April 16, 2014
Oomph! There was that feeling. It came out of nowhere when I least expected it. You know the one—the one that feels like someone hit you in the stomach and all your air escaped, even though no one physically touched you.
Maybe it happened because a smell reminded you of someone you’ve lost and grief swung back and hit you hard, even if the loss was years ago. Or maybe it happened when a song on the radio took you back to a time you were hurt by someone, and that same feeling came rushing back. Or maybe it even happened when you were teased with spring and then woke up to yet another morning with snow. (Really? Can we please be done now?)
It’s those things that happen when we least expect them that can take your breath away and knock you off kilter. They can stop your day cold and steal moments of happiness. Often, it takes some time, and maybe a few tears, to get past it, gather yourself and get back into the swing of things.
My day at work had been pretty unremarkable. I was doing what I normally do—writing, editing, managing the MSUToday website, coordinating content and putting together editorial calendars. Part of all of that includes finding and editing Faculty Voices for this page.
My colleagues are great at working with faculty to have them write interesting columns that I can run. This particular day, a coworker emailed me a column for consideration. I happily opened it up and read:
“A woman died Dec. 23, 2013 at age 53. The immediate cause of death was a fatal heart arrhythmia. The ultimate cause of her death was lack of health insurance. Her cardiologist had told her two months earlier that he had detected a dangerous rhythm in her heart. He strongly recommended that she receive an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD). But she had no way to pay the $40,000 cost of that device and the surgery.”
Oomph! The air rushed out of me and I’m sure the color drained from my face. My hands started shaking and I could feel the tears welling in my eyes.
That could have been me. It almost was me. She was a bit older than me, and it happened a few weeks before my event—but it could have been me. And yet, here I was working and she had died because she didn’t have an ICD and I do. Because cardiac arrest kills in seconds without intervention and I was lucky enough to have an expensive device in my chest that literally saved my life when my heart went into a fatal rhythm. Because I have insurance and she didn’t.
Leonard Fleck, a professor of philosophy and a faculty member in MSU’s Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, had no idea when he wrote his piece that it would hit so close to home for me. Fleck is among the foremost experts on the ethical dimensions of American health care and what he has to say on the topic is important. Read the rest of his FACULTY VOICE: Using a Medical Ethicsope, to learn his thoughts about training physicians to engage in health policy debates because of the impact on patients.
Medicine isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. There isn’t always a definitive answer and not even the best doctor in the world can predict the exact future. In my case, my electrophysiologist, who is an MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate, saved my life. He looked at all the data and tests he had on me and said that in his gut, he knew that at some point in my life, I would need to be saved by an ICD. I didn’t have a cardiac arrest in my history at the time, but I had enough predictors that he recommended the device and put it in. Thank goodness for his gut feeling and his dedication to making sure my insurance approved what he deemed medically necessary. I try not to think about what would have happened had he not.
I just put words on paper. I don’t save lives. I can’t imagine the pressure of doing that every day, I’m just grateful there are those who do.
Bradley Burmeister, an M.D. candidate in the MSU College of Human Medicine, is one of those people who have chosen that path. Recently, he, along with medical students across the country, learned where he had been “matched” for his residency training. Read his STUDENT VIEW: The Perfect Match, to read his first-person account of Match Day.
It took me some time to get back to editing Fleck’s piece. Once I told them about it, I had colleagues who offered to do it for me. No, I had to do it myself. It’s my job, I’m a professional and it’s an important topic. My life was saved that day so it’s my duty to make the most of it. To share opinions like Fleck’s, get people thinking and maybe make a difference. If that means getting through something uncomfortable so be it. I’m a Spartan. That’s what we do.
Photo of a natural heart in a tree found at MSU's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, Mich., by Derrick L. Turner.