A recent Harvard report says the U.S. spends more on health care than all the other wealthy democracies in the world. We pay almost four times as much for pharmaceutical drugs as citizens of other developed countries. Hospitals, doctors, and nurses all charge more in the U.S. Interestingly, in spite of all that spending, life expectancy in the U. S. lags behind that of its peer countries. Recently, I discovered firsthand just why that is.
Last week, after finishing my laps, I couldn’t quite reach my towel on the pool deck. So, leaning my full, body weight against the edge on my left side, I reached out and dragged the chair with my towel on it closer. As I did, I heard three, distinctive, crunching sounds come from deep inside my rib cage. I held my breath, thinking I might stave off the terrible pain that was about to descend. It almost worked– but then– I breathed.
I had a work shift ahead of me that I didn’t want to miss, so I went. A few hours in, I had to hold my side just to get a full breath. ‘Maybe I punctured a lung?’ A few hours later, the pain propelled me straight to the nurse where I work. She palpated my ribs and said, “You need to get to Urgent Care ASAP! They’re open until midnight.” At 7:45 PM, I arrived at Urgent Care. “I’m sorry,” the receptionist said as I clutched my chest and gasped for air. “Our X-ray tech leaves in 15 minutes and can’t see you now. But you can come tomorrow at 8 AM.” So much for either ‘urgent’ or ‘care.’
The next morning, I arrived at 8 but was not seen until 9. After taking x-rays, it took another hour until they were read. Finally, I was told, “Well, you could have fractured your ribs or you may have torn the muscles or tendons. Either way, it’ll take 4-6 weeks to heal.” “So, you don’t know exactly?” I asked. “No, we can’t see fractures in x-rays.” “Then why did you take them if they have no bearing on the diagnosis?” “Protocol.” In what world does it make sense for ‘protocol’ to take four x-rays that riddle me with radiation, cost a fortune and have NO effect on the outcome? No wonder our medical costs are soaring. Note to self: I’m no longer made of Teflon.