Streams

Snow Makes for a Tough Week for the Chronically Ill

Thursday, December 30, 2010

WNYC

As the city continues dig out from the blizzard, people living with chronic illness are still struggling to get access to medical care.

Doctors at Brooklyn's New York Methodist Hospital Emergency room are seeing patients who've stayed at home the past couple days because of impassible streets.

People who needed dialysis — or access to life-saving medication.

Dr. Joseph Bove is the chairman of emergency medicine. He says one diabetic patient he just treated missed her required insulin treatments. “Now she's in diabetic ketoacidosis and she's very sick," he says. "So I guess the walking wounded managed the past couple of says but the sickest patients couldn't get here."

Dr. Bove says when he started his shift on Wednesday morning, there were only 5 patients in the emergency room, which is quite low compared to the usual 300 or so they treat per day. By midafternoon yesterday, that number grew to 80 people seeking treatment,

Bove says over the next few days, he expects that number to keep climbing as people are able to get themselves to the hospital.

“There’s no exaggeration—it just exploded. They held their breath, they hunkered down and they waited until they could make out the 911 calls or get to the hospital some other way," he says. "The trickle is gone, I think it’s going to be a landslide.”

Several blocks away, at the Park Slope Ambulatory Infusion Center, patients have been going to great lengths to keep their appointments for treatments for chronic diseases like Crohns, cancer and colitis. Sheryl Casalaspro is being treated at the clinic for stomach cancer. All the roads near her home in Mill Basin still weren't plowed on Wednesday, and the MTA's Access-a-Ride service had to meet her on a corner near her home. She says the hike to the van and the two and a half hour ride to the clinic was horrible. She also had to pay for an expensive car service for her trip home when Access-a-Ride was too booked to take her back after her appointment. The stress of possibly missing her treatment this week has taken its toll.

"I was a total, total wreck," she says. "The doctor had called me and said you've got to calm down because he says it's just making it worse for the problem with my disease and he was right. I was literally shaking because I do not want to miss a chemo session."

Stress from the snowstorm can cause complications for people fighting chronic diseases, according to Dr. Hesham Hazen, an attending physician at the Park Slope clinic.

“That's one of the first and foremost things, especially when you're dealing with malignancy. It's the mental state that is half the battle. They have to be relaxed they have to be at ease they have to believe that what they are getting is going to work.”

Dr. Hazen says patient traffic at the ambulatory center doubled on Wednesday compared to the beginning of the week, and he expects it to triple on Thursday. The clinic is closed for the holiday on New Year's Eve.

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