A couple of years ago I had an appointment at my urologist's office. A specialist who traveled between doctor's offices was there to test my urological functions. When she came out to the waiting room to call my name, and I walked toward her, she reacted with bewilderment, looked around to see if there was anyone else with me and exclaimed "you are perfect!"
I thought of this again this morning, when I logged on to Facebook and saw that Johns Hopkins Hospital had shared a photograph of their dome lit up in purple to celebrate the Ravens. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Johns Hopkins Hospital, because, forty six years ago they performed ground breaking surgery which made my life possible.
I was born with what we now refer to as a "pre-existing condition," a rare form of spina bifida. There was a large fluid filled sack on my lower back, and my spine was not completely closed. The doctor who delivered me had only seen one similar case and that child had not made it.
Back then the proper protocol was to wait until a baby was three months old to perform spinal surgery. My parents were left with the prospect of wondering whether I would live, and the near certainty that I would have some very serious complications, such as water on the brain, paralysis, club foot etc.
For three months my parents watched the sac get bigger, a bad sign. They had to watch my older brother fall more and more in love with me and worry about whether to warn him. They didn't know what to tell friends and neighbors. Was my birth something to celebrate?
But there were a few things they never had to consider, such as whether their insurance would be canceled, whether the procedure would bankrupt them, or whether the procedure itself would be covered. My parents were able to send me to the best hospital and have a top neurosurgeon perform the procedure, without ever thinking about the costs.
At the time my father worked for a small local newspaper, The kind of company that would not be in a great bargaining position when it came to dealing with insurance companies. They had Blue Cross and Blue Shield. When I called my father and asked him what my neurosurgery cost him, he said he could not remember if there was a single $20 co-pay or not.
When I walked into that urologists office that morning, the specialist assumed based on my chart, that a 46 year old with a meningocele where mine was located, would at best be in a wheelchair. Instead, thanks to the best medical care possible I have no immediately visible defects, and have led a relatively charmed life.
I cannot help but wonder, what if I had been born later? Even with all the advances in medical science that have come in the last 40 years, would my outcome still have been as good? Would my parents have been able to send me to a Johns Hopkins, or would the insurance company have picked the hospital and doctor?
Even if my surgery had been as successful would my family have had to go bankrupt? Would my middle class childhood, filled with yearly vacations, vast educational opportunities, and, most of all, a sense of security been completely different?
These days whenever I am feeling down and bitter about the challenges that I do face, I think back to that moment at the urologist's office and think, "I am perfect."