Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't get sick unless you're a multimillionaire

$75,000. Actually $74,917.33. That's my hospital bill and both Big Dog and I are in shock.

It started last Friday, just around midnight. We had had a couple of intensely busy weeks renovating the duplex and now had our house packed with Big Dog's sister, her husband and their father. I was dead tired. My stomach felt strange. It's hard for me to eat much right after making dinner but Big Dog's family were used to eating early, so I was only able to have a few bites. At first I thought I was just hungry. But soon, it felt like indigestion. And a while later, something much worse. It felt like the pain of being kicked in the solar plexus -- except instead of being a brief kick, it was constant and lasting and getting worse all the time.

Pain makes you nauseous and it sure was doing that to me, so I quietly got up and tried to make my way to a bathroom. A sudden surge of pain made me stumble and fall at the top of the stairs. I crawled downstairs and into a bathroom. Nope, there's nothing to throw up. The little I ate was already digested. But the pain keeps making me retch and heave. I lie on the bathroom floor, hoping the pain will go away but it doesn't. It just gets worse. For a few hours, I go back and forth between the bathroom and the living room couch where I lie, curled up in pain, wondering what could be the problem. By 3am, the pain is unbearable. Should I call an ambulance? Should I wake Big Dog and make him take me to the hospital? Or should I just jump off our roof and end it all? When I started thinking that, I knew I had to get myself to a hospital one way or another. I woke up Big Dog.

I lay, curled up in the back seat of the truck, moaning in pain as he drove me to an emergency hospital in San Luis Obispo. The ride seemed like it took forever. Each turn, each bump made the pain that much worse. Then, it was another forever before they actually put me in a bed in the emergency room. During that eternity, I am writhing in pain, unable to remain seated in either the chair or the wheelchair, on the filthy hospital floor. Enough pain obliterates everything else: common sense, decency, inhibitions, etc. In my own delirium, nothing else mattered. So there I was, curled up like a ball on the linoleum floor, eyes closed, panting and moaning and kicking at the wall until they finally got a gurney to take me to the emergency room and, finally, a bed.

"What's your pain level?" they asked me in Admissions. "On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you say it was?"
I would have said "Twelve" if I had much consciousness, but I could barely think and groaned "Ten."

The first 4 ml morphine shot had no effect whatsoever. They had to give me another. And then another, and finally the pain subsided enough to let me breath a little slower, a little deeper. Shots to stop the nausea (and dry heaving) followed, as did an IV drip. I got an EKG, a CT scan and an ultrasound, then was left moaning in that room for 4 more hours before they got me into a hospital room. It was all pretty much a blur until later in the afternoon.

At one point, someone came by and asked what my pain level was now. It was so much better than when I came to the hospital -- I didn't feel like jumping in front of a moving truck to stop the pain -- that I told that person it was probably a 4 on the pain scale. Still bad, but not something I wanted to kill myself over.

Much later, I saw the Pain Scale on the wall. Zero was not simply "no pain" but a smiley face. A smiley face for me indicates more than just pain-free, it means you feel good. I was nowhere near that. I was nowhere near even Level 4. As much as things had improved, I realized that on their Pain Scale, even with the multiple morphine shots, it was perhaps at Level 8.

THEIR pain scale.
MY pain scale.

So, there I was. For days.

After about 3 days, the pain had moved further down my digestive system. It was no longer in my solar plexus but lower, around my belly button. I could now sip a little water. By Day 4, I could handle a little broth. I still needed my morphine shots every 4 hours and just when I thought things were improving, I would have a big setback. My roommates started with the tattooed mother with pneumonia who couldn't stop complaining and elderly lady also with pneumonia (they were on either side of me who insisted on my curtains being open so they could watch the tv which was right in front of my bed -- it was the World Series and Elderly Pneumonia Lady was a St. Louis fan -- and they yakked loudly all night long.) They both left on Day 3 and I had a night by myself (ahhhhh) in the room before they brought in Mrs. Dementia. By then, the pain had shifted all the way down to my lower abdomen, I could handle Very Soft Food (although I couldn't eat the hospital fare for taste reasons) and I knew I had to go home to get any better. None of the doctors could tell me what was wrong anyway, despite all the tests. The first doctor insisted it was food poisoning from the oysters I had eaten 2 days before The Pain. No matter what I said, all he could do was tell me about the time he got sicker than a dog after he ate Morro Bay oysters. It irritated me that a Man of Science was more a Prophet than a Skeptic. The second doctor, more sensibly, speculated that it was probably a virus since nothing showed up in the tests. Either way, neither of them knew, really.

I've never been sick before. Not enough to be hospitalized. Just being in that environment with all the Negative Energy was making it hard to get well. Not to mention the processed foods. But I think what really made me want to go home was knowing what the entire experience was costing.

When they brought the estimate to Big Dog, he howled "What?! Bring me a wheelchair! I think I'm going to pass out!" It was about $50,000 at that time. It was outrageous. Nowhere else in the world would they charge you that much for just a hospital bed and a few tests. Almost every country in the world takes care of the medical needs of its citizens, whether they are poor bankrupt nations or ones ruled by terrible despots. Even without insurance, medical costs are never as high as in the U.S. There is something terribly, terribly wrong with this country, but when you try to explain it to Americans, most of whom don't know how things are in other countries, they can't understand how broken their system is. No wonder there is so much resistance to a national healthcare policy!

Meanwhile, decent working folk are destroyed by medical costs and private insurers who won't pay up when the need arises. The indigent, the prisoners, the illegals, the ones who can't or won't contribute anything to society are the ones who get free medical care. Big Dog kept seeing prisoners from the nearby Men's Colony (a strange word for "prison") walking around the hospital, shackled and attended by 2 guards to each prisoner. And these guards are the highest paid in the nation, making six figure incomes!

So I guess the lesson learned (and a very expensive lesson at that) is: don't get sick in America unless you're a multimillionaire. If not, commit a crime, get incarcerated and get your free dental, medical, transgender hormone shots, whatever. Get it all!

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