Notes from the Road: Trouble in Quakertown

Sunday, I filed a story on the Hammerschmidt family from Quakertown, Pa., who are being squeezed by rising health care costs and a slow economy. I've written dozens of stories about the economic and health care struggles of American families, but being able to spend time with the Hammerschmidts gave me very helpful perspective about the grace and dignity of people who are struggling to survive.

Watching Karen Hammerschmidt playing with her two Yorkies, going over her bills and even visiting a nursing home where she fed and comforted her Alzheimer-stricken mother was a taste of humanity I seldom get in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Hammerschmidt visits her mother twice a day everyday and brings her home on the weekends. She said she wants to be the first person her mother sees in the morning and the last person she sees before she goes to sleep at night.

Watching the interaction between them was touching and reminded me that after all these years in the business, I had never become a detached observer. That's a good thing.

Meanwhile, the video crew I'm traveling with from the American News Project spent the day with David Hammerschmidt as he finished up a home renovation project. After a day of watching him cut, drill and hammer, he told the crew, in a moment of self-reflection, about his concern that he was becoming a burden for his wife because medical problems won't allow him to work a conventional job.

That kind of self-disclosure only comes from the kind of personal connections we're making on this project.

And we've got more in store. With temperatures near the 80s and the fall foliage just beginning to peak, I left Pennsylvania Sunday and hit the road for Ohio. The view from I-76 West in West Virginia was amazing. Lots of sweeping hills and valleys filled with yellow, orange, red and purple-looking trees.

By the time I reached Ohio late Sunday night, it was all I could do to get a hotel room and crash. I'll tell you more about the Buckeye State tomorrow.