By Barbara Berney
In late August 1989, I was a recently divorced freelance designer with two boys, ages 6 and 7. I fell ill with a nasty virus that lasted more than a month. My thoughtful neighbor, who unemployed at the time, came in each day to get the boys off to school and bring me juice, coffee, and soup. By late September, my mother took matters into her own hands. She and my dad were coming to “take care of the kids.” In their 70s and in ill health, they drove the 800 miles in two days.
Less than a week after they arrived, I awoke one morning with labored breathing. My fingernails were turning dark blue, and I was barely able to get out of bed. Without income or health insurance, I had never called my doctor. Dad took one look at me and reached for the phone. “Hello, my daughter is Dr. X’s patient; she has no money or insurance, and she’s had pneumonia for more than a month.” After a brief conversation, he hung up and told me to get dressed—we were going to the doctor.
The receptionist greeted us as we entered the office and ushered us to an exam room. Within 10 minutes, the doctor came in and placed a pulse oximeter on my finger. As she removed it, she turned to my dad and asked him to take me to the nearby hospital for a chest x-ray, and then come back.
The x-ray indicated such bad pneumonia that I would have to be hospitalized if it didn’t improve over the next week. She left the room and came back with a brown paper bag full of prednisone and antibiotic samples from her closet, and a warning to stay in bed, get as much rest as possible, and take all the meds as indicated – otherwise she would have to admit me.
With meds, rest, and a healthy dose of Mom’s medicinal chicken soup, I felt better by the end of the week. The pneumonia lingered another month, followed by fatigue, stress and serious worry about the cost of all the treatment. I’d been too ill to work the previous several months. Oddly, by mid-January, I still had received no statement from doctor or hospital.
When I called to ask about the charges, I discovered that my doctor had taken care of everything—no charge! By March, ever grateful to my gentle neighbor, my parents, and my doctor, who all cared for me and nursed me back to health without hesitation, I was ready to interview for a job. I began work that August, just two weeks before my mom died. I was thankful to have had the time with her and Dad.
I resolved then to be the like the people who had been there for me. Over the years, I’ve cared for loved ones and friends in their time of need, and I consider it a sacred honor.