Perhaps the way to truly demonstrate problems with our health care system is to share personal stories about failures of living in what some say “is the best healthcare system” in the world. This is a story of my friend Pete and I urge you to read and share this story so others might learn and understand that we still have a long way to go.I first met Pete when I was in the 3rd grade which is a lot of years ago. It was in the small town of Elmsford, New York. Our friendship was based on a love of sports, music and living in Westchester County. When we graduated high school together Pete went on to join the Post Office and I went into the Air Force. His letter carrier route took a toll on his body as he was required to walk one of the biggest hills in town through all kinds of weather.
After the Air Force and in starting my career we decided to share an apartment together in White Plains. I noticed that Pete would call in sick more often and was complaining about his legs bothering him. I had a great job offer in Florida so I moved down there where I met my wife. In the meantime Pete had to leave the Post Office on partial disability because of his knees.
About 15 years ago Pete developed Type II diabetes. Since he wasn’t walking on his route and his legs gave him problems his inactivity led to weight gain and poor eating habits. He gave himself some insulin once a day, but did not check his blood sugar and over time the diabetes took its toll.
The first problems were that diabetic neuropathy began to bother him in his hands. When I was at Medtronic I asked a physician I knew to talk to Pete about the importance of checking his blood sugar and eating well but since he lived alone it did little good.
Eventually Pete had to stop playing the guitar and became more home bound. About 8 months ago Pete had a diabetic stroke which put him in the hospital and a nursing home that would eventually be the end. I went to visit him about 4 weeks ago and he was just the shell of my best friend that I used to know and love. Then about 3 weeks his brother had called to say that Pete had passed because of pneumonia. It was like a kick in the stomach to me and it’s a loss which I am still trying to get over.
I could talk about the fact that we used to speak almost everyday by phone about music or our time together growing up, but frankly as I write this my eyes are tearing up. He was getting physical therapy at the nursing home where he resided but as his money ran out he was awaiting for Medicaid to kick in. He was immobile and spent all of his time in bed on painkillers that I believe were to keep him quiet rather than the “pain” he was feeling.
Pete’s passing is a personal tragedy for all of his friends. He was way too young to go and if he had treated his diabetes and lost some weight he could have been around for another 30 years. I believe that the part of the reason for his downfall had to do with depression. He lived alone in an old house and the toll of his diabetes, leg problems and taking care of his father and mother in their final years changed him. His doctors treated his medical conditions not him as a person.
I wonder how many people out there are like Pete? People who are either not taking care of themselves or not being diagnosed with underlying conditions that affect their overall health. I am reminded that the only to way to get the health care we need is to be an outspoken aggressive and educated patient. Pete was a “laid back”guy who thought the doctors would take care of him. To that end he was mistaken.
I am angry at Pete for leaving me so soon. He was someone who shared most of my life and to not be able to have someone to talk about our past adventures or take a trip to Sal’s Pizzeria leaves an emptiness that I am trying to understand. All his friends tried to get him to take better care of himself, but it was to no avail.
Pete was just one statistic in our healthcare system but, to me and his friends his loss was devastating. I still get angry that he didn’t care better care of himself but the memories of our times holds a special place in my heart. Damn you Pete! You should still be around….