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The human side of healthcare

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This is a blog about healthcare. Healthcare as an industry. Healthcare as we, the consumers, relate to it. Healthcare as it's provided here in North Central Washington. And the healthcare scene nationally, as it is now, and the changes it will inevitably undergo as more provisions of the Affordable Health Act — or ObamaCare — come into play.

My hope in starting this blog is to connect with readers. I want to learn and write about your experiences with hospitals and clinics and nursing homes. I want to report people's struggles with the system, as well as experiences with the caring and helpful people who are there to help us through it. I'm looking for stories about making a difficult decision over whether to have an operation, or a test. About how long it took to diagnose an illness, or how amazingly kind and caring your provider was in guiding you through the process. Stories about doing something you never thought you'd do — like putting your mother in a "home" after years of believing you would find another way, once that time came.

That last one is my story, right now. I always admired my mother for having the courage, when my father was dying, to refuse the doctors' and hospitals' push for more tests, more hospital stays, more invasion. He was 92, and she knew he was dying. So instead of doing everything she could to keep him alive, she brought him home and took care of him for those last eight months with the help of a daily nurse's visit. I always thought that, between five of us children, we may be able to do the same for her some day.

She is 86 years old now, but she is not dying. No, she's as healthy as a horse. Her problem is her memory. We've known for some time now that she had issues with dementia. In her own reverse-mortgaged house, with my brother as her caregiver, she seemed to manage well enough, though.

Then, in August, my brother suddenly ended up in the hospital, and my mother on a plane to Ithaca, N.Y. to live with my sister. That lasted for about three months. It became clear that my mother couldn't spend her days alone while my sister worked. And it became clearer that this system of where she should go, and what she could afford, is not a simple one.

I went to New York to help my sister find an assisted living facility, and get her moved. It all went better than we expected. She had been going to a day program at the facility for about a month by the time we moved her in. She told us she loved the room, and kept saying how everyone was so nice. As I write this, it is looking like she will not be able to stay, however. Apparently one morning the staff found her sitting in the lobby of the assisted living center, waiting for a bus to Pittsburgh. That's where she grew up. She spends a lot of time in the past these days. I suspect she planned to travel there to see her mom and dad.

So, now we are back at square one. What do we do with my mother? What is the best thing for her. Part of me just wants to bring her home, but our home, with its many stairs (even to get to the bathroom!) just doesn't feel safe for her.

I will be writing more blogs as we work our way through the system of Aging and Adult Care, and what is available for someone who spent down all her assets after her husband died through a reverse mortgage, and gave her home back to the bank.

I will also be writing my own experiences with the healthcare system, as my husband goes through cataract surgery this year, as my son goes off to college and has to find healthcare options in a town far away. I would love to hear about your experiences — with long-term care, with short-term care, and with the system in general.

As a side note, this is not a blog designed to look into specific providers, or whether they are doing an adequate job. If you have complaints, the state Department of Health is set up to look into those and determine if they are valid. This is a blog to look at our healthcare system in general. Where is it working? Where is it failing? And how is it changing?