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Medical emergency brings health debate close to home
Vanderbilt Medical Center - seen from a room in cardiac care unit

Nothing focuses the mind like an emergency room nurse advising a wife to "call in the family" as her husband lies unconscious. Suddenly medical care becomes very real, very personal and very immediate. Getting the best life saving care for a family member becomes all enveloping.

That's the situation I found myself in last month. With Ivan in severe cardiac failure on life support, I found myself not the impersonal professional attorney but a frightened frantic wife. When he began having difficulty breathing that Monday morning, I thought it was another time he would spend a few days in the hospital, get the fluids off his heart, and meds adjusted and admonitions to take his medicine, watch his diet and fluid intake and we would be on our way home. My nonchalance lasted about ten seconds after walking into the emergency room at Jackson Purchase Medical Center in Mayfield. This time wouldn't be business as usual. His heart was failing spectacularly.

Our cardiologist recommended transfer to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and got busy making calls to find him a bed. After a tense few hours which I admit I spent alternately crying and making my own calls to family and friends, a space was found and a helicopter came and took him away.

Over the next few weeks, writing for West Kentucky Journal occupied only a small corner of my mind. Standing aside while the consummate professionals at this top rated teaching hospital save my husband's life was my full time job - day and night. Teams of doctors studied test results, weighed the findings and set a cautious course of treatment. There was no hurrying them and no quick release with an admonition. Our children came to be with us and went home relieved.

At left, Ivan feeling better, on the phone wearing the prayer shawl made by our church.

As he felt better, we watched the events in Washington for as long as we both could stand it. We were amazed by the speed that some members of Congress were willing to push through a bill with such major repercussions.

The debate over health care is more real when watched in a hospital room.

Access to health care shouldn't solely be a cold recitation of numbers of people with coverage lost. The debate needs real people telling real stories of how the patched together system that America calls health care does to them and for them. Some have been hurt by rising premiums and their voices need to be heart. Others were saved by access to insurance that was once out of reach. Doctors and nurses and hospital administrators and providers all need to weigh in. This is not just one sixth of our economy. This is a life and death issue.

Ivan came home a few weeks ago with the latest technology keeping his heart beating in a rhythm it hasn't had in years. We are hopeful that he will get stronger and be his old self by fall.

It is truly amazing what modern medicine can do.

We are hoping to be amazed by the miracle of cooperation in Congress that comes close to the achievements of the miracle workers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.


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