Regina Holliday’s husband, Fred, age 39, died of cancer in June 2009 leaving his wife, and his two young, beautiful children behind. During their journey through the healthcare system to try to get Fred the help he needed, too many hurdles were put in their way. Their story makes you want to scream.
Among the horrors of their journey was the fact that Fred was transferred from one hospital to another – without his medical records. With no records, Fred could not be treated. Regina attempted to get the records transferred, including returning to the first hospital to try to transport them herself. Instead she was repeatedly stonewalled. Ultimately she was told that she could return to pick up the records in 21 days, and it would cost her 73 cents per page.
None of us can imagine how devastating and frustrating that must have been for her. Fred suffered physically, Regina suffered emotionally. But today that devastation has become her passion and her mission in life.
Regina is not so much a fighter as she is an artist. Don’t get me wrong – the girl can fight! But she fights with the tools only she knows how to use to make her important points. Those tools are canvas, brushes and paint – and talent that just doesn’t quit.
Even before Fred passed away, Regina began her fight by painting a series of murals on the sides of buildings in and around the Washington, DC area, where she lives. Her first mural was called 73 Cents. It’s located at 5001 Connecticut Ave. in Washington, DC. It depicts some of the many horrible outcomes and experiences she and Fred went through to try to get those medical records.
Since then she has painted other murals, and other paintings – enough to do a showing last week, sponsored (supported by) Clinovations, a company known to us in the empowerment business, but perhaps less known to you. Clinovations is working to change American healthcare. They “get” what Regina’s work is all about.
OK. So here’s where I begin to fall apart. Please bear with me.
The largest painting is called Give Us Our Damned Data. It features 19 authors (and yes, I’m included — center to the right). All of us have suffered at the hands of the healthcare system, and all of us have written books about our experiences in hopes of improving the system for others. Here’s a thumbnail version. You can see a larger version here.
You may recognize a face or two. Each of us is holding a tablet with portions of our book covers. Each of these folks (Regina lists them all here) is a colleague of mine. Many I have met in person. We support each other, care about each other, stay in touch with each other. We are members of a fraternity that none of us would wish to share with our worst enemies. But we feel so lucky to have each other.
I shed four reasons worth of tears:
1. I am so proud of my friend Regina for working so hard and sharing her sorrow in such a meaningful way. I know it’s been a catharsis for her, and I know many others will NOT suffer because Fred, Regina and their children did. I’m proud to be her friend, and at being included in her wonderful, poignant painting.
2. I cry for each of the people in the painting. Each of them has lost someone, or almost lost someone to a heinous mistake, impaled by a healthcare system that is supposed to fix and heal. Each book is a catharsis, and each author hopes to spare someone else – maybe you – the pain of the loss of health, well-being, trust, and perhaps a loved one, too.
3. Some tears are post-traumatic stress. Each time I think about Regina and Fred’s story, mine comes rushing back, too. Even though I share my story frequently, recounting the facts isn’t the same as facing the emotions. The fear, helplessness, frustrations – when I first looked at Regina’s painting, I just fell apart. It’s been a year since the last PTSD meltdown. But there have been four more episodes in the past 30 hours. I keep thinking it’s getting easier… but now I’m not so sure.
4. My fourth reason — strangely enough — is relief. As I carefully studied each of the paintings in the collection, I was hit with a truth that is so fundamental to all of this. MY story is the polar opposite of Regina and Fred’s. They could not get Fred’s records. I got mine! And that’s the point. If I had not gotten mine, then I would never have figured out I didn’t have cancer. I would have been treated for a disease I did not have. I would have been debilitated by chemo for no reason. At the end of my chemo, I would have been declared cured of an incurable cancer. But none of that happened because I got my records.
I’m healthy, and happy, and my life has never been better. And my great revelation is that I am all those things because I was able to get copies of my medical records. No one stood in my way or refused me copies or tried to charge me for them. Along with my friend e-patient Dave DeBronkart – we are the poster children for the absolute good that comes from sharing records with patients.
Over the next several years, you will hear discussions about whether patients should be able to access their medical records through the internet, or get copies much more easily than they do today (which, as you can see, isn’t always easy) … please remember this story. Remember Regina and Fred. Remember Dave DeBronkart’s and my good outcomes. It’s called meaningful use. And it’s important.
And then fight your good fight to be sure we can always get those records. They may save your life, too.
Trisha Torrey blogs at Every Patient’s Advocate and is the author of You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes (How to Fix Them to Get the Healthcare You Deserve).
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