Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have not posted to it for almost two weeks.
I made my previous post to this blog on Thursday, January 9th. I was supposed to be flying that day to Las Vegas for the Western Regional Conference of the Collective Bargaining Congress. But the night before, as I was packing, I felt a sharp pain across my lower abdomen that made me stand upright and catch my breath. I had been experiencing such discomfort very intermittently for about four or five days, and I had self-diagnosed it as some sort of “stomach virus” or “upset.” (I am a “doctor,” but somehow I can very readily convince myself that I am a physician.)
I went downstairs and for about an hour mulled over whether I ought to travel to Las Vegas or cancel my plane ticket. At that point, I had no sense that my illness was serious or even getting worse. Rather, I was simply considering whether the illness was nagging enough or distracting enough to warrant canceling my plans. In the end, I decided to call the airline and cancel.
The next day I felt well enough to start second-guessing my decision. But on Friday, I woke with a general sense that I was feeling more poorly. The distension in my abdomen seemed suddenly to become much more pronounced and the painful discomfort steadily more intense. And by the time that I fell asleep in my recliner, I was feeling very ill and had escalated my use of over-the-counter medications, thinking that if I didn’t feel better the next morning, I would visit the family doctor.
When my wife came downstairs the next morning, I told her to call an ambulance because I didn’t think that I could get myself in and out of the car. About two hours later, I was in surgery. I had a strangulated and perforated colon, and there doesn’t seem to be any ready explanation for why my colon suddenly twisted until it tore. When I came to in the recovery room and the surgeon asked how I was feeling, I said, without any irony, “Much better.” I could feel the long, fresh incisions across my lower torso, but that pain was much, much more bearable than what I had been experiencing ahead of the surgery.
This past Saturday, a week after I was admitted to the hospital, I came home. I would have had to go to an extended-care facility for several weeks, but my wife is an RN and, with the assistance of our son, she has taken on the burden of my daily care. I have been told that it will be at least six to eight weeks before I am fully recovered from this surgery. I am feeling steadily better—amazingly better actually, given the nature of the surgery—but I have almost no reserves of energy and after eating no more than a slice or two of toast, I feel quite full. Those of you who know me—who have watched me demolish a plate of pasta or a pizza, perhaps with a couple of quarts of beer—will surely find that as ironic, not to mention as funny, as I do.
But I feel that I have much to be thankful for—in particular, the outpouring of expressions of concern and support and the gestures of kindness from many of those with whom I work at Wright State and with whom I have been involved in AAUP at the state and the national levels.
I am also very thankful that as I and my family have been dealing with this medical crisis, we have not had to worry at all about the financial impact on us. Over the quarter-century that I have worked at Wright State, I have accumulated a lot of sick leave, and our health-care coverage has an out-of-pocket maximum per person insured that is very modest.
So it has struck me very pointedly and poignantly that I am not Margaret Mary Vojtko, the adjunct professor who taught for decades and died in destitution. Indeed, whatever sympathy and outrage that I felt when I first became aware of her story has been much intensified by my now more immediate and visceral recognition of what it must be like to deal with a major medical crisis while worrying about how you will pay for your treatment and how you will possibly pay all of your other bills while trying to convalesce.
So, having indulged myself in a great American pastime in recounting the most recent chapter in my personal medical history, I would like to reassert the obvious: if the leaders of our institutions have any sense of conscience, they should provide health care coverage to all employees. I know that many will immediately raise ostensibly “pragmatic” objections by wondering out loud who will pay for such coverage—by pointing to the steady increase in the portion of institutional budgets consumed by the costs of providing health-care coverage to full-time employees.
But the truth is that, despite the escalation of those costs, the cost to provide healthcare to full-time faculty still represents a very small percentage of the average institution’s total budget, and the funding to provide such insurance for all faculty can easily be found elsewhere. In most cases, it is simply a matter of priorities.
At Wright State, for instance, we subsidize intercollegiate athletics to the tune of about $7.75 million per year. It should not have to be an either-or choice between health-care coverage and any other single budget item, because smaller savings can be found in any number of places. But let’s say it were an either-or choice. What does it suggest that an university chooses to field a basketball or a lacrosse team over providing even very basic healthcare coverage to about half of those who are teaching its students?