42. Boston Children’s Hospital

This is a story about two events; one where an 18-month-old child gets very sick and another about how life has changed in the last 25 years.

We had just returned from a road trip to Maryland. Sarah seemed to have a cold that was getting worse and we had decided that the next morning she would have to see the doctor. But shortly after being put to bed, it was clear that she couldn’t breathe and we bundled her up and went to St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency room. The chest x-ray showed that her lungs were clear and we returned home.

After another attempt to put Sarah down for the night, her breathing got even worse. So once again, we bundled her up and went back to St. Luke’s. They told us her condition was continuing to deteriorate and they were calling for a special emergency team from Children’s to transport her to Boston Children’s Hospital about 60 miles away.  We went home, packed a bag, and were two very frightened parents following the ambulance to Boston.

For those not familiar with this hospital, here is a link Boston Children’s. This hospital is a magical place. From the moment we walked in the door, we were treated like royalty. There were people explaining what was going on. There were rooms for us to stay over night. And we had complete and unfettered access to Sarah, night and day.

Sarah was first put in quarantine because of the possibility of RSV. With nothing left to do at that point, we went to our rooms, took a shower, and got something to eat. When we returned they were changing Sarah’s bed linen and Sarah was missing. Panic! Immediately someone was explaining what was happening. Sarah had bacterial pneumonia. The staff was genuinely concerned not only for the welfare of Sarah as the patient, but also for us as the parents. They couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. From quarantine Sarah went to ICU for 3 days and then from ICU she went to a regular room for 2 more days and we were briefed on her condition as often as we needed.

At the time, we had Pilgrim Healthcare medical insurance. It cost us [what we thought was] the outrageous amount of $17 per paycheck every two weeks. The premium had just gone up from $14 a paycheck and I remember we were lamenting how expensive it was. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. It’s OK, I chuckle about it sometimes myself. Once we got Sarah back home, the realization of what this emergency was going to cost started to set in. Children’s had not asked us for anything except our insurance card. There were no checks to be written before we could leave. We braced for the bill to arrive with Boston Children’s Hospital on the envelope.

Sure enough, a few days later we both sat staring at the envelope, almost afraid to open it. We thought about the special emergency team for the long ambulance ride, the quarantine, the ICU, and even our rooms that were provided. But in the end, it didn’t matter. Sarah had received the best possible care and had completely recovered. We were treated like royalty during the whole emergency. No matter what the cost, we decided that it was worth it.

We took a deep breath and opened the envelope. There was a long list of itemized charges for everything they had done for Sarah. It came to $2500. That was a huge sum of money at that time. At the bottom it said, Amount Due: $0.00. Pilgrim Healthcare had paid for everything. We had received the best possible medical services in the country for our young daughter at no cost. We were stunned, yet very happy. We had learned a lesson about healthcare. We would never scoff at the premium costs again.

Looking back, we wonder what has happened. Premiums and medical costs are now 30 times higher for a family of three. Now the out-of-pocket costs would be 20% of the total. Even 20% of a total like that could break most families. Little by little over the years, the healthcare system has gone out of control. We look back and are thankful we lived when we did.

About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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15 Responses to 42. Boston Children’s Hospital

  1. Mama Cormier says:

    I’m so glad that I live in a country with universal health care. I know it’s not perfect but we’ve never had to put our hands in our pockets for any emergency visit to the hospital. When my husband underwent chemo a few years ago it was all covered. The one medication alone was $20 000. I really don’t understand why people are so wary of Obama Care. Everyone should have access to medical care without worrying about the cost or being sent away.


    • J T Weaver says:

      American health care is not in any way ‘universal” or without financial worry. The cost(s) here are driven by the willingness of stricken and distraught individuals to pay, which of course they will. In a Government based system, costs are driven by impartial bureaucrats and applied evenly across the population. Medicare has a 3% overhead/cost factor, one of the best in the world. The insurance based system here has a 40-50% overhead/cost factor and is rising at an unconscionable rate. The AHA does nothing to change that. The AHA merely forces Americans to buy private insurance that they can’t afford or pay a penalty that they can’t afford. Then the insurance typically only covers 80% of the costs. The people can’t afford that either.

      You are right, everyone should have access to medical care. Neither the system pre-AHA or post-AHA provides what a Government based system provides.


  2. There sure are a lot of stories in that story. That parental fear – know it well from my own baby in hospital from awhile at 12 mos. old. Luckily, we did not, on top of that, have to sweat about any bills coming from the hospital, (Canadian, eh). So glad to know all was well in the end.


  3. ksbeth says:

    wow, what an amazing story on so many levels. so happy your daughter recovered and wonderful to hear about this hospital and their amazing level of humanity and care –


  4. Given Breath says:

    What a tribute to Boston Children’s Hospital. Thank you for remembering their kindness…


  5. Anonymous says:

    I still get chills when I read this story. Thanks for the memories dear!


  6. So different to the system over here in the UK, but free it isn’t and we’re finding out the heard way, with over stretched resources to braking point. Unfortunately the ‘free’ tag makes people less respectful and appreciative of it and even abuse the system in some cases.
    What a relief it must have been for you back then though:-)


  7. Great story! People really cared. Yes, the insurance industry is way out of control as is the fear of lawsuits, plus low pay. I don’t have a personal story about contemporary work with children, or even adults in hospital. What I have heard is the people I know in healthcare — the one’s who care — are horrified by the automatic, impersonal response to human need. Then I ask myself, “Does this reflect what’s happening to us culture wide?” Fortunately there are also stories of caring and concern, but I do believe it’s important for us to keep our eyes open and our ears attuned.


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