My sister in Pittsburgh, PA cut her left hand two weeks ago. She severed three tendons and the median nerve. She underwent a surgical repair without complications and after one week was prescribed physical therapy. She sent me a text message that said, “My copay for PT is $25.00 each visit and the Dr. wants me here 4x/ week! I’ll be destitute by the time I’m finished….”
Perhaps she was being flippant, but I was very surprised by her text message. I have heard this sentiment from patients who similarly complain and give their reasons for not doing physical therapy, despite my recommendations, but I thought that she would have a different understanding of the importance of following through with the medical direction. She is a dental hygienist who gets upset if she is speaking to someone who has gum line calculus that she can see. I also have enough of a rough idea of her financial situation to know that $100 a week won’t cause her to be destitute.
Clearly people have different financial capabilities and opinions of how money should be spent and in what priority scheme. Life’s complications and surprises may cause us to rearrange those financial priorities temporarily, but I believe that spending money to care for your health is always the best investment and choice. Take my sister, for example. Unfortunately, she isn’t able to resume her job as a dental hygienist for “at least 13 weeks depending on progress.” Her progress and a favorable outcome of regaining the full use of her left hand are highly dependent on her participation in physical therapy. As a pain management doctor, I see more than a few cases of people being injured and ultimately on disability for far less severe injuries. Furthermore, if she fails to regain the use of her left hand, her life will be adversely affected forever. In my mind, she can pay $100 per week for 8-12 weeks for a total of $800 to $1,200 and have 100% function, or she can avoid physical therapy, develop a chronic pain syndrome and permanent disability and loss of income that would far exceed $1,200.
Americans spend more money in many categories of non-essentials including: daily designer coffee trips, tobacco, alcohol, unused gym memberships, credit card interest fees, gambling, premium cable packages, mobile phones, pet toys and accessories, soda, candy, lottery tickets, designer baby clothing, speeding/traffic/parking tickets, television/radio/sound equipment, just to name a few. I’m going to tell my sister that she can easily afford her physical therapy copay simply by making coffee at home, not speeding, not upgrading to the newest iPhone, not buying one more pet toy for her dog, Gus until next year, or cutting out all soda and candy. I really don’t think those choices will negatively affect her quality of life… but choosing to spend money on her health might just save her life.