Road trip: Provider drives 16 hours to pick up a patient

Monday, February 28, 2005

LAKE HAVASU, Ariz. - Jim Goldman received an unusual request in early December: How would you like to drive eight hours to Odessa, Texas, pick up an oxygen patient at the local hospital and drive him back to his home in Lake Havasu?

“I wasn’t going to do it,” said Goldman, who owns Havasu Medical. “They said it was going to be eight hours each way, but I looked it up on and found out it was going to be 16 hours one way.”

Then he remembered why he got into the business: to help people.

“I just felt like there was a need, and he’d been there since Thanksgiving, and that would depress anyone,” Goldman said. “I didn’t know what I was going to make, I didn’t care. I just wanted to do a good thing.”

This story began to take shape in mid November. That’s when Goldman’s future oxygen patient, James Taylor, 78, and his friend, Fern Leickel, 83, left Lake Havasu and drove to Houston to visit Leickel’s daughter and granddaughter. Taylor drove because Leickel is losing her eyesight. On the return trip, while staying in a hotel, Taylor said he felt terrible. Leickel called 911. Taylor, who has cancer, emphysema and an enlarged heart, ended up in the hospital.

While Taylor convalesced in the hospital, Leickel’s daughter drove her home. In Lake Havasu, she called Goldman and asked him to drive to Odessa and pick up Taylor. The two agreed that Goldman would be paid $2,000 for the trip and use Taylor’s 2001 Chevy Lumina. Taylor couldn’t return home by bus because he was too weak to change his own cylinders. Airlines wouldn’t allow him to board with oxygen, and he didn’t have any family locally who could help.

“I just thought he had COPD and needed some oxygen and didn’t get the full story until I got down there,” Goldman said. “He was very weak. They thought I was bringing a stretcher, an ambulance and everything. I said, ‘No. I’ve got his car. We don’t have those kinds of things in Lake Havasu. We’re a small town.’”

For the return trip, Goldman brought four E-tanks. He hooked Taylor up to a new tank every five hours. Knowing he’d be too weak to leave the car, the hospital sent Taylor off with a urinal, which Goldman emptied at stops along the road. Taylor also administered respiratory medications at the stops. The two talked very little.

“I was out of it,” Taylor recalled recently. “I didn’t know who I was most of the time, and he was busy driving and so tired. I can’t say enough about this guy.”

When they crossed the border into Arizona, Taylor said, “Now I can die.”

Goldman responded: “Not until you get home buddy. I’m not going to let you.”

Since returning to Lake Havasu, Taylor has been recuperating at a friend’s house. While recounting the road trip in late December, Taylor said he was feeling stronger every day and almost ready to go home.

Brad Werkmeister is associate vice president of VGM’s Freedom Link, which helps HME members coordinate patient travel. He agreed with Taylor that Goldman went beyond the call of duty.

“I’ve been here 14 years, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing something like that,” Werkmeister said. “It’s awfully nice, especially during the holidays.”