My brain tumor and a lesson on what a great hospital system can mean

So I’ve been sick. Not just a little sick. I mean, tumor on the brain sick.

It’s amounted to a crazy week for me, which started on Monday during a walk. I was having trouble walking in a straight line. I couldn’t compensate for my left leg so while climbing an embankment to get on a bike trail to shorten the walk home I actually careened into an embankment. I did manage to struggle home like a drunken sailor. My wife insisted on an emergency room visit, where I was quickly diagnosed with a tumor on the right side of my brain.

Where I live there aren’t many specialists and certainly no neurologists on the hospital staff. This quickly meant that I needed to seek treatment elsewhere, but even Bay State Hospital in Springfield would not work as there were no staff present to assist. This eventually involved being sent two hours away by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where I was able to be observed by a neurologist, get a room for the night, and figure out next steps. This involved an MRI which gave a detailed look at the tumor and suggested how to treat it.

By around 4 PM the next day, I was in surgery having the tumor removed. I spent hours under anesthesia and ended up with 42 metal brackets in my skull. I don’t know yet if the tumor is cancerous; I should know by the tenth.

Considering it was about six weeks from my last surgery, it was all fast, unexpected and more than a bit too much. If it has to happen, perhaps it’s better that it happen quickly. I ended up spending four nights in the hospital, arriving home Thursday night. Both my wife and daughter (who now lives in Portland, Maine) visited, bucked me up as I cried before surgery and did their best for me.

What I didn’t expect was the quality of the care I received. I was seen and promptly treated by the people I needed to treat me in a quick and timely manner. The staff never wavered in their treatment of me. I was always shown the deepest kindness and respect. The anesthesiologist even held my hand as I went under. Somewhere around the fifth breath, I went unconscious. And then it was over and I was in post op.

After seven years of living in Massachusetts, I discovered a compelling reason to live here: the health care. It is quite frankly stunningly well done. You would be hard pressed to find a better medical care center in the country. Yes, it was a hassle getting to Boston, but if you live in the Bay State you can take Massachusetts General Hospital for granted. No one was fussing about bills; it was all about getting me the best and most timely care possible; it’s a hospital of last and best resort. There are other very good hospital systems in the country, such as Johns Hopkins. But the power of Mass General comes from decades of systematic investment by the state simply to make sure you get the right health care when you absolutely need it. Doors just open up; it would have been breathtaking to behold if I wasn’t in such crisis and agony.

Moreover, it’s just taken for granted. It’s a right of being a citizen in this state. People live to be 100 around here not because they naturally live that old but because there is comprehensive and affordable medical here to make it possible. The state legislature just makes it so because it considered its citizens and the services they receive when important enough to invest in this quality of care. It no doubt costs a boatload of money, but it’s worth every penny.

This is an advantage in many blue states. You will get a lot of variants about what are the best hospital systems in the country, but generally Mass General is right near the top of the listings. So if you want to live to 100, why not move somewhere expensive but where when push comes to shove they have you handled?

All those years I’ve pointlessly dodged our nation’s often inferior medical systems. But the truth is I needed to live where politicians consider their constituents deserve a top quality system and will pay to make it happen. That’s unlikely to happen if your state isn’t blue.

Hopefully I’ll fully recover from all this and 2023 will find me in much improved health.

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