Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 6 Dispatch (7/2) – Columbia City, IN to Ft. Wayne, IN

Morning at the Days Inn in Warsaw and while my hotel has been set up, I’m wondering how to get my bag—the large piece of luggage out of which I live for the month—will get to Ft. Wayne. At the front desk is a young man, his name is Scott, with a big smile only half-filled with teeth. I smiled back.

Sheila, Uprendra’s wife and co-operator of the hotel, had called me down to the desk and she, with a bright smile too, handed me an envelope. With a bow of her head, she said, “Please take this, it is something small, but we hope it will help you with your trip.” I thanked her and wondered if I should refuse what was likely a cash gift. Of course, the walk would not be possible without donations, but then again, they were clearly living on the edge, and had already helped immensely and graciously. Later when I opened the envelope and found $20, I shook my head in amazement at the generosity of people, whatever they’re circumstances may be (Uprendra and his family, as mentioned in the last dispatch, are uninsured and get some of their medicines from ‘free samples’ donated by their brother, a retired physician).

Scott was standing there watching the proceedings. Not knowing whether he had time or a card, I decided to ask: “You wouldn’t happen to be able to take my bag to the hotel in Ft. Wayne, would you?”

“Sure,” he replied, in a calm cheerful voice and after some discussion, we agreed that he’d take the bag (and me) to Ft. Wayne and then drive me back to my walking point at Columbia City. It’d be $40 for the whole deal which was a win-win situation because he was unemployed and I needed to get my back to the next stop. And, as we drove together, he had stories to tell …

Scott: “I’ve been unemployed and don’t have no insurance. But, I’ve been pretty healthy, ‘cept my teeth here—gotta work on that sometime.” I nodded. His girlfriend called (this was a common occurrence as she seemed to call every five minutes). “But the difficult story is with my girlfriend. She works part-time and also no insurance. She makes too much for HIP (Indiana public assistance program) so that’s that. A few months ago, she had a kidney stone and the local hospital wouldn’t take care of her so they sent her to Indianapolis. The pain was so bad and she ended up having some operation there.” He said that there was no way they could pay any of the bills being that they were barely making ends meet. We drove by the trailer park that was their home and he told me how they were lucky, that the next trailer park up in Columbia City had been recently hit by a tornado and a few homes destroyed. Throughout the trip Scott was glowingly optimistic. But as he was about to drop me off, his face turned sour. “Tell those knuckleheads in Washington to get with it out there.”

The walk was long and relatively uneventful—endless fields tapering off into the horizon, curious cows, heavy clouds above. The road was straight and true, sometimes so straight as to be unreal. One surprise was a road off the Lincoln Highway called “Butt Road.” Reaching the Days Inn up near the Interstate, I checked in, unpacked and stopped downstairs for coffee and to talk with the family. Here are some of their stories.

Trushar: Last December he fell down in an ice storm and, as it turned out, broke his left wrist. He has no insurance and waited a week to have it eventually seen by a family friend, who was a doctor. By this time it had gotten quit swollen. They ended up spending about $500 for various x-rays, the visit to the doctor was free, but he was told that if it had gotten worse, the surgery for it would cost about $25,000. If that came to pass, the family had decided that Trushar (who is a U.S. citizen) would go back to India to have the surgery.

Hina: Hina’s one of the workers at the hotel—doubles up as back-up front desk and housekeeping. In fact, it seemed like everyone had a hand in all aspects of the operation. Hina’s had what she called a “muscle lock” in her neck which sounded to me like a cervical muscle spasm, perhaps even a herniated cervical disk. Hard to tell. In any case, she’s had no insurance and hasn’t seen a doctor or been to a hospital for it. She remains in pain, housekeeping work is hard, and this is making it harder. She looks warily around. I know that this hotel staff is like family, and they likely wouldn’t fire her for a situation that is undoubtedly compromising her productivity. But in a crueler world (which is quite common), she’d be out, replaced by someone else healthier, but also without insurance. Hina, in a way, is lucky.

© 2009, Ogan Gurel, MD

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