Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 2 Dispatch (6/28) – Hammond, Indiana to Valparaiso, Indiana

Back on the road. Once again, many thanks to the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Hammond for providing a reduced rate room. The staff was friendly and professional and the continental breakfast was more than continental. That is to say, I made sure I ate lots of sausage biscuits and waffles for the long road ahead.

Roderick: Roderick from the hotel told me, “Everyone should have healthcare and it should be provided by the government, not by for-profit companies.” I asked him if he thinks the current reform proposals are enough. He shook his head, “No.”

And so I headed out on the road. I usually walk on the westbound lane (against traffic) and as I was walking along 25th Avenue on the way to Gary somebody honked going eastbound. They stopped. I looked over. “Hey, Doc—weren’t you on TV last night?” And so I headed over to say hello and get the next story of the day.

Chris: We didn’t have too much time to talk as traffic zoomed on by. But he told me, “We need help, it’s rough out here for everybody—not just the elderly. There’s drugs and alcohol problems, no treatment and the price of medications is too much.” I asked if he had a specific example. “Sure. My mother’s got Alzheimer’s and her medications are five to six-hundred dollars a month.” His friend in the passenger seat shook his head in amazement that they had bumped into someone they had just seen on the news. I contemplated the incredulity of it too. Maybe we’re onto something …

A couple miles down the road I stopped into the Black Oak Baptist Church (they were fifteen minutes away from starting the service) and spoke with the Pastor, Rev. Bob Parnell of Black Oak Baptist Church. He told me that they will pray for me and for healthcare and good health for all on this bright Sun morning. From there I made it to the Indiana University campus and stopped into the police department for some water. There I met one of the officers:

John: “It’s a critical situation,” he told me. “Especially now that people are losing jobs. But keeping prices down is important. Even with the insured, prices are inflated, they’re sky-high.” I nodded in reply. “So, it’s hard to stay healthy if you can’t afford health care.”

Six miles later, when N. Hobart becomes E State Road 130 (IN-130), I stopped into United States Security (a private security service) for some water and talked with Ed Paralta, the Director.

Ed: “Definitely things need to change,” he said. “But it’s more like tweaking. I’m 100% against something like the Canadian system.” I asked what he thought of the health care reform debate in Washington. “Well, I don’t like the idea of the upper brass fat-cats reaping rewards. They need to be dissolved or at least held accountable … and take another bottle for the road,” he added.

Later, heading down the long stretch of IN-130 (7.7 miles) I stopped into the 2nd Street Bar & Grille for some water & juice. There I met three individuals, two of whom were so supportive of the Walk that they not only shared their stories but also gave me $30 as a donation, $5 of which I gave to the bartender as a tip for the free water and OJ. I spoke with Eric and John, sitting together to the right of me, and later with John on my left.

Eric: Eric’s got a brother who had an eye accident, lost his job on account of that and being without health insurance had to file for bankruptcy.

Jack: Jack has good insurance. But his story starts with unexplained pain in both of his feet. He went to dozens of doctors, podiatrists, and other specialists but nothing seemed to help except painkillers and these were prescribed only sparingly. It was a terrible problem and he could barely walk and was at risk of losing his job. “Then there was this neurologist who gave me two injections in the back—L4, L5, I think it was—and that worked!” I nodded, realizing that his foot pain was clearly related to the back (perhaps spinal stenosis or a herniated disc) rather than the feet. “But, guess what, the insurance company wouldn’t pay for the one thing that worked and now I owe $6,000!” I grimaced at the story. “Oh yes,” he added, “before, several years ago, I didn’t have insurance and I had to declare bankruptcy.” Eric glanced over with a knowing look.

John: John actually had two stories. First, his wife has diabetes, lupus, and fibromyalgia and he feels that the drug companies are just pushing drugs … through the doctors. The drugs don’t work; she doesn’t seem to get better and the only effect seems to be that she gains weight. His second story was after his first son was born. The $11,000 dollar bill forced his family into bankruptcy, again, soon after his wife gave birth. John felt the bill was ‘padded’ but there was nothing he could do about it.

Continuing on along IN-130 (another driver, recognizing me from the Chicago news, stopped to talk and provide encouragement), I finally reached Valparaiso but had to cross to the other side of town to get to the hotel. (Many thanks to the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Valparaiso for a complimentary room.) It was getting late and I finally reached my destination (slowing down because of the growing blisters) at 10:30 PM. I don’t think I could take another step. But the front desk clerk, a young man named Kyle, had a very interesting story to tell.

Kyle: It’s a bit complicated so bear with me. Kyle’s a senior in college (at Purdue in Hammond) but he started college a couple years after graduating from high school. Because of this unusual transition, it ended up that he had missed the deadline for getting insurance through his mother’s policy. He was working to put himself through college with various part-time jobs though none of them provided insurance. Then he got sick, very sick. He was bedridden for several days with fatigue and fever. He finally went to his family doctor who took a blood test. Two days later, his mother received an urgent call from the doctor saying that Kyle would need to go to the emergency room immediately. It was the highest white blood cell count he had ever seen and he was concerned Kyle had leukemia. So, at the behest of the doctor, and actually feeling better by this time, they went the emergency room. It turned out, thankfully, not to be leukemia, but Kyle ended up with a $9,000 emergency room bill (he was never even admitted to the hospital). They spent months fighting and negotiating and finally the Church organization affiliated with St. Mary’s helped to take care of the bill. Shaking his head in disbelief at the Kafkaesque ordeal, Kyle concluded, “It was something—and I’m not talking about the illness—I never, ever want to go through again.”

And so I checked in, went to my room, lathered the Neosporin on my feet and called it a night.

© 2009, Ogan Gurel, MD


  1. I am so impressed with your fortitude. I know you will make a difference.--Sarah Lovinger, MD

  2. Very interesting blog. You should get in touch with the bizymoms Hammond community to feature these on their page. It’s free and the moms will love it.