Friday, December 5, 2014

How a Bad Meal Probably Saved My Life - My experience with America's Healthcare System

It all started with a bad meal in the middle of November.  That led to my girlfriend and I throwing up at the same time starting about noon on a Sunday. Because we split meals it was obvious we had the same thing. The only difference was that after a couple days she got better and I didn’t. My stomach remained swollen.

Finally, on Monday afternoon we got a referral from my general doctor (Dr. Dolle) and went to an emergency center. They looked at me and before I knew it they were taking me by ambulance to a local hospital.  It was a brand new hospital in Clear Lake with a great staff – and I spent a few days on IV while they waited for my system to “fire up” again. It didn’t.

Since I had not eaten it over a week they put me on a “TPN” which is basically food in a bag that goes into a large opening they put in my veins (called a “PIC” line). They put everything into it, including the pain meds. I felt like a dummy with a slew of tubes dripping “lipids” etc.

So at midnight nearly a week after this episode started the surgeon came in and we agreed the only thing left to do was to operate to find out the source of the blockage.  It turned out to be the right decision. The surgeon (with the cool name a TV weatherman would love to have, Dr. Fairweather) discovered that my intestines were all rolled into a ball. He had to unravel them and splice together sections. Some parts of my system wasn’t even working! Apparently, there was scar tissue from an operation I had 35 years ago after a trip to Egypt. Parts of my intestine were 7 inches wide--causing a slowdown like a 4 lane highway that suddenly narrows to 2 lanes!) It’s amazing it was working at all. 

As a result I got a whole “new” system.

Basically, I can’t be too upset about the bad food although my lousy non-ACA compliant insurance policy from United Healthcare with a $10,000 deductible made it a very expensive meal and ordeal. However, without that bad meal, I never would have known that I had a latent defect in my digestive system that could have killed me when it failed – either here in the U.S. or on a trip. I had caught it in time.

It was the first time in over 30 years I had been in a hospital. Thankfully I had a private room since there is nothing more miserable then to be miserable with someone else in the same room. The beds were brand new "Stykers" that cost something like $15,000-$20,000. They put me into a thin green gown and I froze as the temperature swung wildly from too hot to too cold (it is a new building and they are still trying to get the kinks worked out of the system.)  However, the staff were excellent and took great care of me as they worked 12 hour shifts.

It was also a stressful experience – after ten days I was lying there, wondering “if this is it” as I waited for my system to begin functioning again.

What helped make it work was something I did. I got up and walked up and down the halls for a while – that action started my insides rumbling! I can’t tell you what a relief it was when I finally had a BM (bowel movement) which graduates one from the IV to eating clear liquids (before going to soft food, etc.) I can tell you I was craving eating even red jello towards the end - anything but more IV feeding.

It proves that you just never know what is around the corner. We missed a planned 7 day cruise as a result (more money lost since we didn’t have trip insurance.)  But that was OK too. Health comes first. Without it, what do you have?

I did kick myself for not having an Obamacare policy which would have had a smaller deductible and smaller premiums.  That changed on December 1 when I became eligible for Medicare – dropping my premium costs substantially.

I remember how Dr. Fairweather would drop me every day to check on me, even if it was at 1:30 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning. One night at midnight we had a long political conversation – it was as if we had had a 'mind meld.' What he was saying was similar to what I had written in my book chapter “Agenda for American Greatness.”  After about 20-30 minutes he suddenly gasped, “I have to go!” and he was on to the next patient, running on less than six hours sleep. No doctor had ever spent that much time with me before.  It may never happen again.

I can’t say enough good things about the staff at the Bay Area Regional Medical center and Dr. Fairweather.  Now that I am out it is a slow recovery to keep from damaging my internals as they heal. But I can feel the progress. It comes at a good time when things are slow in my business. 

Yet I think of those not so lucky as me who get sick and do not have insurance or a doctor like Dr. Fairweather. Had I not been able to pay the substantial premiums this past year I could have ended up lying in an emergency room at Ben Taub for hours - perhaps not even surviving the ordeal.  It is too scary to even think about.

It proved to me that Obamacare was just the first necessary step in making affordable healthcare available to ALL Americans--no more rejection for pre-existing conditions, etc. Personally, I favor Medicare for all. All Europeans have better access to medical care then American citizens, especially the working poor.

Maybe it has to happen to you personally to understand its importance. Having been on the brink, I can tell you that there is nothing more valuable than access to quality healthcare. I would have been turned away from a fine hospital if I had been carried in without an insurance card in my pocket. That should not be part of the American experience...

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