12/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Losing Sight of the Real Issues of the Health Care Debate: People

I'm mad about the public option (or the lack thereof ).  I'm mad about Blue Dogs dems standing in the way of real reform in order to appease the people who fund their campaigns.  I'm mad that we even have to have this debate, since most Americans favor a public option.

But then I think back to only 3 years ago in November of 2006 and the eye-opening experience I had with our "health" "care" system.  Ironically, I was covered by socialized medicine (Medicaid) at the time, because I was a poor, underemployed graduate student living in the Bronx with my wife and our 2 yr old daughter.  The State of New York felt it was important that I, for some reason, should have medical coverage. 

The moral of this story is not who's paying for the medical care that affects its quality, contrary to right wing myth.  In fact, while on Medicaid, I had the best medical coverage I had ever experienced.  Believe me, if Medicaid is socialism, at the time I was singing the praises of socialism.  I had complete choice of doctors, and, in fact, being in the Bronx, the fact that I was already covered made me a more attractive patient than many of the average uninsured.

I know this is overly long.  I ask for your patience and attention.  Becasue I only go into so much gory detail because of the gravity of the conlusion I came to, and I hope to pull you along through the story so you can come to the same conclusion I did.<

But I've spent too much time introducing my story.  This was something I posted the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2006. For those of you who don't know already, my wife has been in the hospital the better part of the last 4 days.  She is fine now and feeling much better, but the result is not what I want to talk about: it is the process.

Anyone who says we don't have a health care problem in
this country is deluding themselves.  Anyone who says that medical care
is relatively equal regardless of race, class, and geography is just
flat out lying,  And anyone who says, "Well, that's just the way it is:
you don't want Canadian health care, do you?" I challenge you to go
through what we did all through Wednesday and Thursday.

She felt sick Tuesday: vomiting, pain, incredible heartburn, etc.  Nothing
too bad, right?  But we called her doctor, who is out of town on
vacation and just told to go to an ER if things get any worse.  They
did, so Wednesday at 5am we made the horrible mistake of going to our
local hospital ER, which was only a few minutes away.

hospital was disgusting.  It smelled.  I had horrible doubts about
sanitation.  And service?  Yeah right.  In the space of 12 hours, from
6am to 6pm, we saw 3 doctors, all of whom never made a real diagnosis
and said that they would run some tests and have her be seen by another
doctor (we waited for over 3 hours for the surgical consult).  No one
beleived her when she said she didn't drink, do drugs, have
extramarital sex, etc.  They thought it might be hepatitis, despite the
fact that she had her immunizations, probably because they didn't
believe she wasn't a crack whore or something. 

We had to yell
at nurses to get any attention.  No one knew what was going on, what
her diagnosis was, when she was being moved to her own room, etc.  She
had to have a CT scan, before which you need to drink 2 liters of foul
tasting liquid (think dish soap), once at 3 hours before the scan, then
at 1 hour before the scan.  After drinking the second dose, we had to
wait 2 hours before even being moved to radiology.  After that, we say
in a hallway for 90 minutes more before she got the actual scan.  And
then we find out that the CT scan was basically unnecessary and no one
could figure out why they asked for one in the first place.

even after being admitted to the hospital as of noon, we waited in the
ER until 10:30 for them to move her to her own room.  And then there
were the other people populating the ER.  Several people had obvious
psych problems (because they were seeing psych doctors), I had to be
asked to leave her bedside at one point because they were bringing in
someone who they deemed a security risk and didn't want anyone extra in
the ER (mind you we were waiting for her bed after being admitted at
this point), etc, etc.  The person in the bed next to Mandy's was
homeless and didn't want to be discharged because they didn't have a
MetroCard to give her transport back to her homeless shelter.

we got in to her actual room (finally).  It was incredibly hot, stuffy,
and still smelled.  The doctors were nowhere to be found, nurses were
not helpful, and no one could tell us what was going on, much less what
her diagnosis was.

As of 11am Thanksgiving morning, we were sick
of it.  We asked to be dishcharged, and they told us we had to wait to
sign a form saying we were leaving against medical advice.  "What
medical advice?  If we could get straight answers from anyone, we might
listen.  But, she's feeling better now and even if she weren't, we'd go
to another hospital because you guys suck," we said.

So we came
home, tried to have Thanksgiving, and just as I was getting everything
served, the pain was back, the vomiting was back. . . and so off to
another (better) hospital, this one on the border of Westchester County
and in a much better part of town.  After seeing the doctor (after only
about 45 minutes), and telling her about our experiences at the other
hospital, she said, "Well, that's a mistake you're allowed to make
once.  I'm sure you'll never make it again."  They ordered tests,
everyone was very communicative about who they were and what was going
on (diagnosis:  liver inflammation caused, most likely, by gall stones
or a blockage in the bile duct), the nurses were nice, everyone tried
to make her very comfortable, etc, etc, etc.

They did a
procedure on her yesterday (Friday) to try to remove any blockage in
her bile duct, it was only partially successfully and may try again
Monday (I say may because Amanda is feeling amazingly better- no pain
for the first time since the beginning of the week- so they may not
have to)  So that's amazingly good.

What is not good is this:
why the huge disparity in care levels?  We were lucky because we could
choose to go someplace else.  What about those people who aren't?  Just
because someone is poor does it make it ok to ignore them?  It was
wrong to have treated us how we were treated: does it make it right to
treat anyone that way, just because they live in the wrong zip code? 
(As a side note, NY 16, my congressional district, is the poorest in
the country-- take that, rural Mississippi!)  Is health care one of
those things like cars- if you're rich you get to have as fancy a car
as you want and Xhibit will help you pimp it out, but if you're poor
you have to walk or take the bus?

I'm not saying care should be
equal.  If you have the means and you want the best heart surgeon in
the country, that's fine: we live in a free market.   But if not
equality, we should have a base level that everyone can at least be
treated with dignity and respect. A free market doesn't mean that it is
ok to treat people in an inhumane manner, which is what we experienced.
And at least we could get out of it, which may not have been an option
for the 100 other people we saw in that overcrowded ER.

don't make some bullcrap argument that these people had bad care
because they were on Medicaid or Medicare.  These were not those
people-- these people were uninsured, straight up.  I know because I
asked.  And no, they were not illegal immigrants.  They were just folks. The uninsured were harder for the staff to deal with: they actually liked us because we had Medicaid.

The unisured need to be taken care of. I don't care if that's a single payer system, a national health care mandate, or another form of health care reform.  But something must be done. The unisured here were part of the problem, leading to an overcrowded ER where the unisured can't be turned away and where many had come because it was the last resort. (An ounce of prevention, a pound of cure)  And where you have a hospital treating the majority of their patients without health insurance or the ability to pay, of course they will not have the money needed to provide adequate care or services to anyone.  This drags down EVERYONE.

If anyone thinks we need to do anything about "moral issues" (we need to stop gay marriage and abortion because Jesus said so), I would like to propose that health care is also a moral issue.  Jesus didn't tell us to make sure we took care of the sick as long as they made over $45,000 /yr and had a good job.  The Good Samaritan in the parable took the injured man and paid for his medicine, room and board, leaving a significant amount of money with the innkeeper to pay for the injured's care and promising if it cost more he would return and pay for it.  Yes-- Jesus wants you to pay for the care of injured strangers, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or ability to pay, and regardless of how much money it cost.  "Go and do thou likewise" did not include the caveat "but only if the person is of sufficient socio-economic status" or "but only if it doesn't require you to sacrifice any of your own money to do it."

So, I'm going back to see my wife now.  I hope any of you who read this will remember despite living in the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world that health care is not the same for everyone.  And I hope you will agree that no one deserves to be treated this way. 

And if you remember something to be thankful for in this season, be thankful for Medicaid.  Be thankful for the excellent quality health care that you have, if you do.  And if you don't, be thankful for the recent elections, which put us that much closer to passing real health care reform in this country, where everyone can be covered in the way we were. 


Let's get back to basics.  Remember that our health care crisis is about people.  Real people, whose lives are impacted for the better if reform is passed. So the next time you think about health care reform, think about this story, or a similar story that I'm sure happened to you, a member of your family or a close friend.  Remember that, and then get something passed that provides universal coverage, people! Public option, single payer-- whatever it takes.  But we must do something.  Because right now, someone else is going through this same problem, or worse.

They could be one of the uninsured.


This blog is the personal opinion of Andy Wilson and does not necessairly reflect the ideas or opinions of any other group or organization.