I’m happy to report I was discharged from Spaulding Rehabilitation Center on Tuesday, and am now recovering at home. Following are some thoughts I pulled together during my time at Spaulding:
After undergoing three surgeries at Mass. General Hospital, I was sent to my next ordeal: physical rehabilitation. In Massachusetts, patients are fortunate to have a number of excellent options of rehabilitation hospitals, including Spaulding, which is located right next to North Station in Boston. I was transferred to Spaulding almost two weeks ago.
Being in the Spinal Cord Injury Unit is an immediately sobering experience. About half of the patients here are permanently disabled, most of them young men who were either engaged in some reckless behavior or met their fate in a freak accident. While medical advances allow them to get around in hi-tech wheelchairs and the therapy they receive gives some of them a chance to someday be able to move their arms or more, their reality was incredibly depressing. It made me feel incredibly grateful my injuries are not permanent disabilities, and that I will recover from them within a few months.
To see the nurses, assistants, therapists, and other rehab team members work with the patients is incredibly inspiring. Their positive attitudes in working with patients who have such significant challenges is part of the reason, in my opinion, that patients do improve at Spaulding. The daily regimen is intense but fair, and it’s amazing to see how quickly the body can improve itself.
While the intensive therapy I received prevented me from really getting to know the other patients that well, the close living quarters and conversations with staff reveal very quickly that these dedicated men and women battle the U.S. health care system every day in trying to do the best for their patients.
One day I overheard a young, permanently disabled man outside my room inform a fellow patient that he was being discharged a week early from Spaulding. It wasn’t that his therapy team had decided he was ready to go to the next level – it was that his insurance company had determined that they would not pay for any further comprehensive therapy at Spaulding. He was headed home, and he really wasn’t sure what he would be able to do to improve his current physical limitations.
When I spoke with one of my nurses about this, she told me how things had changed in health care over the course of her twenty-three years at Spaulding. When she first started, a patient with such injuries could stay for 9 to 12 months. Today, insurance companies push for an early discharge, or simply include in their policies a cut-off date for paying for such services.
As an elected official, I hear stories like this often. But being there at the rehabilitation facility as a patient myself, and seeing these cruel policies implemented right before my eyes, really drove the point home. How is it that in the richest country in the world, this is how our health care system works? How exactly do the for-profit forces stop the rest of us from changing the system overnight, and ending this outrage?
There must be a way to provide for the full needs of every patient who is brought in on a wheelchair or gurney to this floor, and the thousands of other medical floors in this country where Americans are also suffering, and to improve their quality of life with enough attention and dedication from medical experts. I continue to believe that if we all came together on this national embarrassment, the changes that need to be made would sweep the country.
Yet clearly, as we have seen in the current debate on health care in Washington, D.C., change is an uphill battle. I do believe that the national health care reform that President Obama and the Democratic Congress are working on will improve the American health care system — yet I wonder if we, the people, will have the political will to make the changes in our system necessary to ensure that the patients at Spaulding can stay until they’re ready to go home.