19 March 2008

Somerville's Worst Day

There has been some talk this election year about health care - who has it, who should get it, what it should cost, how it should be provided, etc. Proponents of "universal health care" promote a kind of "universal health insurance", which sounds pretty good. Unless health care is actually a finite commodity - meaning providing more to some will mean providing less to others. Unless access to regular preventive health care - annual physicals and the like - will actually reduce the amount of care needed.

New York Times headline, 11 July 1880
Bottom line - it gets complicated.

This past December I fell outside in the rain on the sidewalk and hurt my back. Nothing serious, but when I was actually feeling WORSE after a few days instead of better, I decided to call my doctor and have it checked out. I was thinking maybe she would send me for an x-ray - just to be safe.

I have really good insurance, and the ability to pay out of pocket if need be - but when the doctor's office found out that I did not fall in my own home, I was denied an appointment. "There might be a lawsuit. We don't get involved with that. Try the hospital."!?!?!?

I thought of the story of James Darcey. A down-on-his-luck veteran, he was getting by doing odd jobs around Somerville. It was at William Smith's house on High Street, while cleaning the well, that the rope he was suspended from snapped and he fell twenty feet, shattering his left leg above the ankle.

Two men managed to get another rope down to Mr. Darcey, which he fastened about himself. He was hauled up and taken immediately to Dr. Hunt, who administered morphine, but could not set the bone. Dr. Hunt suggested they try the poor-house - but the overseer was not in, and no one present was able to make out a permit to have Mr. Darcey admitted.

They next tried the jail - but since no crime had been committed, the Sheriff declined to admit him. Mr. Darcey, being a Roman Catholic, begged to be taken to the Catholic hospital in Newark. The money was raised for the train fare. but no one was willing to go with him, and Dr. Hunt discouraged such a long trip.

One of the town councilmen tried to get Mr. Darcey into a hotel, but the proprietor refused him because he was "only a tramp".

Five hours had passed since the accident, and James Darcey was in great pain. He was finally admitted to the poor-house, where the limb was set. But the incredible heat of that July day, combined with the exhaustion and delay in treatment, was too much for him, and he died two days later. He was just 50 years old.

By the way, if you haven't figured it out, this incident occurred in July 1880. Mr. Darcey was a Civil War veteran who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

The citizens of Somerville were justly embarrassed at the treatment he was given, calling it inhuman. We've come a long way in 128 years. I guess.

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