Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let Me Put A Bug In Your Ear

Run, and I do mean “run” the other way the next time someone whispers conspiratorially, “Let me put a bug in your ear.”

As I enjoyed the morning quiet of the St. David, Arizona campground a bug flew into my ear. My natural reaction was to swat at it. Not a smart reaction. I wiggled my ear and shook my head. We went on with our departure preparations, but my ear was feeling very irritated. I went to Wal-Mart, bought and used a kit for getting ear wax out and we moved on down the road. Throughout the day and night the ear continued to bother me. By morning of the next day I knew I should see a doctor. We used the GPS (yes, it is often useful) and located a hospital emergency room at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque just 17 miles away. We roamed around the area for half an hour looking for a parking lot to accommodate our rig and finally managed to find our way to a desk with a person ready to help. I dug my Kaiser travel kit out, confident I was armed with what I needed and proud of myself for being prepared.

On the day when President Obama was scheduled to deliver a much anticipated health care reform address to the US congress and the nation I experienced the best and the worst of our health care system. We arrived at the hospital at 10:30AM and I was immediately checked in by a clerk who, when I asked about the wait time, smilingly assured us this check-in part would be the shortest. How right he was. Two hours later I was called to be “triaged.” I had my vitals taken, was given a bracelet, saw a nurse who looked in my ear, and was told to return to the waiting room. I’ve now told my story to three people. We sat there for another hour and finally I’m called to see the doctor and tell my story to yet another person. Now I’m asked if I have insurance. I get the feeling I’m expected to say no, but “Yes, I have Kaiser and here’s my card and my emergency claim form.”

“Great, let me see the card and you can go into the examining room.”

I tell my story to a nurse who takes my vitals, again.

I wait another 45 minutes, sitting on the end of a gurney, feet dangling. The doctor comes in, hears my story, pokes around in my ear and takes my blood pressure. “Mrs. Hunt your blood pressure is high. Are you being treated for high blood pressure?” I say yes as I think to myself, “Well yes it’s high I’ve just been waiting for more than three hours in the most crowded and crazy waiting room I’ve ever seen and I have a bug in my ear.

“It looks like you got the bug out because I don’t see it, but your ear is irritated. I’m going to have another doctor look at it to be sure.” says the doctor.

Oh yes, I forgot this is a university medical center and doctors are in training. Fifteen minutes later the diagnosis is confirmed and I’m told the nurse will come and give me my discharge care instructions. Discharge, I didn’t know I had been admitted. After five hours, I’m discharged with instructions to take Tylenol, apply a warm compress and come back if it isn’t better in 48 hours.

During my time in the waiting room I see one person collapse and fall from her chair to the floor. She’s lifted by staff members and taken somewhere in the back. I later see her waiting in one of the examining rooms. Another woman tells me she has no insurance because she lost her job and her husband can’t get her on his insurance until open enrollment. I know better than that. It’s pathetic that people don’t know their rights. Yet another woman tells me she has no insurance because her employer doesn’t pay for any of it and she can’t afford the plan. A man a few seats away is on his cell phone telling someone his father’s being admitted and he has no health insurance, but he’s a veteran so they’ll hopefully be able to use that. A friendly woman tells me this hospital is known for having a long wait period because they see the uninsured and since I have insurance maybe I should go over to the Presbyterian hospital. After waiting all this time I’m not going anywhere. While we sat there I also called three private ENT specialists Bob found in the phone book and they were either closed, didn’t take walk-ins or didn’t take insurance.

The best and the worst of our health care system - the care was superb and the staff was very competent, but the wait was insufferable. Having to wait hours in a hospital emergency room to see a doctor is inhumane, whether one is insured or not. Private specialists can be selective about who they see. Yes, Mr. President we need our healthcare system overhauled so that everyone has access to health care.

Now, let me put a bug in your ear. Our health care system needs immediate attention. I’m thankful I have health insurance. A bug in your ear hurts. I can de-bug my own system.

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