to give them all hugs.

(C) 2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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