How can I now criticize the U.S. health care system?
Just five days before this was written, I found myself in the St. Luke’s Hospital (in Milwaukee) emergency room, having been taken there on a lovely Sunday morning with chest pains. The pains, along with unexpected shortness of breath in the previous two days, helped to convince me to have it checked out. At first I thought this was merely indigestion (or acid reflux), since I never thought I’d have heart problems: after all, even though I am 80 years old, at that point I was fit and took no pills, as so many my age do. A picture of health, right?
About 45 minutes after I got into the examination room, the pain became severe. We alerted our nurse, who instantly brought in a team of at least four others, and they began a hurried series of exams, portable x-rays, quickly determining I was in trouble. Within minutes I was hurried into another room where an renowned physician (along with a team of four) installed a stint in one of the two main arteries, opening it up to accept blood and satisfy my heart’s needs, ending the pain. Within a hour, I was headed into an intensive care unit, soon to be on the way to good health.
Five days later, I’m at home, walking slowly about, relaxing amid some books and magazines, interspersed with time spent watching baseball on TV. (Will the sporadic failings of the Milwaukee Brewers lead me to a relapse?)
Now all this occurred in St. Luke’s, which is the showcase hospital of the giant Aurora Health Care System. They’ve recently completed a huge expansion, and the heart cases go to the 9th and 10th floors of the new patient tower, which has all the markings of a top rate hotel. The single rooms are tastefully furnished, warm colors and comfortable, complete with cable television and DVD/VHS players. My room looked out upon the patio, a beautiful location on 9th floor with views of Milwaukee.
For the most part, the staff was pleasant and solicitous of my every need. I was visited by a host of doctors (one group was called “cardiac fellows,” I think) and poked and probed to assure that I healing properly. In short, I feel I owe the St. Luke’s facility much for the care they provided.
Yet, the thought lingered that while I was recovering in the lap of luxury (maybe that’s a slight exaggeration), many others were being treated in far less commodious surroundings, or not being treated at all! Maybe they were in an inner city hospital (if there are any left) where the rooms were ill-equipped and the staff ill-trained! Maybe, if I had been to one of those hospitals, my heart attack may not have been treated so quickly, and I might not be writing this at all!
How come I got so fortunate? Part of the answer is that I have Medicare (yes, the “awful” government program) and it is supplemented by my good union retiree insurance. The medical profession likes to complain about Medicare payments, but can you imagine what would happen if their elderly patients had no Medicare and couldn’t pay the bills? The fact is they might not get enough patients to serve.
Yes, thank you Aurora Medical Systems for rescuing me from my heart attack, and doing it in such a comfortable setting. But what about my less fortunate neighbors?