A Story About Our Medical System

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I have to get my decks power washed and stained.  The man who is doing the job, very nice, friendly, talkative, shared the fact that last year, he had a major heart attack.  I asked if I could share his story and this is it:

“I am 42 years old.  Now I don’t like doctors and I don’t like hospitals.  So something has to feel really wrong for me to even consider either.  I was working on a job, it was around Christmas last year, three days before Christmas to be exact.  I started to feel pretty terrible.  I had been having some chest pains on and off, but, you know, you don’t really think that it might be a heart attack.  Heck, I’m only 42 years old, so….But that day, I was really feeling a lot of pain.  I decided to go home.  I called my wife and told her that she needed to call an ambulance.  When I got home, the ambulance had not arrived yet.  She gave me aspirin.  It was winter.  It was cold.  They came and I told them that I thought I was having a heart attack.  They looked at me and replied, “Nah. Can’t be.  You are too young.  You are still standing up.  We’ll take your blood count.”  Apparently the blood counts were off the charts, causing the orderlies to jump into high gear.

They told “Jack” to get into the ambulance.  They had called ahead for a helicopter to come to the local hospital because his counts were so high.  They had called the destination hospital, alerting that this patient needed immediate attention.  By this time, “Jack” was shaking with cold.  The orderlies told him they would keep him warm in the ambulance.   “I kept grabbing at more and more blankets.  I just could not warm up.”

Off he went in the helicopter.  Yet when he arrived at the destination hospital, he ended up waiting up to two and a half hours before he went into surgery.  His wife, who drove home from the local hospital to get supplies (they had a baby), arrived forty five minutes after her husband did and helped finish the check in.   He had still not been seen by a doctor.

It turned out that one of the arteries was blocked 95%.  They put a stint in.  The next day, he was ravenous and ready to leave the hospital.  They only provided a menu for a heart patient, which, as one can imagine, was pretty light fare.  ”I told them that I needed to eat something and if they were not going to feed me, I would get up and leave and go get some real food.”  The doctor relented and he was able to eat a hearty (no pun intended) breakfast.

“I really wanted to spend Christmas at home with my family.  The doctors told me, ‘absolutely not!  You need to heal from the surgery.’  I replied that the way I was going to heal was to be with my family.  Thankfully, they did release me on Christmas day.”

He was given a slew of medications to take, including blood thinners and Statins.  He was supposed to go back for a re-check three months after the surgery.  ”I missed that appointment, but finally got back last week.  They found that my heart had recovered 99% of its abilities.  They were totally amazed since they said  this was very unusual.  But they also told me that my cholesterol was still too high and so they put me on a stronger Statin, Lipitor.”

Apparently, they are suggesting that he only do this for a year.  They will re-test in December to see whether he needs to continue.

Jack continued: “The doctor gave me a coupon for one of the  medications.  This medication costs $280 a bottle and the doctor told me, what with the fact that I work for myself, that if this was too cost-prohibitive, he would write me a prescription for a different medication.  Turned out that bottle cost $18.  I chose the medication that cost $18.”

“Now I’m not saying I am hundred percent and I don’t feel like I used to.  I have made some adjustments and I have slowed down, but I wonder where I would be had I not taken some initiative.”

One could say that “Jack” is a miracle story.  One could even conclude that had he not been tended at the hospital, he might not have been telling me his story.  On the other hand, where would “Jack” be if he had stayed in the hospital, under doctor’s advisement, eating “heart-healthy” meals for X amount of days?  What about the fact that there are two drugs out there that apparently have the same effects: one for $280 and the other for $18, and why did the doctor not suggest the latter in the first place?  And as for Lipitor, “don’t get me started!” [a bow to Billy Chrystal]  The side effects of this drug should be enough to prevent anyone from even considering ingesting this bit of poison.  But most people who are given it, take it, no questions asked.  Why?  The label says: potential side effects.

In conclusion…Some of the story shows our medical system at its best and some of the story shows areas that our medical system needs an overhaul.

Moderation in All Things

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As I have stated in previous posts, our healthcare system is dominated by what I term the Big Three: Insurance Companies, Pharmaceuticals, Hospitals.  As with most communication, and by the fact that I am passionate about the need to re-vamp our healthcare approach, I may have sounded a little too strongly at how the system being dominated by the Big Three with focus on profits has a potentially adverse affect on the health of our country.

There is no question that the Three developed as the needs of our population arose.  Our Democracy is based on a capitalistic foundation.  Thus it would follow that pursuing profits would be an inherent part of any business.  We, as a country, also put great stock in the Scientific Community.  Thus it would follow that pursuing new means of coming up with cures would play a dominant factor in medicine.

However, as with any pursuit or endeavor in life, when the focus leans too much in one direction, it can have adverse affects on the opposite side and I do believe that at this stage, the focus of the Big Three has veered too much on the profits and finances, ultimately undermining the service side of their work.  If a doctor is required to bring X amount of $s into the “firm” and that can only happen by seeing X amount of patients in a given day and/or suggesting so many procedures or specialty visits, then the patient and his/her health is affected (not to mention the doctor’s, whose life has the added stress of having to bring in so much money).  Nowadays, often, young people go into the field of medicine because it assures a good living.  Even if a young person has gone into the field for idealistic reasons, ie, helping those in need, the demands of the system and the focus on the money side of things will quickly overwhelm the original intent of the young person going into the field.

When my grandfather practiced medicine, he was a General Practitioner.  He was the one that people went to if they had a tummy ache, or a toothache, or a wart, or were about to give birth.  If his patients didn’t have the money to pay, he might receive a side of ham instead.  If he did not have an answer, he would suggest a visit to someone who might have a more specialized background.  Litigation against doctors did not exist back then.  As far as I know, my grandfather never lost a patient on an operating table.  But people were much more accepting that death COULD be an outcome.

So the times they have changed.  But just as they have changed into this extreme scenario in which it is now considered natural to spend 15 minutes with a doctor and leave with a prescription and/or to try everything that is being offered to keep someone alive (regardless of statistics that may help families recognize that there is very little chance for survival),  maybe now is the time to re-focus our attention on the promotion of health, rather than playing catch up to ill-health and permit change to again occur.  (In fact, I believe the ability to change and see things in new ways is one of the elements that makes our country so great).

This, then, is the basis of my passionate writing on this subject.  Thus, just as I make the point that it is time for our system to moderate itself, I, too, plan to moderate my writings on the subject.

© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2013