Column: Kaiser’s Voice Mail Jail Leaves Patient on Hold By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday May 03, 2005

Ralph needed a shower chair. The old one we’d purchased five years ago was broken. A wheel had fallen off and a metal support rod snapped. I had to get a new one ASAP.  

I called Kaiser’s Durable Medical Equipment Department and requested a chair. I was told it wasn’t covered by our health plan. I knew this was true from five years ago but I was hoping for a miracle. It seems unfair that a wheelchair-bound person who can’t take a shower unless he’s in a shower chair doesn’t have coverage for such an item. Ralph’s plan is through the University of California. Someone wasn’t thinking straight when they denied shower chairs to C-4 quadriplegics.  

I went to Johnston Medical Supply on Shattuck Avenue and looked at their shower chairs. The cheapest one available was $266 plus tax. Made of plastic with metal connecters and wheels, it would start to rust, just as our original one had, the moment we turned on the water. The all-plastic chairs had price tags of $600 and up. These were outside our budget. I bought the cheap chair.  

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the chair I had purchased didn’t have footrests. We need a place to rest Ralph’s feet so they don’t drag on the floor when we push him to the bathroom. I returned to Johnston and ordered the footrests. They weren’t in stock but they would call us as soon as they came in.  

For a week we made do without footrests. It’s imperative that we keep Ralph clean. Otherwise sores develop that cause infections, which in turn can cause death. This is why we need a shower chair.  

The footrests arrived and we attached them to the chair. I relaxed, but not for long, A few weeks later Ralph’s specialized air mattress developed a leak. 

The air mattress is designed to prevent bedsores. Ralph’s helpers and I move him around in bed, and the air mattress, through some marvel of technology, keeps itself from pushing too hard against his skin. We’ve gone through several types of mattresses in the past eleven years, from water, to foam, to air. We weren’t given the okay for the very best mattress until a bedsore on Ralph’s buttocks required plastic surgery and over six months recovery time.  

I called the DME Supervisor. Her answering machine said it was Thursday, April 14. I looked at my calendar. It was Tuesday, April 19. Several rounds of missed messages from a DME coordinator left me with no choice but to call the supervisor again. It was Thursday, April 21. Her message said it was Tuesday April 19. She was getting closer to reality, but she wasn’t quite there. Finally, on Friday morning, April 22, I spoke to a real person. She listened to my concerns, took down our order, and told me Apria Health Care would deliver a new mattress that afternoon. A few hours later someone from Apria called to say there’d be a delivery made between 5 and 5:30 p.m.  

“We’ll need lead time,” I said to the caller. “It’ll take us 15 minutes to get my husband out of bed.” 

“I’ll contact you 30 minutes before arrival,” promised the Apria representative. 

At 9 p.m. the Apria deliveryman called. Andrea, Willie and I put Ralph in a sling, and raised him with a Hoyer lift. We turned his body around so he was facing the TV. Ralph watched the A’s versus the Angels in Anaheim while suspended above our dining room table.  

The deliveryman replaced the mattress and filled it with air. We lowered Ralph into bed, positioned him so that he could see the A’s win 4-3. I took a deep breath. It was 10 p.m., April 22. I was proud of our work, and pleased to know what day and time it was. Maybe the DME coordinator will get herself caught up by the time I call her again. ›