Hips, Hospitals and Surgeons

Thanksgiving has come and gone. It always is a great opportunity to reflect upon our lives. The holiday teaches us to be mindfully grateful for all of our blessings. And it challenges us to keep those blessings in the forefront of our thoughts even as the holiday itself recedes.

For me, this Thanksgiving, the blessing is obvious. After years of dragging a painful right hip along with me everywhere I went, I finally summoned the courage and had a total hip replacement the first week of November. When this Thanksgiving arrived, I was without any restrictions, able to attempt any movement, and I was pain free for the first time in years. That’s a lot to be thankful for.

I put a lot of thought into having this surgery. I live in a borough of New York City, Staten Island, famous for horrible medical care. I’ve heard it said many times that, if you are visiting someone in a Staten Island hospital and get sick, call an ambulance to take you to a Manhattan hospital. I’d had reconstructive back surgery some years back and I had that procedure done in a Manhattan Hospital. It was a total success.

That surgery had a great surgeon and a great hospital behind it. This one, with different insurance options, would be different. I am retired now and, with government changes to healthcare, my insurance coverage was greatly changed. I also mishandled the open enrollment options, this being the first year I had to deal with that. My health insurance plan gave me two choices. The first was to choose a surgeon I trusted and do the surgery on Staten Island. The other was a surgeon, recommended by someone I trusted but not known by me, who would perform the surgery in a better, Manhattan hospital.

I opted for the surgeon I trusted in a hospital I didn’t. The results did not surprise. The Staten Island hospital was a dungeon. Paint peeled from the walls, the lighting was poor, the room was tiny. Medical personnel, while examining my roommate, actually repeatedly bumped into me through the privacy curtain. The floor in my room was never mopped during my entire stay. I saw a nurse spill urine onto the floor and “clean” it by placing a gown over it and swishing that gown around with her foot. Even that, did not prompt a wet mop. My bedclothes were never changed, even though I had fevers and soaking sweats each day. There was dried, caked urine on the floor of the restroom and we used a commode shared with several other rooms.

On the other hand, my surgeon also was what I expected. The surgery was a fantastic success. I was sitting up in a chair the same day. I walked the day after. Because he used a more innovative approach, I had absolutely no hip precautions. From the beginning I was allowed to do absolutely anything I thought I could. The surgeon visited me in my tiny room, answered all my questions and was as charming and attentive as anyone could reasonably expect. That type of care has continued now that I am in my post-op phase.

Now it’s the time of year for open enrollment. And, yes, I will be more diligent in choosing my coverage this year. I will choose a better policy this year. But, I will be very mindful that the most important choice is the doctor.  I chose the plan with the right doctor this year. And for that, I’m very thankful.