Navigating Stormy Waters - My Thoughts on the U.S. Health Care System
When my 20-month old daughter was sick with croup, I made good use of our medical system. First, I called Telehealth. It was late at night, and I needed to get some advice on what we should do. The nurse on the line listened to me, listened to her, and suggested that we go to the hospital. Straight to the hospital. Do not pass go, do not put on clean underwear. My baby was in respiratory distress. She was calling ahead to let them know I was on my way.
At the hospital, it took exactly 6 minutes for us to be through triage, through registration and into a room of our own in the crowded ER. A doctor came in almost immediately, and calmed both mother and child. My daughter got a shot of a hydro-metho-something, and we were monitored for the rest of the night in our little room as fancy equipment kept track of my daughter’s oxygen saturation levels, and nurses kept track of our comfort. It was a long night.
The next morning, after being released, we slept for a bit, and then I called my family doctor. We made an appointment for a few days later and when we went in, she checked my daughter thoroughly, inquired about my experience of the whole thing and sent us away feeling relieved. This whole episode has cost me some nerves, but not one penny more.
This happened in Toronto, where my family lives.
When my American father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, his VA status ensured that he had medical care. And it was definitely care. The doctors and nurses were warm and wonderful and did all they could. He had to drive for an hour to get to his VA clinic, and an hour in a different direction to pick up the drugs he needed.
When he started chemotherapy, he had to go 4 hours away to a VA hospital that was equipped to administer the
poison medicine he needed. Chemo was aggressive – 4 days in a row every two weeks. He was sick and weak and getting worse, and had no choice but to stay in a motel during the days he was getting chemo, despite everybody’s insistence that recovery would be a lot easier if he could convalesce at home.
Two months later, my father was sicker and weaker. He needed certain things that the VA could provide (a cane, a bar for the shower) and some they couldn’t (more expensive meds, a chemo port, treatment in his home town). He had no choice but to accept Medicaid to cover some of what he needed.
My father’s condition worsened still. He found out that the cancer clinic closest to his home did not accept Medicaid. He was forced to buy more insurance. Can you guess how much medical insurance costs for a critically ill man? He was afraid that he was going to have to sell his car to pay his medical expenses – a car that he could no longer drive, but held as his last beacon of the promise of a normal life, a life without illness. He felt like selling his car meant allowing cancer to win.
In the end, it was yet another organization that ended up providing my father and our family with the most comfort – hospice care. Ironically, hospice care is free. In the end, my father passed away after 8 months and 3 insurance providers. All the insurance in the world could not save my father, and I realize that. But insurance that was readily available and accepted by ALL medical practitioners would have made an extremely difficult and complicated time less so. Instead, the health care system simply acted as one obstacle after another to be navigated through.
This was in Florida.
I know that having croup is nothing like having cancer. The point is, I have navigated the health care systems in Canada and the U.S. I have encountered really great people working in both systems. But to say that the Canadian system takes away the patient’s choice seems ludicrous, as it was in the US that doors slammed shut in front of a dying man time and time again. I wish he had stayed in Canada, where those doors would have remained open.
This is an original post for Canada Moms Blog. Karen also writes at The Kids Are Alright.