My friend Jeff, 73, has been on a bizarre road trip of sorts for the past five months.
In February, he entered a local hospital for treatment of an infected wound that had developed under his torso brace. Jeff's been a person with quadriplegia since age 19. Within a few short weeks of his February admission, he received a feeding tube, IV, tracheotomy, colostomy and was put on a ventilator and given regular kidney dialysis.
On April 1, he was discharged to a hospital three hours away. This facility had a bed available and accepted his primary insurance and medical requirements. He made great progress there and he had to have more surgeries. His goal was to wean himself off the ventilator and kidney dialysis and get back home.
In early July, he was discharged to a nursing home that had a bed available and accepted his secondary insurance and medical requirements. This facility, located on the Illinois-Iowa border, is 11 hours away from Traverse City. This center was meant to be a temporary placement until a bed became available at an assisted-breathing facility in Michigan.
This week Jeff was treated for pneumonia at yet another facility, an Illinois medical center. A new medical team assessed him and his prognosis is good. He's off kidney dialysis.
Jeff is still in Illinois. He is fully aware of his situation. None of his family or friends is able to stay with him in Illinois.
His supporters ask me daily to help them make phone calls to area agencies, investigators, the media and candidates running for office. Some people want to donate money to help Jeff. Others send cards, write complaint letters, make banners or encourage his family. An individual even helped me make lapel support pins sporting blue-and white-ribbons.
One acquaintance who's a person with quadriplegia asked me "Why is Jeff fighting it?"
Ironically, Jeff's health care never consumed his well-rounded life.
But it does now.
Jeff and his family's new awareness of some of our formidable health care issues have made all of us more aware. First, there are not enough facilities in Michigan that accept persons using ventilators and who are on kidney dialysis.
Second, the federal law against "patient dumping" — The Emergency Medical Treatment & Active Labor Act (EMTALA) — is often difficult to utilize.
Third, too many health care facilities are managed as profit centers. Regardless of the insurance one might have, when the scope and depth of covered days expires, the patient is expected to be transferred to another facility. Even if the facility is located out-of-state. Instead of Michigan receiving the medical benefit dollars for Jeff's care, Illinois is now receiving those dollars — even though Jeff and his family are Michigan residents and tax payers.
Currently, there's an investigative abuse report coming out of Florida regarding traumatic brain injured persons from Michigan who have been treated at the Florida Institute for Neurological Rehabilitation. In this worst case scenario, the people discussed experienced TBI's from motor vehicle accidents. According to the report, because of Michigan's Unlimited No Fault Insurance, the FINR "recruited" the individuals primarily for their insurance dollars. Having access to huge profits seemed to have come before caring for these vulnerable people. (reference: David Armstrong of Bloomberg News, July 2012).
Jeff and I have known each other for more than 25 years. We're friends and neighbors; we wave or talk almost every day.
Health wise, we're each others' barometer. When it appeared that he was comatose and dying, I suspected that he had withdrawn deep within himself for protection from his outside medical circumstances and to conserve his spirit and strength. When he came out of that state, he told me I was right. With every medical challenge he has overcome in this ordeal, I've personally felt stronger.
Since February I've also had trouble sleeping. Other nights I awake from a nightmare about Jeff. At times I've worried that the fatigue and stress of trying to help Jeff's family advocate for him was going to land me in the hospital.
I want this bizarre road trip of sorts to end.
I want my friend to come home.
Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 25 years, has used a wheelchair for 36 years. She is a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle.