By Anna Mayer
In early 2012, my client, Maria, developed a severe case of cataract in both eyes, which left her completely blind. The loss of vision made it extremely difficult for her to care for her two children, especially her oldest son, a 15-year-old with Down syndrome and other conditions so severe that he is non-verbal. Without health insurance, Maria wasn’t sure where to turn to receive assistance, or whether it was even possible to regain her vision. Luckily, Maria was already receiving some case management services from another agency, and her caseworker was able to get her a referral to the Ophthalmology department at Cook County Stroger Hospital, the “safety net” hospital for many of the county’s low-income and uninsured residents. But Maria couldn’t get there on her own, had no family that was willing to go with her, and her social worker’s case load was far too big to allow her to accompany Maria. Enter Taller de José.
When Maria came in for her first appointment at our offices in March of 2012, her caseworker came in with her, and when she had to hold her hand to guide her into my office, I realized the severity of her condition. During the appointment, we agreed that both her caseworker and I would try to find a clinic that could see Maria. We both spent the next several weeks calling clinics and other agencies who might be able to help.
A few weeks later, Maria’s caseworker called. Maria had gotten a referral to Stroger and had a surgery scheduled for mid April– would I accompany her? I agreed to do so and we arranged for the caseworker to give her a ride to the hospital.
(Generally clients come to our offices and we accompany them on public transportation; for liability reasons we cannot transport them in a car. Because Maria’s condition made it nearly impossible for her to come on her own to our offices, at future appointments I would go to meet her at her house and accompany her from there to the hospital and back again. We were fortunate that several times her caseworker was able to assist with the transportation.)
When we arrived at 8:30am for what we thought was a 10am surgery, we were informed that, no, it was just a pre-op assessment, and that usually wait times to see the doctor are between 2 and 6 hours after the scheduled appointment time. Unfortunately for us, our wait was much closer to 6 than 2 hours; a little before 4pm that afternoon, Maria was finally able to see a doctor for a total of about 15 minutes. That first day was a pretty good indication of how the rest of her appointments were going to go. The wait times are so long because Stroger is overwhelmed by the number of patients seeking care who can’t find or afford it elsewhere.
About 3 months later, Maria has had successful surgery on both eyes, giving her near perfect vision again. We’ve spent a total of 45 hours together between riding public transportation and siting in waiting rooms for her 6 appointments. Today she is much more independent and has since learned how to get to and from the hospital and our offices on her own. This new-found independence and self-sufficiency is exactly what we hope for all of our clients. She told me, “Isn’t is such a miracle that when we first came you had to hold my hand so that I could get places, but now I can see again and do things on my own?”
I agreed that it was.