Picking Our Battles

Editor’s note: Due to a poorly designed web interface from wordpress, an incomplete, incoherent, and unedited first draft version of this post may have been sent to your inbox if you are an email follower to the blog. So if it reads familiar that is why I’m sorry about that, and about the multiple emails from me tonight. please give it another try for me. Here’s the blog as it should read.

The principal of Liam’s school during a very heated and contentious meeting that also included the director of pupil services and the superintendent of school for the city of East Providence (yes, even the supt of schools, you don’t want to piss me off when it comes to giving Liam the services he needs, he deserves, and he has a right to) once told us that she was offended by the fact that she had heard my wife describe our interactions to demand the wheelchair lift that she had promised as “battles”.

My son was being made to leave his school building up to 5 times a day to re-enter through a different entrance to be on the floor where his other classes (art, library, music) during rain and cold weather but she was offended by our use of the term “battle”.

Her solution, as winter quickly approached and there was still no accessibility for Liam and the handful of other students who use wheelchairs in the school, was to put him in the 3rd grade class for those subjects. 3rd grade, for a developmentally disabled kindergartner, because those classrooms were closer, as if he were a piece of furniture. yet SHE was offended that we used the word “battle”.

During the same meeting this principal was caught flat out lying to us about whether or not Liam was already being put into the classroom with third graders without our permission (helpful to have a nurse follow Liam’s every move and texting us when something feels hinky) yet she was offended that we used the term battle.

It was a battle and we told her so again.

It was a battle that we won.

The wheelchair lift was installed over the holiday break in january. We haven’t had to interact with the principal since. I’m sure she’s thankful of that. But the next time we do have to cross paths. that will be a battle as well.

Because when it comes to making sure that Liam gets the services, the equipment, the supplies and even the medicines that he needs, it is always a battle.

One that his mother and I are perfectly suited for, and happy to fight.

*****

The equipment company that takes over 10 months to fix the armrests on Liam’s chair after his orthopedist and physical therapist alerted them that his original rests were unsafe and he was at risk for getting his arms caught and/or dislocating his shoulders during a seizure. After months of phone calls and emails, and not only one but TWO scheduled appointments for an equipment technician to come to the house to fix the chair where the tech was a no-call no-show (with Liam staying home from school specifically for both) the tech finally, on the third try, arrived at our house with parts, only the parts that he brought weren’t the new ones, they were the exact same armrests already on his chair. Then we got to start from the beginning all over again, signatures from doctors, approvals from insurance companies, months and months of opportunity for Liam to be injured with unsafe conditions in his chair. Being blown off by uninterested “customer service reps”

A battle in every sense of the word.

It shouldn’t take a full school year to switch a part on a wheelchair when multiple medical professionals deem it unsafe, but this is the system we fight.

Twelve days ago the armrests on Liam’s chair were finally replaced.Still, after 10 months, I have a hard time calling that battle a win in our column.

*******

The pharmacy that despite knowing that Liam has been on a med for over four years refuses to carry a full refill supply of it. Whether for the saving of shelf space or a refusal to pay for it until it has been paid for by my insurance, every time we call for the re-fill we are given a “partial order”. ‘We can only give you a few doses. Come back in two days for the remainder’ they say, increasing the chance of an error.

Three days ago we were told that they would not re-fill Liam’s prescription. We should have enough for 14 more days the insurance company computer told them, and they would not give us any more until then. End of story.

Or so they thought. Karin can be very persuasive. She has to be. Our sniper of phone calls. Explaining to the poor sap working his part time shift as a pharmacy tech that he was plainly wrong, and that they had to go back and recheck how much volume we were given in our last ‘partial’ fill. That not only would we not take no for an answer, but that we would hold him and his company responsible when Liam would need to be admitted to the intensive care unit the next day because of the withdrawal he would experience if they failed to fix their mistake.

Yesterday they called and explained that they did an inventory of their supply and found that, what do you know, they did owe us 14 days worth of Liam’s medicine. found a whole bottle with his name on it and everything.

That happened this week, but similar situations with prescriptions have happened dozens of times before. Liam takes 11 different perscription medications, Many of them in large volumes that for some reason this enormously recognizable corportaion refuses to keep in stock. The battle against incompetence is very real.

*********

The medical supply company that provides Liam’s everyday supplies like trachs, trach ties and vent circuits, suction catheters and feeding pump bags, pulse oximeter probes and fenistrated gauze sponges. All the things that keep Liam in his home and not in a hospital but that you can’t just roll up to your local megamart and buy if you run out of them. Again, if we run out of many of these supplies our recourse for keeping Liam alive is a trip to the hospital until we recieve these supplies, so you would think that a person going on vacation or leaving the company for another job wouldn’t put my son at risk but of course, you’d be wrong.

Because even if these companies cared about the patients that rely on them (which they don’t) the patient is not their customer. The patient’s insurance company is and as long as those reimbursement checks and approvals keep coming in, they can and will treat their patients like garbage. Including sending out Liam’s monthly order of necessary items with invoices showing that they have been paid for, but many of the items just happen to be on “back order”. Nearly every other month, when we are washing and reusing what should be disposable felt ties that hold Liam’s trach in place at an exposure point for infection, it gives me such comfort to see that the company has already received the funds for those products. Essentially removing the motivation for them to rush those type of products out to us.

The patient is not their concern, their shareholders are, the insurance companies are, medicaid is. But make no mistake, it isn’t my son that they care about.

So they don’t like hearing my voice on the line, every month when we run out of the things that keep Liam alive. Where Karin is our sniper in battle over the phone; I am our nuclear bomb.

********

The oxygen delivery service that brings Liam his oxygen every other week decided last month that instead of delivering on Thursday they would be switching our delivery day to Tuesday. I shouldn’t be the one who has to point out to them that if you are changing us from thursday to tuesday that you have to make that change on the tuesday BEFORE the normal thursday delivery, or else we will run out of oxygen. I shouldn’t have to be since you would think the dispatch and delivery department for an oxygen delivery company would understand that people’s lives rely on them doing their job correctly.

You would think that, but you’d be wrong.

The job doesn’t get done correctly without a fight.  Without a phone call. Without a battle.

*********

School departments, insurance companies, medical supply and equipment companies. “Partners” in care. They arm themselves with bureaucracies, with paper, with seemingly automatic denials only to approve to anyone with the audacity to appeal. (how many people get an insurance denial and don’t think they can appeal? The math must work out in their favor.) They defend themselves with red tape, with their “policy”, with the incompetent at best and inconsiderate and uncaring “customer Service reps” at worst, and every single time, it puts my son’s life in danger.

Which is why we fight. Which is why we arm ourselves with emails, and phone calls, and documentation. It’s why I can be such an asshole on the phone. We fight incompetence with aggressiveness.

And we always win.  We have to.

Our son’s life depends on it.

2 comments

  1. Eric,
    I feel you, Karin & Liam’s pain here! It is always a battle when it comes to companies and agencies, but one that we have no choice but to wage because our kiddos lives depend on it! Thanks again for sharing!
    BTW if you need extra of something, especially trach ties, we are more than happy to share!

    1. Tara,
      Thank you so much for reading. And yes, while we often run out of feeding pump bags and trach ties, there are other things that we’ve built up quite the stockpiles of. If you run low on anything, feel free to check with us too! We’re also happy to share!

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