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Reader friends of the Kentucky New Era have been very faithful to keep in touch with me during my recent retreat into the Medicare system. After eight weeks of hospital and rehab service, I feel quite competent to make a few remarks about Medicare. On the whole, I have upgraded my opinion of Medicare, but I have one outrageous exception. Here is the tale as I remember it.

On Jan. 7, we had the coldest day of this century, and I was walking my neighbor’s dog when I fell and broke my hip. A blinding snowstorm was in progress, and I was soon covered by snow because I was unable to stand. At 16 degrees below zero, and a much lower wind chill, it does not take long for hypothermia to kick in. And soon I was convulsing from the cold.

I figured that I had little chance for anyone to see me, and I estimated my life expectancy as something like 10 minutes. The dog was jumping around and I think he attracted my rescuer, who backed his car down a one-way street to get to me. He immediately got a wheelchair and some help to carry me inside. I was rushed to the hospital where I was given excellent care after I coughed up my Social Security number to show that it matched the one they had on file and after they learned my birthday had not changed and my mother’s maiden name remained constant.

They sneaked the anesthesia into me, and I thought I had just awakened from a pleasant nap when I discovered that the surgery of three and a half hours was already over. There was no pain whatsoever until the anesthesia started to wear off. My hospital stay was faultless in every way, and I was walking with a walker and using a wheelchair in three days.

On Jan. 11, I was transferred to a rehab center that I had chosen at random, and I saw the dark side of Medicare for the first time. Taken by ambulance to the rehab center and deposited in a hospital bed, I remained unattended for almost an hour. The time for my pain medication came, and I pressed the call button for help. Assistance came very slowly, and it came in the form of a very snippy lady who wanted to know what my concern might be. I had no wheelchair, no walker, no telephone and no urinal. I got the urinal, but I was told that my other concerns would have to wait until Monday because of limited weekend service. Wheelchairs and walkers were under lock and key and not available until Monday. I was willing to settle for the pain medicine, but I was told that the medicine needed a refill and the pharmacy was closed on Saturday night.

I was in intense pain when a friend came by with a cellphone and called my son who is a lawyer. He assured the lady in charge that we would soon own the damn place and have it razed as a public nuisane if my treatment did not improve. He managed to get my pain med from another pharmacy, but I spent a hellish weekend. On that Mnday morning my son appeared from Little Rock, Ark., and arranged for my immediate transfer to a superior rehab center.

From this experience, I draw the conclusion that you may need a strong and competent advocate at some stage in your hospital and rehab experience.

As vacations go, I can say the room was nice and the food was good at the second rehab, but that is about as far as I can go. I am back to walking again and I am pleased to say that most of the faithful professionals who tend to the sick and broken are angels of mercy and caring.

TOBY HIGHTOWER is a retired educator and former Hopkinsville High School teacher. His email address is Write to him at 222 S. 25th St., Apartment 434, Terre Haute, IN. 47803.

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