I went to a new doctor last week because I had run out of my two prescriptions for blood pressure and water retention. They drew some blood as part of the routine check (always fun to pay for all of this, because of course I don’t have any health insurance anymore.) This morning I received a call from the clinic asking me to come in to speak to the doctor and get my results.
Well, you know how it is: if everything is fine, you never hear anything; if there’s a flag, they call you; if they ask you in, it’s usually because you’re about to fall apart, so I was not delighted to get the call.
So I signed up for the 1pm appointment as I’d rather not wait for bad news. Edmund decided to accompany me because he was worried and we drove the 17 miles there (just under 30 km). When I walked into the waiting room a few minutes early, there was one patient being seen and another waiting, so I knew I’d be there for a little bit, but it didn’t seem too bad. (Continued after the cut.)
But then a bit later, as we were both still waiting, another patient walked in: a man of 63, generally in good shape but with an ugly hand injury. He has been shoeing the horses for Stanford University’s equestrian team for 32 years so he knows his job, but this morning the nail went right through the shoe and through his finger — and the horse shied, tear the nail out of the poor man’s hand.
He’s a tough man, though: he finished shoeing the horse(!) then his wife tried to bandage the hand, but there was too much bleeding so she drove him to the clinic. The man stoically answered questions, saying that yes, it hurt like heck but never wincing, or complaining — or fainting like I’ve seen many people do (yes, I’ve seen a number of ugly accidents.) But being so stalwart worked against him; the receptionist-medtech looked a bit embarrassed but said she had too patients waiting ahead of him.
At that point, I got up and said: “I can wait, this is way more pressing. This gentleman can have my spot.” He and his wife thanked me graciously and we chatted; that’s how I got the details on his injury. We talked about medical and insurance costs, and the joys of being self-employed as an “outside consultant.”
I could see the other woman, saying nothing but chewing her lip. When her turn came, she told the gentleman to take her spot and he went to get the wound cleaned up and stitched. He was very grateful, of course, and in due time everyone was attended to. (Turns out I drove 34 miles to be told to watch my carbohydrate intake. That’s it.) When we left, the gentleman’s wife came out of the clinic to thank me for getting him seen soonest.
Yeah, I confess I felt smugly proud of myself, and yeah, I had hoped my example would goad the other patient into ceding precedence. Frankly, I think it should be a no-brainer, and in fact I think the receptionist-medtech should have just had the man walk right into an examination room. But it was nice to be able to do something good for someone else at the cost of so little effort.
And now, in the words of Dory in Finding Nemo: “Good feeling gone, now!” In contrast to this feeling was the overflowing rage I felt that this man has nothing but his very blue-collar savings as a bulwark against disaster. Thirty-two years working hard, with Stanford as his big client, and he can’t even go to the university’s medical centre. Insurance would cost him $2100 a month, or approximately 125% our our combined monthly income in 2011. (2011 was a very sucky year for us.) He looked like he was going to be OK, the nail had missed nerves and tendons, but this man could actually have lost his livelihood right then and there. And there was nothing and no one to help immediately if that had happened.
As you might guess, Edmund and I had also been thinking along the same lines as we were driving to the clinic earlier that day; if the doctor had said something scary like “cancer” or any number of serious health problems, I would have had no choice but to pack my bags and head for Canada. Let me tell you, I think the U.S. is a pretty fucked up place with this idea of having “the health you can afford.”
After getting out of there, we stopped at Big Mouth Burgers and I had onion rings instead of fries — I may have to avoid carbs, but my cholesterol is fantastic.