The American Health System

If anyone uses the excuse that the United States should not have a new health system – especially if they say, “In Canada and Europe, you have to wait in line,” tell them that the wait time in the United States is much longer.

About a year ago, the mariner hurt his back trying to lift a 500 pound, seven foot sofa bed up the stairs, his son helping at the other end. It was a comical affair leading finally to a chainsaw to cut the sofa enough that it would bend around a turn like two trolley cars. We completed the job and tossed the bed into a large dumpster. Done and done. At least the mariner thought so.

Sometime in February, the mariner began to feel soreness at the low end of his back. Like anyone, he treated the discomfort with over-the-counter pain relievers. When spring came, with the outdoor chores of planting and cleaning and shoveling, his back didn’t want to participate and told him so by causing muscle spasms along the pelvis, the right hip and up the right side of his back. Many readers can relate.

In March, the mariner called for an appointment in Des Moines with his primary care doctor; first available time was in April. The doctor requested an MRI, which by the grace of his efficient nurse assistant, the mariner was able to get the MRI in Iowa City that night – out of the way but sort of on the way home. Otherwise, the MRI would not have occurred for three days. The primary care doctor scheduled an appointment to review the MRI a week later.

When the mariner arrived for the review, the doctor said it was inoperable. The mariner asked if the doctor had passed the MRI to a neurosurgeon for an opinion. He had. “Inoperable.”

The mariner wanted a second opinion. Through a friend, a quick appointment was scheduled in three weeks at Iowa University Hospital with the head of neurology. When the mariner arrived, another neurosurgeon had his appointment. That neurosurgeon agreed that the mariner’s back problem was inoperable. The neurosurgeon said the next thing to do was to go to a pain clinic. Sitting in his office in May, the pain clinic could not schedule the mariner until September.

The mariner’s primary care physician prescribed stronger pain relievers that prevent spasms but still, the mariner finds it painful to bend over or lean forward.

Obviously, this is not over. It may be true that the mariner did not stand in a line for a doctor visit the very same day; he had the pleasure of waiting at home for weeks and months. Good friends of the mariner traveled to England for a vacation. One of them broke a wrist. They were treated the same day, including x-rays, and never had to pay a dime for treatment even though they were foreigners. The mariner pondered how much it might cost a Brit to break their wrist in the United States.

Ancient Mariner


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