Sunday, February 7, 2010

Healthcare For All: Part II

This is a story about a child I love as if he were my own. Before this child was born, I had not thought it possible to love another's child with the same intensity and affection that I lavish upon my own children. But, it is true. This child has a place in my heart that previous to his birth had been reserved exclusively for my own children.

This blonde haired child with a double crown is my nephew. His father is my younger brother.

When my nephew was fourteen months old, my brother lost his job. With my brother's job, went his family's health insurance. My brother was a mere twenty-eight years old, college educated, and a hard worker. He was a home owner and a good husband. He was a good employee and a wonderful and loving father. My brother, like most fathers, loved his family and worked hard to provide for them. And thankfully, his small family was healthy.

After losing his job, my brother did not sit idle and feel sorry for himself. He hustled, worked his contacts, and quickly landed another job.

A better job.

A job with a three month waiting period for access to health insurance benefits.

He could not afford COBRA and not long before my brother's new health insurance took effect, his fair headed baby boy fell ill.

My young sister-in-law took my nephew to the pediatrician. The pediatrician, who knew there was no insurance to cover my nephew's care, was sure that the fever, pink eye, and irritability would pass. He sent my sister-in-law and my nephew home with medication and treatment instructions. Before leaving the office, my sister-in-law paid her bill in full.

My nephew did not get better.

His symptoms of fever, pink eye, and irritability worsened. The palms of my nephew's hands and feet looked as if they had red welts on them. He refused to walk or even stand. Whenever he was forced to put weight on his legs he would scream as if he were in excruciating pain.

My sister-in-law took my nephew back to the pediatrician. The pediatrician mentioned that my nephew could have something called Kawasaki Disease, but that the treatment was extremely expensive. He recommended waiting a few more days to see if my nephew improved.

My mother called me in a panic. I dismissed her panic. After all, a common cold can induce a panic attack in her.

I called my brother to find out what was really going on.

I googled "Kawasaki Disease".

After pushing my own panic to the back of my mind, I called my husband who was on a church retreat with a friend of ours who is a doctor. The doctor said, "If this were my child, I would take him directly to Children's Medical Center."

I called my brother back. I asked him to please put my nephew in the car and meet me at the hospital emergency room. It was late. Neither my brother or my sister-in-law had had much sleep the previous week. It was a two hour drive to the hospital. It was January, it was thirty-six degrees, and it was raining.

They wanted to wait until the next morning.

I hesitantly agreed.

The next morning, I awoke to the phone ringing. It was my brother saying they were on their way to the hospital. My nephew was worse and they couldn't get their doctor on the phone because it was a Sunday morning. I dressed, made arrangements for my own children and met them at the hospital.

If my nephew had been referred to the hospital by his pediatrician, he would have gone directly to admitting. He would have been admitted to the hospital, accessed, and any needed treatment would have then been administered.

Instead, my nephew was forced to go through the regular emergency room. With hundreds and hundreds of other uninsured children.

We arrived at the hospital at 10AM on a Sunday morning.

My nephew's name was finally called at 9PM.

He was seen by a doctor at 10:30 PM.

He was very sick. He was a baby. He was forced to wait in a hospital emergency room for twelve and a half hours with hundreds of other sick children. And a lot of healthy ones as well. I learned on this day that when a single mom brings one of her uninsured children to the emergency room, she usually has to bring all her other children with her as well.

It was crowed. It smelled. There were crying, hungry, sleeping and dazed children everywhere. So many children, in fact, that the children and their families spilled out of the waiting room and into the hallway. We sat and rested and slept wherever we could. A rare open chair, a bench, the floor. I sat and held a baby I loved on the floor of a hospital when I could stand no more. No one seemed to have enough food, or diapers, or children's Tylenol, or patience.

Or money.

And I was in Dallas, Texas at the world renowned Children's Medical Center. I wasn't in a third world country or even a city that had fallen on hard times. I was in Dallas. There is always money in Dallas. And I was as close to hell as I ever wish to come.

Once the doctor saw my nephew, things moved at lightening speed. She quickly determined he had Kawasaki Disease and that our time was running out for treatment. The gamma globulin IV therapy is most effective in preventing coronary artery damage if it is administered within ten days of the presentation of symptoms.

We were on day nine.

And I'll believe until the day I die that if my nephew had been insured he would have received the gamma globulin therapy many days sooner. And that he would have received it without the trauma of a twelve and a half hour wait in the emergency room.

I also believe Children's Medical Center saved my nephew's life. And I will be thankful to them for the rest of my life.


By the time my nephew left the hospital more than a week later, the bill for his care was in excess of thirty five thousand dollars. How many young families do you know who can take on that kind of debt over night?

The billing office offered to cut this bill in half if my brother would commit to paying $600 per month toward the bill. He couldn't afford to do it. Every month he pays $100 toward the bill. With no interest it will take my brother thirty years to pay off this debt.

Thirty years.

My brother is a politically conservative guy. We have many healthy political debates. But on this point we agree. Health care reform is needed and it is needed now. A lack of insurance could have cost my nephew his life.

So I ask you again, since when it is it right to take a pass on doing what is right because it is hard?

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