Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Health care.

17 years and a couple months ago, I went to the hospital on a beautiful, sunny day. I looked at the sky and the grass and the birds and the trees and held them briefly in my heart, hoping to see them after my operation was over, but also knowing that my mother's mother had died after she had undergone surgery. My parents got to sit with me after I'd changed into an exquisitely ugly and embarrassing hospital gown, and then I was wheeled into a chilly room where an IV was inserted, and then the ice cold anesthesia hit my veins and I didn't wake up for hours.

When I woke up, it hurt, of course. It hurt terribly, like pain from a nightmare where you can't even open your mouth to cry. Eventually, my mouth worked and I asked for my mom. We had both been told that she could come to me in the recovery room. We had been lied to - Mom was not permitted to see me until I was in the room assigned to me for convalescence. When she finally saw me, she had managed to convince someone to bring lime sherbet - my favorite flavor then. But I was so exhausted from the surgery, the anesthesia, and the struggle to make myself heard that I fell asleep after only a spoonful had been given to me.

I was in the hospital for days, until finally the doctors were convinced that I could at least feed myself and look after my wound dressing. After I'd recovered, my doctor offered to do a second surgery to improve the look of the first. I refused, not wanting to have to go through that a second time. I never thought I would look back on those days and think of how much better they were. I was wrong.

Friday here was another such beautiful day, and I'd arranged to take the day off in order to help my brother-in-law get to and from his surgery. The first surprise was that this wasn't going to happen at a hospital, or even something that looked like a hospital outcenter. It looked like a doctor's office. We signed in, and I agreed to hold on to his personal possessions.

He went off, and I settled into a seat with my crochet and eyed magazines with covers about Harry Potter, pregnant stars, and the right sort of redecorating to have done last year. (Whatever happened to National Geographic in doctors' offices, anyway?) And waited. When I saw a parking space open near the clinic, I fetched the car, figuring that we'd be better off if it were closer. Then I ate my lunch. And waited some more. The Harry Potter articles (which all looked like the same article, frankly) began to look inviting, so I read them. I eventually began to think about reading the redecorating stuff. I considered tearing out all the crochet I'd already done and beginning over again.

Finally, someone came to get me, and I saw D. looking drawn and tired. He was still hooked up to all the monitors tracking heart function, blood oxygen, etc. As he lay there, semiconscious, a nurse quickly read his discharge sheet to me and had me sign it, then told me she'd change his dressing this time and that it would need to be changed more often after he began to wake up.

It was perhaps 45 minutes later that he was in the passenger seat of my car, still nauseated from the anesthesia, still needing a dressing change every half hour. When he was finally awake enough to have discharge questions, the office was closed. My husband arrived, and I was able to leave D. long enough to find a parking space on the street (the garage cost $10/an hour, but the street didn't.) and fetch the bedrolls from the trunk. (My brother-in-law lives in a lovely downtown condo with no guest room, but just enough space in front of the couch for a couple of bedrolls.)

We spent the next couple days providing nursing, and I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if we had not lived nearby. The office he had been in only had space for 2 beds in their recovery area, and a steady stream of patients in and out. There was not the faintest pretense of individualized care - D. had told the nurse that he was sick to his stomach from the anesthesia. Not even a sick bag, an expression of concern, nothing. The vet that cared for the animals on our land when I was a kid showed more compassion for her charges than anyone at that clinic. I was disgusted.

It's at times like this that I ask if this is the medical care system that politicians believe we must preserve at all costs. And as for wait, D. had put off this surgery for years, worried about the stability of his employer, and hence his insurance.


Blogger ef (Pam) said...

Oh my!

what a disturbing story. I hope your brother in law is recovering well....

I am so frustrated with healthcare in this country I could spit.

I myself will have insurance again, after an unemployment-related 4 month hiatus, on Weds. yippee (of course, I could have COBRA-ed, but being unemployed, and not independently wealthy, I decided to take the risk and not pay $400 per month for insurance I likely wouldn't (won't - knock wood!) use. I have been in this situation before - it's such a very weird feeling, now I"m down to the wire, I have to be extra sure not to incur huge medical bills for 48 hours or so...

And all the people who talk about how bad it is elsewhere. I assume almost all of them have never lived in a country with nationalized healthcare.

I lived in Norway for a semester of college, and in that time had really bad bronchitis and then a bad ear infection. Both were treated well, and right away, by the local university doctor. While there I met an american man with AIDS who could not afford to come home to die. Pretty depressing.

I do really like my doctor (I hope I can still go to her, I'm on different insurance now!) and appreciate health care workers, but sometimes it is VERY hard to believe that anyone is worried about losing the unique wonders of the US healthcare system by covering everyone.


8/13/2007 11:29 AM  
Blogger Don said...

Your story is a familiar one. All too often my Mom tells me why we must not change course in favor of a system like those in Canada and the UK. But, I continue to hear "horror stories" like the one you've related. I don't know how this will ever change as our politicians have taken so much money from the health care "cartels." There is no doubt that our system is broken. I pray that a change might come even in spite of the lack of courage from our national and state politicians. We really need another American Revolution. I've often thought, "how would Gandhi address these injustices?"

8/13/2007 11:46 AM  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

I have heard murmurings about various grassroots groups trying to come up with their own insurance systems, creating a pool that will pay for its members' healthcare when necessary, for a certain amount of "dues" per month.

I think that's what HMOs were originally supposed to be, corruption lurks everywhere!

The most convincing one I've seen mentioned was in Shaine Claibourne's book, which I of course forget the name of, sigh. Done through Christian Churches. I don't know if you have to sign a statement of belief to sign up ;P

It's all pretty depressing.

8/13/2007 12:13 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

D. is recovering well and holding our camping toiletries kit as hostage for our return tonight. While he may not have gotten expert care, he did get caring care even if I did drive him nuts by putting the plastic wrap away in the wrong place.

COBRA for the unemployed is the product of an absolutely vile mind. And even that "solution" is time limited. (I was temping for something like a year before 9/11/2001. When my husband also lost his job, we were up the creek without a paddle.)

I've personally never lived outside the U.S., but I do have eyes to see, and this just ain't working.

And yes, Don, the fact that the insurance officials have bought up so much of our government makes it hard for me to see how we will regain control sometimes.

8/13/2007 12:50 PM  
Blogger Gerald (Ackworth born) said...

here in the UK we have lots to complain about regarding our NHS {National Health Service} but when I hear of how things are in the States I realise how things could be so much worse. At least here we might worry about getting the "proper" care but at least we don't have to worry about the financial implications of being ill.

8/15/2007 1:04 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Here in the US, people are told how long we'd have to wait under a government health program to get care, but I note that my brother in law was so worried about his insurance coverage that he put off this surgery for years. Back when I was unemployed, I was uninsured. Had anything happened then, we'd have been in real trouble.

I sometimes read the BBC news online (ironically often a better source of real news from the US than our media, who are obsessed with which star is in rehab this week and how their marriages are doing...) and read of some of the difficulties y'all have, but I have to admit, I'm green with envy.

8/15/2007 5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well spoken: This issue plus the plight of medical interns and residents point towards a health care system which is sick. My nephew is in residency right now. While his work situation has improved because he is in residency, the interns at his hospital in KS he says, are faceless drones working unbelievable hours. It is an insane, inhumane system which gives medical students all this incredible training for five years and then tries to burn them out in one. It all goes hand in hand.

8/15/2007 6:35 AM  

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