Medicine for All

I have three new holes – all sealed up – no worries – in my body after my Wednesday adventure.

There are memes floating around the internet comparing the democracies of Norway and the US. Norway is categorized as a social democracy and the US as “unbridled capitalism.” In fact, the US is not an example of unbridled capitalism but rather an example of a democracy that provides corporate welfare rather than social support for its citizens. Trump’s tax cuts allowed 60 profitable Fortune 500 US companies as of today, more have yet to file, to pay zero taxes. Many of them are actually receiving tax rebates making their effective tax rate minus 5%, which means we the people are supporting them with our tax dollars. This information comes from Fortune magazine not a bastion of left-wing radicals but rather a magazine with an agenda of supporting business.

The only part of Reagan’s “trickle-down economic theory” that has been proven correct is that if someone pees on your shoes you will get wet feet. A few oddballs like DT might actually get turned on by someone pissing on them. I don’t really care if that’s your thing; it doesn’t bother me in the least that people are excited by things that make me wonder why. However, allowing the largest companies in the US to avoid paying their fair share of taxes is criminal behavior that steals from ordinary people to line the pockets of CEOs and the ultra-wealthy unless you think working people enjoy having wet feet and no savings.

All of this comes to mind because I had to visit a hospital in Denmark for some tests and April 15th, which is the US tax filing deadline, is upon us. It was an outpatient procedure – no overnight stay required. I arrived slightly earlier than my appointment. The nurse asked my name and set me up in a hospital room. I was given a hospital shirt, a pair of hospital boxer shorts, and a terry cloth robe to put on. Marie, the nurse, walked me through what was going to happen and said that it was likely that I’d be able to have the test earlier than expected.

Let me parse that paragraph for readers who aren’t familiar with the joys of the US healthcare system. The first thing that happens when you arrive in a US hospital for any reason is that you are asked to provide your insurance information and pay your co-pay, or agree to guarantee the costs with your personal credit card. Then you sit in a waiting room with a blaring television set to maximum volume. If they are ready for you – most often after waiting for at least a half hour or more – you are taken somewhere and handed the dreaded hospital gown — one size that fits no one and barely covers your body — that leaves you cold, uncomfortable and exposed. No one explains a damn thing until they ship you to the unit that is going to do the test. They too don’t have much time for explanations unless you insist on asking questions. Did I mention that Marie spoke English well in addition to Danish and for all I know probably could communicate in a couple of other languages?

She took my blood pressure and waved a wand over my forehead to take my temperature. That was very high-tech. No more probes under the tongue. Of course any doctor will tell you that unless you have a fever, heat stroke, or are in a state of hypothermia, body temperature is of minimal importance. Humans have a range of body temperatures that depend on where you take the temperature — under the tongue, rectally, under the armpit, and now head swipes — and body temperature differs from person to person. We’re not all 37C or 98.6F.

20 minutes after that blood had been taken, an IV inserted, and an orderly was wheeling me on a bed down the hall to take the test. The doctor who would do the test introduced himself and asked me why I was having this test. That was a first.

I explained that my new primary doctor in Denmark had spotted an anomaly on a routine test which led to another test to confirm the anomaly. I didn’t have any of the common symptoms that would have raised her level of concern but I do have a family history which led to a specialist who did a bunch tests to determine the cause of the anomaly and couldn’t see anything wrong. So here we are doing this test.

He smiled and said I see, before telling me he’d never had the routine test that had started all of this process. Now that was ironic because it is a routine test and it was his area of expertise and he was middle-aged so you might have thought that he would have had one to get a baseline. All of this would be unheard of in the US. I was shocked but hey this is Denmark.

Healthcare is readily available and everyone within the system takes a pretty relaxed approach to medicine. Anecdotally there are issues — the provinces need more doctors and nurses — there are waiting times for some non-life threatening issues — right wing politicians think the system is too expensive – but from my outsider’s point of view it was far superior to what I experienced in the US.

Soren, the doctor, went about his work while his two nurses prepped me for the test. Nina and Malene introduced themselves and explained everything all over again to me, in English. When I was ready for the test, the doctor came in and started. He made his first hole in me (Marie made the first with the IV) and when that approach wasn’t proving to be a success had to make a second hole. You might ask why he didn’t just take the second approach at the first go.

The placement of the first approach meant making a tiny hole likely to heal in two or three days. It actually healed in a day. The second approach required making a bigger hole in a different place, stitches, and a plug that dissolves in three months. So it made sense to try the least invasive approach first.

After the nurses got me ready to go back to hospital room where I had started out the morning, Soren came in and explained the results of the test.

By now you’re probably wondering what are those four squares on a plate in the photograph that appears at the top of this page. That was my unexpected hospital lunch. I was an outpatient. I only had to wait until noon to make sure there was no bleeding before I could leave. Unfortunately, the photograph doesn’t include the delicious rhubarb dessert I ate before remembering I should have photographed it too.

Four smørrebrød – herring, chicken salad, liverwurst, and potatoes — carefully prepared and without a doubt the best hospital food I’ve ever eaten. Granted, I have been lucky enough to have only eaten four meals in a hospital though I have seen what others in my family were served over the years. It was tasty. I’d come back just for lunch though let’s hope I won’t need to for years and years.

Soren didn’t find a cause for the anomaly, which meant it was good news and bad news. The good news is I appear to be in excellent health or at least better health than anyone expected given the anomaly. The bad news is I need more tests to explain why there is an anomaly though luckily all of the follow up tests are non-invasive. So this saga will continue.

Have I mention that there were no insurance claims forms? There wasn’t a room filled with people trying to figure which billing code to use so the hospital and doctors could get properly reimbursed from one of hundreds of insurance companies all with different rules, restrictions, and reimbursement rates?

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all was who was present in the hospital. I saw a lot of nurses, orderlies, and doctors providing care to patients. What I didn’t see were the non-medical personnel that occupy considerable space in US hospitals.

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