Need Hips. Will Travel.
A bluesman discovers medical tourism.
by James Leonard
"I started having trouble with my hips eighteen months ago," says pastor and blues guitarist Mike Brooks. "First I walked with a limp, then with a cane, then with two canes, then I couldn't walk at all. The head of the femur got pitted and collapsed in on itself like an eggshell. The doctors had no real idea why. What I needed was two new hips."
But he didn't have the money to pay for them. Born in London in 1962, Brooks moved to America in 2006 because "this country is the home of the blues, and I wanted a chance to strut my stuff here. Also, I was out of work in England and got offered a job here at a local church, the Vineyard."
"I was with the Vineyard for three years. The official answer as to why I left was because they said they couldn't afford me, though they weren't paying me very much to begin with. The unofficial answer is there are two kinds of people who lose their job: those who are really bad at it and those who are really good at it. I'm the latter.
"My wife and I had bought a small health insurance policy when we left the Vineyard," continues Brooks, "and it turned out it was crappy. Out of pocket, the operation would have cost us $80,000 if we had it done here. I phoned up one or two charitable support trusts at local hospitals that help cases like me, and was told I didn't meet the criteria because I had health insurance. So we were screwed: $80,000 might as well have been a million dollars. And even if we moved back to the UK, I would have to have waited eighteen months for the operation.
"Besides, my life is here now," Brooks says. "I have a blues band called Blues House 313, and I'd helped plant a house church, the Phoenix Metro Community Church, with the intention of
taking Christianity back to first-century principles--that is, before religion took over and screwed it up. We've got about fifty folks now and probably see twenty-five to thirty every week. I've being doing that for two-and-a-half years."
Ruling out both the U.S. and Britain left "medical tourism"--traveling to another country where health care costs are lower. "I went to the Fortis Hospital in New Delhi," says Brooks--the Indian medical center where Maggie Smith's character had her hip done in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
"They are hip specialists, and including the $5,000 for the round-trip airfare, we got the whole thing for $25,000."
He and his wife arrived at the hospital on February 15, Brooks says, "and three hours later I was on the operating table. No messing about there! They had two surgeons, to do both hips at the same time. The last thing I remembered saying before they put me out was, 'You can't put the catheter in until I'm out cold!'"
The operation was more than a medical success. "It turned out most of the doctors who worked on me knew their blues," says Brooks. "Not just Eric Clapton but the real blues. And all they wanted to do was to talk blues! They even piped in blues to the operating room. After the operation, we had lots of long chats. I had an absolute blast!"
Recovery was harder. "It was hell on earth when I first came round," Brooks says. "I'd been on Vicodin for a long time because of the pain, and they got me off it cold turkey. Hip surgery is a pretty brutal operation anyway, and I was in a hot room in a hot country, and I had about eight blankets on me I was shivering so bad. It was two days of hell, but I haven't taken any Vicodin or any other painkillers since--and that includes the plane rides home." They returned March 8.
Even $25,000 was more than Brooks had.
"I'm a blues musician, so I don't make any money. But everyone in my life could see it [his condition] was going downhill. The church family we're part of, they started a website called 'Mike's New Hips.' We need to raise $25,000, and we've raised $18,961 in two months and it's still going. We got gifts from Phoenix Metro Community Church people, from Vineyard people, from blues people, from complete strangers."Why would people give Brooks, a newcomer to this country, all that money? "It's because I'm part of a community that loves me and I love them," he says. "They saw my need and raised the money."
[Originally published in August, 2012.]
On August 14, 2012, wrote:
great story--in these times, positive stories like this can make my day! thanks Jim and the Observer!