When I received my first hip replacement in 2005, the doctor at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami referred to it as ‘elective surgery.’ I got angry with him: “There’s nothing elective about this,” I said. “I can’t walk!”
Since then I have learned that these types of surgeries, life-style improvement procedures, are indeed elective since they are scheduled in advance because they do not involve a medical emergency.
At the time of that operation I had to make complicated arrangements, trying to find a surgeon and hospital in the states that would be convenient to friends who offered to put me up for the 6 week recuperation period. The alternative, i.e. the expense of an extended-stay hotel, plus having a ‘care-giver’ take off time from work to accompany me, would have been a deal-breaker. As it was, I had to drop my own business commitments and, since I’m self-employed, lose considerable income. Fortunately, all went well and I returned to St. Thomas in excellent shape.
What can I say, I’ve got bad joints? Seven years later the other hip gave out. The good news was that during that time period medical services on St. Thomas had improved greatly, both in the choice of doctors and in the care available at our excellent Roy Lester Schneider Medical Center. My second hip operation was done on island and after a brief, pleasant hospital stay I was recuperating at home with home health care assistance and sleeping in my own bed. In a week I was back at my desk with no loss of income and a month later I was fully mobile. Wow.
As I drive around St. Thomas, I often see fellow Virgin Islanders, both young and old, limping along the street. I want to roll down the window and shout: “Get the operation!”
That’s not an option now. So many of our residents lack the insurance or the where-with-all to travel to the states for these expensive operations with lengthy recuperation periods. Are we damning these folks to go from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair and become a burden on their families and the community when they could be enjoying productive, pain-free lives? For those who can manage the cost and inconvenience of stateside surgery there’s still the displacement and discomfort of a stay away from home.
Although there’s certainly a need for our hospital to control expenses there has to be some compassion for those who can’t travel for ‘elective’ surgeries. With the outstanding treatment being provided by RLSMC it is tragic that some of the best innovations of 21st century medicine will be denied to our citizens.
Cathy O’Gara, St. Thomas