Friday, February 24, 2006

Can you put a price on compassion?

I have witnessed the very poor and the very well off get terminally sick and get lousy heath care from a hospital or a doctor, and rich or poor, in so many cases they die in horrible conditions. Money isn't going to make people care more and do the right thing. Compassion should not come with a price.

My mom had a sister (my aunt) who woke up on her 17th birthday with some dreadful crippling disease. This beautiful young woman, Eva, at the prime of her life, was ready to graduate and go on to nursing school, but instead she was struck down with a devastating illness. She could no longer get out of bed to stand up and walk, nor do anything for herself any more.

It was 1929, in Scalplevel, Pennsylvania. Her father (my granddad) worked as a caretaker in a hospital in Pittsburgh, a job many would have killed to have in those days, when jobs were scarce. For tests, whatever tests they did in 1929, they took her to the hospital where her father worked, where a score of doctors saw her.

They thought she had a form of polio, but they were not sure. At first they kept Eva at home, because in those days that's what people did. They had a special bed delivered from the hospital, and put her in the front room where it was sunny and there was a big window to see out. There was really no therapy then, for someone who was bedridden from a crippling illness like that, so they did what doctors told then to. They wanted her home as long as possible.

Eva's now-diabetic mom and very strong-willed father did the best they could for their ailing daughter, with help from my mom and her four sisters. Family was always there, to help take care of her. And when Eva was 36 -- yes, 18 years later -- she went to the care facility at the Pittsburgh hospital. She lived there until she passed away at the ripe old age of 78.

From what my mom told me, Eva was a saint. She never complained, and she insisted on having sick children come into her room to see her and talk with her. She loved visitors, and family members always had time for her. Never a day would go by when one or more would not make the 30 mile trek to see her and make sure she was being treated right.

And as far as I know, the hospital staff loved Eva, too. They had their yearly group pictures taking with her, and she never had a complaint. She was a giving soul. For some reason her hands and wrist and arms were not afflicted; she loved to crochet and that she did! Her colorful afghans (blankets) were all over the hospital's beds, everyone had one. All the family members had them. At one time she would turn out one afghan a week, and they sold some too.

Eva was an amazing human being. I got the chance to meet her while growing up, but since my mom and dad moved to New Jersey when they married it was only on vacations twice a year that we'd go back home to Pennsylvania. Always, the first thing we would do was see Eva, and I always felt truly blessed to be in this woman's company. She was always smiling. I hold back the tears as I recall the memories of our visits. I only regret that there were not enough of them.

My grandfather Henry passed away in 1951, before I was born. He was fortunate to have a steady job and keep his large house during the depression, when most people were out of work. Don't get me wrong, it was back-breaking work what he did at the hospital! He burned medical waste and took care of the grounds around the hospital, and from what my mom has told me sometimes he was there 14 hours a day! He'd lost his left leg when he was 18, when a barn door fell on him, but it certainly didn't slow the man down for long. He never liked the prosthetic leg they gave him, so he made his own leg out of wood and whatever else he contrived. I've seen photos of him, and he looked pretty damn hearty and feisty, I wouldn't want to mess with him.

Did my aunt Eva get the care she needed? I think she did! Did it cost her family lots of money? I don't think so -- they did not have much money in the first place! People just pulled together and did the right thing, and people who were in the position to serve the sick and needy enjoyed their chosen professions. They were good compassionate human beings, and you can't put a price on that.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

Comments? Email me here. If there are no recent posts here, the mirror site may be more up to date. My Home Page is here or here.


No comments: