I have been sick since mid-December.
I’m feeling better now (thanks for the well-wishes), but better is not 100%. Ugh, this thing is killing me.
Have you been afflicted with the “crud” that has been going around this year? This stuff is killer– it’s like a heavy-duty, not-from-this-world super Cold (notice the capital letter. This stuff deserves to be honored as a proper noun!). It comes on as a sore throat with a little bit of nasal congestion, and then– BAM!– you’re coughing up your esophagus trying to clear your lungs of their nasty treasure while running a high temperature and simultaneously freezing to death. When sheer exhaustion finally overtakes you, the stridor in your chest wakes you up with its annoying rattle. You can’t clear your throat hard enough to get rid of it, but you’re afraid to cough, in case it brings on a coughing spell fierce enough to break two ribs. (Yeah, that happened to me.)
When I was sick, the very first question people asked me was, “Have you been to see a doctor? Did you get an antibiotic?” No, and no. Not at first. Our co-pay is $30 per visit to a (what Cigna refers to as) “basic” doctor. When I took my two youngest for their checkups, I begged him to listen to my chest. After all, I’d just dropped $60 for him to look in their ears and glance at their developmental charts. He told me I was afflicted with the same stuff that was going around, and that even though I could cough up some fantastic specimens of what my husband so aptly describes as “lung cheese” (eeeewww, I know), it was just sinus drainage and nothing to be alarmed about. I was very grateful that I hadn’t wasted another $30 on a visit for myself for a simple virus; instead we stopped by the pharmacy to stock up on Nyquil.
Then the second wave hit. Nothing different… more of the same. I felt like I’d been dragged behind a bus. The only relief I had from the cough/stridor was to breathe deeply enough to get air under the mucous and cough forcefully enough to loosen it. It worked really well for two weeks, until taking a deep breath was agonizing. I couldn’t get comfortable. Laying down was excruciating, and I couldn’t lift anything without a sharp, jabbing pain in my side. I bit the bullet and went to the doctor ($30) who said I should have been on an antibiotic weeks earlier, and promptly prescribed one. ($40 for the name brand; no generic alternative available.) He suspected I had broken a rib, but only an x-ray could confirm it, so he wrote up an order and sent me to the hospital. ($75 co-pay for the x-ray, $50 co-pay for an outpatient admission to the hospital for said x-ray.) The cost of the x-ray didn’t include a review of the films so I had to go back to my doctor (another $30) to have them analyzed. He told me I had broken two ribs with my violent coughing, said there was nothing to do for broken ribs except tape them up and rest, and he prescribed Lortab to help with the pain. ($20 for generic) What I really wanted to ask him was if he was going to come and take care of my kids while I was resting and strung out on Lortab, but I resisted. I took 1000 mg of Advil every four hours during the day and alternated heat and ice on my right side.
This whole day of medical intervention cost me $245. We have insurance. Fairly decent insurance, as far as plans go. We pay dearly for it, too. My husband’s employer offers the plan, but picks up none of the cost. (Since my husband is diabetic and two of my four children have Glycogen Storage Disease, we are unable to pick up private insurance.) We paid over $12,000 for insurance coverage last year. That doesn’t include co-pays or the $5,000 individual deductible. Twelve thousand dollars was deducted from my husband’s paycheck before we ever saw it. That’s almost 13% of his gross pay! Even still, I feel fortunate to have the coverage we do.
Or, I did, until I saw Michael Moore’s movie, Sicko.
Have you seen this movie? I was shocked. I am not really a fan of Michael Moore, but this particular subject was timely and revealing, and just agitating enough to get under my skin and take up residence. I knew Canada had a better medical “system” than we do. I have a good friend who is a Canuck, and we’ve swapped stories. I knew that most European countries encouraged mothers to stay home for at least a year after having a baby– with compensation. What I did not understand, what my 33-year-old, lived-in-the-U.S.-all-my-life brain had trouble comprehending was that outside the US, you pay a (reasonable!) fee or a tax for medical coverage, and you are covered. Have cancer? Chemo is covered, as well as doctor’s visits and all patient care. Need surgery? No problem! Surgeons are paid, hospitalization is covered, post-op care is provided, and none of the cost is passed on to the patient. Need a few months off to recover after a major injury? The government will step up and pay a percentage of your lost wages, along with your employer, to give you 100% pay compensation. No worries about how to pay the medical bills, because there are none. No sleepless nights wondering how to pay for a mortgage, car or food, because you are still getting a paycheck while you rehabilitate. It’s as hard for me to understand this way of doing things as it was for the British hospital employees when Moore asked to see their billing department. (Even more shocking– when he finally did find a cashier, it wasn’t to make payment arrangements. It was to give public travel vouchers to patients who didn’t have their own transportation home.)
The whole time I was watching Sicko, I was stunned. (Well, in-between the bouts of coughing.) My husband was less stunned, because he lived in Germany for several years. He was familiar with the all-embracing, universal health care system they adopted there. I couldn’t help thinking, if I didn’t have to pay a $30 copay, I probably would have gone to the doctor much sooner. I could have gotten started on my antibiotic right away, instead of having to do two rounds to kick the Cold. Preventative health care, rather than reactionary or emergency treatment. How novel! An entire nation contributes to the overall health care of its people, and are happy to do so. One doesn’t complain because his neighbor saw the doctor 20 times in a year, while he only went twice. Retired couples aren’t grousing about having to pay for newborn care. When did we Americans become so selfish? Is it our capitalist ways that have taken the focus from supporting a community to supporting only ourselves? Do we look inward? Do we blame big businesses? The government? How do we get to a place where we work together to bolster our society without keeping score?
The Utah Legislature is now in session. (Clown college is more suitable. Thankfully it only lasts for 45 days.) This “me, me, me” attitude will play out in several scenarios. Here’s one: Utah is one of the lowest per-pupil spending states in the U.S. Their class sizes are larger. Their teachers are paid less. Every year it’s a fight to reduce class size, increase student funding and raise teacher pay. Utah also has a very high birth rate, I’ll give you that. I have four children. It’s not uncommon to have six or eight here. That’s children, not total family members. (*faint*) Some legislators have tried (unsuccessfully) for years to implement a “head tax” on families with more than two children, with the intention of generating more money for education. I was a teacher. I would have supported that. It makes sense that those who are using more of the resource pay accordingly.
Unfortunately, what usually happens next is the parents of large families cry because it’s their right to have as many children as they want to, and the childless/retired people yell about paying for something they either won’t use or have already used, and it’s this verbal ping-pong battle over who has to pay to educate children in the state of Utah. Doesn’t it make sense to contribute to the education of all children? Whether they’re yours or someone else’s, aren’t they the future? Won’t they be the ones who will grow into blue- and white-collar jobs? Doesn’t it make sense to give them the best future possible, to ensure you also have a bright future?
My husband used to drive for UPS. He loved his job, although it was physically demanding. The insurance benefits were stellar, and they took good care of their employees. Kenny paid 50 cents each week to a general insurance fund, which in turn covered the cost of insuring UPS retirees and their spouses, until death. He had no say in the deduction– it was automatic. He thought it was an honorable way to support those who had come before him, and he took comfort in knowing that the same support would be available to him after retirement. It’s a “Let’s Look Out For Each Other” mentality.
What has to happen for Americans to adopt this “we’re all in this together” attitude? Is it possible? I’d like to think so. With the 2008 Presidential elections looming, I’d love to see a candidate– any candidate!– encorporate health care reform into his/her platform without fear of angering those of an elitist mentality who feel it’s not their problem. We seem to be a nation united, as long as it doesn’t interfere with our own comfort or sense of entitlement.
How sad. How dangerous.
I am issuing a two-part challenge to you: First, go rent Sicko and watch it. Then, make a conscious effort to do something for someone else. Commit a random act of kindness. Perform a service somewhere, for someone. If you liked how it made you feel, do it again. And again. Make it a habit to support your community. It’s a small step for man, and a giant leap for mankind. (Commence groaning.)
And for heaven’s sake, if you have the Cold, don’t breathe in my direction.