Friday, May 9, 2014

40 Hours in the Hospital

The morning of Tuesday, May 6, was one of the most terrifying of my life. Waking up around 3:30 am, I experienced a tremendous amount of pain in the center of my chest. It was a pain unlike anything I had ever experienced - almost like someone was standing on my chest pressing their heels and full weight into the center of my rib cage. I know from family experience that this pain was nothing to ignore or take lightly so I was taken to the emergency room at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Waiting in an ER is no fun when you are unsure whether you're having a heart attack or your heart is about to explode (which it felt like it was about to do). During my wait, I had a few moments to look around to see who else was in the waiting room. I saw two homeless men and a few families that appeared to have one sick person they were tending to as a group. These families, simply from visual observation, seemed to be of fewer means than me, and I am certainly not a financially wealthy man.

When I ended up in the examination room, the nurses and doctors quickly got to work trying to figure out why a 29-year-old man who is in good physical health was having such pain. I was poked, scanned, and irradiated in order to find out what was going on. It was decided to admit me to the hospital for further examination. In my weak condition, I was in no position to argue and happily consented.

As the hours ticked by and in between blood pressure checks and tests, my mind wandered back to the folks in the waiting room. One big concern I had for them and me was how in the world we are going to pay for these expensive scans and tests. These are sophisticated tests and cost a hefty sum.

I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. Thanks to a certain legislation, I now have health insurance. My visit to the emergency room, an overnight stay in the hospital, and all the tests and scans are not going to bankrupt me or cost me my life savings. Sure, I will have some bills to pay. I'm prepared for that. My health insurance provider cannot claim that my situation was a pre-existing condition and deny me coverage. Still, I think of the people seated next to me in the waiting room and throughout Mississippi who still have no health insurance.

A thought that haunts me is what I would have done if I did not have health insurance, a problem that faces so many Mississippians. On my way to the hospital and throughout the early hours of my time at the hospital, I worried about experiencing a heart attack. Still, I was less worried about the cost. Had I not had health insurance, I have no idea what I would have done. Knowing ER visits and tests are expensive, I could have gone back to bed and tried to ignore the pain, possibly causing permanent damage to my heart. I could continue to ignore the pain and allow it to turn into a life-threatening condition. Knowing I had a floor beneath my feet to keep me from falling into catastrophic debt was a huge relief in my time of panic. With this peace of mind in place, I headed for the hospital. I still know there are hundreds of thousands of Mississippians who cannot say the same thing.

The doctors, nurses, and staff at the University of Mississippi Medical Center did an outstanding job with my treatment. From the moment I sat with the triage nurse, to the doctors shaking my hand reassuring me that things are going to be ok, to the nurses waving good-bye to me as I was wheeled out of the hospital, I must say that their service was fantastic. I will forever be grateful for them keeping me as calm as possible durning what was one of the scariest times of my life. My condition appears to be an inflammation around my heart that is being treated with medication. Thankfully, I am feeling much better. I'll be back in fighting shape in no time.

I wrote this article not for sympathy or Get Well Soon cards. I simply want us to take a step back and think of the human element when policy decisions are made that continue to keep so many Mississippians from obtaining some level of financial security in having health insurance. These are our family members and friends we are talking about, after all.

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