What healthcare system?


Take a ride with me. I’m going to tell you the story of my latest bump. I’ll get over my angst about ranting over a personal problem, something I find a bit uncomfortable, because I know with certainty that my experiences aren’t unusual.

About a month ago, I ran through the drive-through of a local fast food fish place after a long day. I ate about half of the fish and cole slaw and went to bed. A half hour before the alarm went off the next morning, I was in the bathroom, sending that poor excuse for a meal down the drain in a projectile manner. Convinced I was dying, I called in sick to work and went back to bed.

Besides the hung-over, hit-by-a-truck feeling the next day, I was fine enough to return to the land of the living. Without thinking, I indulged in my favorite cheese. A few days later, I felt like I indulged in that cheese a bit too much. Right below my sternum and over the top of the two wings of my rib cage was a hard lump, and I figured I stopped my pipes up good and solid. That lump stayed there for almost a week with nothing moving through and the ol’ body retaliated in the only way it could by rejecting everything I tried to feed it. About to head to the store for some heavy-duty laxatives, my body presented me with the next symptom that scared me enough to skip the store and head to the clinic: dark, discolored urine.

I don’t have health insurance. For the most part, that hasn’t been a big deal. The walk-in clinic has been just fine for the occasional flu and infection treatment without breaking the bank. And, the folks there are quite competent – and careful. What  more could you ask for?

I rattled off my symptoms, gave a gallon of blood, peed in the cup and was tickled unmercifully by the ultrasound wand. The verdict: gallstones and a plea for me to seek a surgical consult. ASAP.

Uh oh. No health insurance. That ain’t happening. I can’t afford surgery out-of-pocket, not on what I earn.
I slept on it. Well, sort of slept. Too uncomfortable to sleep and more than a bit sore. I broke down and called the clinic for that surgical consult appointment. I bit the bullet and decided to at least hear what a surgeon had to say. And, I was a bit scared by the “ASAP” part of the equation.

For $100, I got to hear that yes, the gallbladder must come out, I’ll feel a whole lot better when it does. But first, first, I must have an ERCP because, apparently, what is causing my discolored urine and now obvious jaundice (yellow eyes and skin) is a gallstone stuck in the common bile duct. If that stone moves to block the pancreatic duct, I’ll be in a world of trouble. That is an emergency, dammit, and one that will take me down in a big way. Even worse is that there is not a gastroenterology facility in the area and I would have to go to Little Rock to have it done. Oops, no health insurance, so the only choice is UAMS.

Well, it’s been days since the UAMS gastroenterology department has had my referral. What is ASAP for me to prevent a major emergency means nothing; they have not called me to schedule the procedure. Why? Is it that I have no health insurance and will be paying for the procedure in small monthly payments for the rest of my life?

I passed the cheese block and had a ray of hope shining… until I asked the surgeon’s nurse if it was possible to pass that stone in the common bile duct on its own. Nope. Still jaundiced, still puking and still peeing tea. I can hope, can’t I?

The logic of this whole thing eludes me. It will cost UAMS much less to finance an ERCP as an elective procedure than it would an emergency. If this becomes an emergency, it would mean a hospital stay, more care, more emergency personnel and more costly resources, and since it would take me out of the running for a lot longer, a lot less money I could make and have available to pay for all of the above. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

I am assuming, of course, that UAMS won’t turn me away in an emergency. Assuming. Are hospitals still bound to treat emergencies, regardless of ability to pay? I’m not so sure. Not so sure at all. Maybe they’re hoping I die before I make it down to Little Rock. That wouldn’t cost them a dime.

I know what’s happening isn’t unique. How many people today have to suffer with ailments that are easily remedied because of the lack of health insurance?

The saga will continue…
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