Universal Health Care and a small village in Germany

09/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A sunny, early spring weekend in Germany, the small German village where we lived made us part of their life. Farmers slaughtered pigs and prepared equipment to work the fields during the coming week. Following a leisurely breakfast in bed, I was taking a relaxing bath; my wife was baking in the kitchen. A scene of domesticity soon to be torn asunder. As on most weekend days, two of our children were about the village with their German friends. Our youngest, a two year old barely able to speak English but fluent in German, was playing in the living room.

The village boys were playing tag. As they ran their regular path through the neighbor's farm, Bella, the always friendly farm dog, evidently upset by squeals of pigs, the smell of offal and the heavy scent of blood turned on the children slashing one boy clear through the cheek. Chaos reigned as the farmers saw to immediate first aid and called for the child's parents.

My wife heard the heavy knock on the door; answered it and took off down the path with Frau Schneider. Our oldest son, who just turned eight, was the unfortunate child. My wife is a highly experienced registered nurse and probably one of the calmest heads I have ever known in a business where a calm head is necessary for survival. She assessed the situation and shouted for me to stay put and watch our other children. It was her area of expertise, I obeyed. My wife, injured son and the neighbors headed off to the local German hospital five kilometers away. Then passed the longest hours of my life.

The rural German hospital possessed excellent surgery and emergency facilities. As I paced and fretted at home, my wife negotiated our child's treatment in stumbling German and fluent English. She debated transferring our child to the military hospital twenty miles away. The trauma to our son's cheek was so violent and rough that there were serious questions if he would ever be able to smile or have feeling in that cheek again. A young German doctor begged my wife to allow him to perform surgery on our son. He explained that American medicine would require a series of operations (at least three) and a helicopter flight to Frankfurt. My wife knew this to be true.

The doctor claimed that under German protocols he could do the "repair" permanently and in one surgery. My wife used her best judgment and told the German doctor that our son's care was in his hands. As is so often the case, my wife was right. The next days and weeks were trying but German hospital care was superb. My son never required another surgery and today you must look very carefully to see the scar. As a side note, the German authorities said that it was our call on whether to execute the dog and examine him for rabies or watch and wait. We left that decision up to our son. He said let him live. Years later we returned to "our" village and had a great reunion. My son asked to see bella and the old dog limped out of the barn. My son thanked us for honoring his decision.

Why do I relate this bit of family history? We paid a pittance for the German national healthcare and treatment of our son. We had insurance but they refused further payment saying the national healthcare covers those costs. Now, European and other nations' healthcare is being attacked as a failure. This is not a misunderstanding; it is a lie. No healthcare system is perfect even if perfection should always be the goal. I KNOW government healthcare works. For most of our lives, my family's healthcare was government healthcare. Not just in Europe, but here in the United States. As many of you know, we still have government military healthcare. I am ready to address any questions concerning universal healthcare.

U.S. Healthcare is failing. I won't address individual horror stories here because there are enough on both sides. However, I will address overall challenges. Doctors tell me they will gladly sacrifice income for more time with patients and more time with their own loved ones. Nurses' unions are fighting for fewer patients (meaning more time with individual patients) rather than more money. Home healthcare attendants are fighting for their own healthcare benefits and a living wage so that they can continue to care for their clients. Do you see a common theme here? Patient care is what drives real healthcare providers not just money. They are caregivers to their very core and they know our current system is working for neither the patient nor society.

Government healthcare works well. My current mix of government and private healthcare fits into our national values. Ask the vast majority of seniors if they want to lose their Medicare and you will find a government single payer healthcare program that is very popular. Time to stop the lies, hate and disinformation. Let's roll up our sleeves and begin to address this key area of our economy and our quality of life. Forty years of debate is time enough.