I went to the hospital a couple of days ago. I’m fine. So is the person who broke a bone and who needed a ride. Pardon me if I don’t say who. Discretion is probably best. In a few weeks the bone will be better too. The experience was illustrative though. I’ve been avoiding hospitals and doctors for a few reasons. Thursday’s visit gave me two perspectives on the issue of wealth and health that may not sort themselves out until I write this post. Welcome to my processing.
Thursday was scheduled to be a rare day off. It is taking a lot of work to get ready for next week’s self-publishing workshop, next month’s gallery show, and at least a dozen other projects. The scrambling to find a way to pay the bills continues. The portfolio hasn’t recovered, the bills haven’t stopped, and the jobs haven’t arrived. In the meantime I am working hard at my business and buying lottery tickets. The phone rang at 5:30am. This was possibly good news. A small cadre of MVIS and DNDN shareholders have agreed to wake each other if our beleaguered stocks release stupendous news before the stock market opens. I answered and heard the request for something completely different. She needed someone to take her to the hospital. She was sure her arm wasn’t supposed to be that shape. For someone with a broken wrist she was amazingly calm and impressively aware of what needed to be done. Of course I said yes.
The local hospital isn’t very local. Whidbey is a long island and we both live near the southern tip. The hospital is a 45 minute drive. I drove through the mental and meteorological fog. She meditated. One of the handy things about small town emergency rooms is that there isn’t a line, or there wasn’t for us. The people were amazing. Everyone was professional yet relaxed. There was no freneticism. Everything was explained at a reasonable pace. Delays were measured in minutes, not hours. The patient was impressive too. She welcomed each new attendant as a friend, asked them how their day was going, how did they get to the island or this career; and then got to another pertinent question in the myriad of details wrapped around the mystery that lay within the morning’s medical issue. I stayed out of the way, took notes, watched and listened like a good chauffeur. The bone was reset, the split and sling were applied, the prescriptions written, and we were out the door in less than three hours. That’s the way this should work.
In the midst of it I realized that I probably would have been traumatized. I pay for my own health insurance and can only afford catastrophic care with a massive deductible. If I was laying there I would have seen four expert professionals working for three hours and using incredible equipment running up charges that could bankrupt me. Thanks to her employer she has excellent health care. At one point she even lamented that everyone should receive the same level of care with the freedom from worry that she had and that she knew would help her heal. I agree. I bemoan my health insurance which I can’t afford to use and which costs as much as I spend on food; and I feel for those worse off that can’t qualify or can’t afford the payments. I’ve considered stopping the payments myself. I fear bankruptcy more than I fear death.
Once upon a time I treated myself to more than regular doctor visits because I knew that health is more important than a lot of luxuries. Symptoms recognized early can save a lot of money by treating something when it is small rather than waiting until surgery or other drastic measures are necessary. I don’t visit my western care providers anymore. The story of my introduction to Oriental medicine is in an earlier post. That experience and insights from many friends in similar fields of study and practice have shown me ways to be healthier without prescription drugs or expensive testing procedures. It is amazing what a practitioner can do if they have the right touch and energy, an understanding of my lifestyle and options, and who knows how to communicate that. I feel healthier now than I have in years. Aches and pains exist, but they are so diminished that I frequently forget them. For a while they were ever-present to the point of incapacitating me for hours. Thank you Gan Mao Ling, tumeric, and a gluten-free diet. Oh yeah, and breathing. Proper breathing is amazing. Gotta do that more often.
My issue with health care costs is our issue with health care costs, merely made personal. Whether covered by my insurance, or by some corporation, or even by the government, all of those people should be paid for their work and expertise (and should get a tip for their excellent demeanor). The equipment must be bought and operated. The building must be built and maintained. Health is precious. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it costs so much.
We talked about that as we walked over to the pharmacy. We’re both old enough to remember simpler times. Doctors did make house calls. More things happened in their office instead of treatment rooms. Fewer people were involved. Setting a bone probably took one doctor, one nurse, some relatively effective pain medication and a bit of effort from all.
Four people weren’t much of a crowd, and the three hours were efficiently filled, but a lot of what transpired was caveats and contingencies. Most of the discussion was about the possible complications and ramifications. Tests were necessary, and also meant that less was left to judgment. It all meant better care for my friend the impressive patient, but I felt that a lot of the time and energy were there to protect the doctors, nurses, and the hospital from lawyers and insurance companies.
Broken joints take extra care. I’m glad she got that. I’m glad everything popped back into place. It doesn’t always happen that way, which is why there are so many tests, cautions, and conversations about consequences.
Yet, I wonder. If the physicians were allowed to use their judgment, could a doctor and a nurse and a good x-ray have done just as good a job in one hour instead of three? If so, then it isn’t the cost of the health care as much as it is the cost of – what – not trusting a professional’s judgement and expertise? Doctors are humans and humans make mistakes. There are people in every profession that must be penalized for mistreating others. But, if we trusted the majority more, if they weren’t socially and financially vilified for mistakes, would that give us a healthier health care system that didn’t erect such high barriers based on wealth? It is possible that my insurance is expensive and I fear medically-induced bankruptcy because our institutions don’t respect and support our health-care providers.
Western healthcare threatens my wealth at $3,600 per year in premiums for treatments that I can’t afford because of my deductible for coverage that I carry in case some car accident throws me into the emergency room unconscious and subsequently bankrupt. Eastern healthcare has improved my health, and while money is so tight that I can’t afford those treatments either, I know that I’ll go there for one-tenth the price and potentially a greater benefit.
Ah, and here the process that you have witnessed has produced the insight I was after. I trust both western and eastern physicians. But it is the western systems and institutions that I distrust. And if I review this recent experience I wonder how much wealth is being generated for those who benefit from the distrust. It may not be healthy for me to think that someone is out there getting wealthy because they want me to distrust the people I trust.
I think it is time to take a break, get up and stretch, have a cup of tea, and go help a friend who might have some two-handed household chores. Thanks for listening.
Really enjoyed this saga and the words you put to it. I could see … in my head, being secretly amused and dubiously delighted at her “rite of passage.” Give her my best.
Please pardon my simple edit of redacting her name.