Celebrated Mayor Ed Koch Shares His Patient Perspective

JUNE 19, 2010
Diana Pichardo
Former three-term New York City Mayor Ed Koch, spoke about his experiences as a quadruple bypass patient as well as a stroke patient, and his thoughts on the state of national healthcare as the keynote speaker, Friday June 19, at Pri-Med NY 2010.

Koch was the mayor of New York City from 1978-1989; he is an award-winning author,  appears on a NY1 weekly tv show, and writes movie reviews for The Villager.

The 85-year-old said staying busy comes natural to him, but took the time out today to address the crowd from a patient’s point of view  in his talk, “Ed Koch on Everything.”

“I’ve had my fair share of medical experiences,” he said.

The first major experience occurred in 1987. Koch recalled specifically being at the corner of 73rd street and Broadway when he saw the signs of a stroke coming on. He was being driven in a car and in the back seat was accompanied by a commissioner. He noticed he had a hard time listening to his guest speak and then when he himself tried to speak the words came out as gibberish. Immediately, he knew what was happening, it was a stroke.

“I was scared to death,” he said.

He managed to inform his driver, who understood him, and was taken to the first nearby hospital. After receiving some initial care he was transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “I was petrified that I was going to be speechless or lose my ability to move,” he said.

The turning point for him came when his doctor gazed into his eyes, saw he was terrified, and said, ‘Eddie, don’t worry about a thing. I am in charge. I will take care of you.”

“No one calls me Eddie,” Koch laughed, but it was the warm, intuitive nature of the doctor that helped ease some of his tension, he said.

“Always keep in mind that what the patient needs is that someone is in charge and someone will take care of them,” he told physicians in the audience.

The second time Koch experienced a major health event was when he had his quadruple bypass sugery June 2009.

Koch said he recalled not feeling well when walking long distances. He loved parades and had asked the fire department if he could march with them in an event that was coming up at the time.  He marched with the group, but after four blocks he could no longer continue. Koch went for a check-up to assess the problem and was informed he would need the surgery.

He returned to the hospital, had the surgery and stayed five weeks in intensive care for a total stay of six weeks. Like most of the patients in intensive care, Koch began to hallucinate. He said his specific hallucination was reoccurring and involved him being captured by Japanese communists who threatened to cut his thumbs off. Once they cut his thumbs off however, he noticed there was no pain or blood so something was wrong.

Throughout his stay, the nurses were incredibly kind and compassionate, he said.

“I can’t tell you how marvelous they were,” he said.

The doctors were equally as kind and supportive, he said.

“I came out of that hospital extremely grateful,” he said.

To prove it, he took the names down of every nurse and doctor that had treated him and sent them each an autographed book. He also took each doctor (20 of them) and their spouse to a steak house for a dinner.

Some say he may have received special treatment, and maybe it’s true, he said. But Koch said, regardless, he said each day these physicians work on members of various communities and neighborhoods with the same compassion.

Being an active commentator on hot button issues, Koch didn’t leave without bringing up one current issue making waves across the country: illegal immigration.

He specifically discussed the topic and its effect of the healthcare system.

There are about 12 million illegal aliens in this country, he said. When it comes to legalizing illegal aliens, or providing amnesty, Koch said he is generally against the idea. Much of the health costs and care provided in hospitals goes to illegal immigrants, which is taking a financial toll on hospitals nationwide.

While he is an avid supporter of legal immigration, he said, it is necessary that this issue be resolved. The answer is not to send illegal immigrants off in boxcars either, but to create laws that will punish employers who hire illegal immigrants. If there is less work, the immigrants will simply have to look elsewhere, which is what we have seen during the recent economic recession, he said.


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