It’s somewhat ironic that, less than 48 hours after stating how I’ve not been to the doctor for anything meaningful in almost twenty years, I found myself being driven to the ER at the local hospital, just after midnight. Things began to unravel as I finished up on the ‘puter and, wearily, rubbed my eyes. [Ping] The vision in my left eye grew blurry, as my rubbing had knocked the contact lens off the center of the eyeball. No big: this kind of thing happens two or three times a week, and is a peril of wearing lenses. Go to the bathroom, push lens back to center of eye, blink ferociously for a bit – problem solved.
Except, this time, I couldn’t find the lens.
Oh, it was in my eye somewhere. Of that I was fairly sure. But normally, it’s just tucked up in the corner somewhere. Or at least, visible on my eyeball, with the aid of a mirror. Now, not so much. I rubbed, prodded, tweaked, pried, massaged, manipulated, squeezed and thesaurused my eyeball: nothing. Maybe it wasn’t in there at all? My eye was feeling pretty icky, and looking kinda grim, but given I’d just put it through the opthalmic version of eight rounds with Mike Tyson [and the bad Tyson, not the coke-snorting, strip-club patronizing parody of himself he turned into], that was no surprise.
There followed a brief period of crawling on hands and knees around the floor of the office, with a flashlight, hoping to catch the glint of something small and shiny. 38 cents richer, and with fluffy knees, I emerged, still in a state of contactlessness. Even the intervention of Chris, armed with a maglite torch, failed to reveal anything in the depths of my eye, and the decision was made to fling myself on the mercies of the American healthcare system. Now, we did so with some trepidation, a) possessing no health insurance [frankly, there are many better things to do with the $250 per month it costs] and b) having seen Sicko, in which Michael Moore shows how health-care in the US for the uninsured is abysmal, and far better in places like Cuba, Canada and the UK, where it’s “free”.
While, for the purposes of this story, I’m being driven to the ER at Paradise Valley Hospital by Chris, I’d like to go on a rant. The National Health Service in the UK costs over 100 billion pounds per year. Where the hell does Michael Moore think that comes from? Donations by Janeane Garofalo? No: there is no such thing as ‘free’ health care, contrary to what he claimed, approximately one million times in the course of Sicko. There is only health care funded by taxation, so that the rich or healthy [and I fall into the latter category much more than the former] are forced to pay more than their share, subsidizing the sickly. Here in America, rather than having National Insurance taken out of your pay before you see it, you are at least given the choice of rolling the dice and taking your chances. Which is how we came rolling into the car-park at PVH.
It was quiet. Eerily quiet, compared to my previous trip to casualty, which happened after I went down while in the mosh pit at a Brixton Academy Cramps concert, and ended up needing stitches put in my lip. I still have the bump to remember that night at King’s College Hospital by, back in – and I’m going by Google here – February 1990. I do recall having to wait a while, and the med. student who sewed me up very clearly not believing that I was actually sober. No such issue here – not, not the question-marks over my sobriety, the waiting. Up to the front desk, fill in the basic paper-work and get taken into the back where a rather dykey looking nurse took my blood-pressure. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but let’s just say when you Google Image search for nurses, that isn’t what you get. [Link very NSFW – like you expected anything else?]
Then it was off into the depths of the hospital – the eerie quiet continued, to the point where I expected to go past a room and catch a glimpse of some unspeakable atrocity, or zombies munching down on a patient, that kind of thing. We were finally parked in a room, and cooled our heels gently waiting for the medical professional to show up. A cleaner mopped the hall outside – until her pager went off, and we debated whether a cleaner in a hospital made a good wage or not. Chris didn’t seem to think so, but I reckon, given the “stuff” they are going to be involved in cleaning up, they would deserve a good deal more than someone cleaning an office. The speculation was brought to an end by the arrival of Dr. Geares. Or George. Or Geesas. Look: it was a doctor signing my release slip – you really think it’s going to be legible?
The actual medical procedure part of the evening was, to be honest, an anti-climax. Some numbing drops in the eye, and Doctor Whatever began to operate. Well, it was more a question of peeling back the eyelid and getting me to look in various directions. That allowed the offending contact lens to be located [phew – at least it was in my eye], and removed with the most precise of surgical instruments: a Q-Tip. My saviour was thanked effusively, and he swept out to the next stupid idiot emergency case awaiting him on the night shift.
More documentation followed, with an orderly asking me my medical history, etc. – which seemed like it was a little too late, but there you go. My blood pressure was taken once again too, and we filed out, towards the most painful and tricky part of the procedure: paying for it. Chris’s estimate was three to four hundred dollars, but it turned out they give you a hefty discount for paying on the night. I imagine they have a lot of “undocumented immigrants,” whom they are obliged to treat, but from whom they have some difficulty extracting payment – me, not so much. You take credit-cards? Perfect. Total cost $140, which is about what two weeks of medical insurance for Chris and I would cost.
Final tally: one hour. 30 minutes hanging around; 25 minutes bureaucracy of some form; five minutes actual medical treatment. Still, I felt a great deal better leaving than coming back, though it took a couple of weeks before I was brave enough to put my contact lenses back in. All told, my first experience of the American medical system was a pleasant surprise: efficient, effective, and you pay for what you need, not a penny more. And that aspect certainly appeals to the libertarian in me.