Now For Something Totally Different

I just unexpectedly spent the last 2 nights in the hospital here in Aberdeen. I went to bed Wednesday night, but then woke up about 2 hours later in excruciating pain. It was so bad that I passed out twice from the pain – and I have a very high pain tolerance. I have never experienced anything like this, and I really thought the pain might kill me from shock.

Since I am living alone at the moment (my family comes over this summer), it was apparent to me that I could not continue to gamble that the pain would stop any time soon. (In hindsight, I was correct about that). But of course in the U.S., we always have to balance the costs with the need, so I spent a lot of time unnecessarily debating whether I really needed an ambulance. I finally called the ambulance, and when they got here my blood pressure was crashing and my heart was racing. They gave me a morphine injection, and said it was classic acute renal colic, brought on by a kidney stone (too much coffee drinking, and not enough water). For an idea about the level of pain I am talking about, see this article:

Acute renal colic is probably the most excruciatingly painful event a person can endure. Striking without warning, the pain is often described as being worse than childbirth, broken bones, gunshot wounds, burns, or surgery. Renal colic affects approximately 1.2 million people each year and accounts for approximately 1% of all hospital admissions. Most active emergency departments (EDs) treat an average of at least one patient with acute renal colic every day depending on the hospital’s patient population.

The typical attack starts early in the morning or at night, waking the patient from sleep. The pain level may increase to maximum intensity in as little as 30 minutes after initial onset or more slowly, taking up to 6 hours or longer to peak. Once the pain reaches maximum intensity, it tends to remain constant until it is either treated or allowed to diminish spontaneously. The period of sustained maximal pain is called the constant phase of the renal colic attack. This phase usually lasts 1-4 hours but can persist longer than 12 hours in some cases. Most patients arrive in the ED during this phase of the attack.

Anyway, as a result I spent 2 nights in the hospital on painkillers. Finally, after about 18 hours of pain, it started moving down and easing off a bit. I am now home and feeling fine, although I had 150 e-mails to work my way through when I got home. If I was slow to answer your e-mail, now you know why.

One thing I would like to mention though is that this was my first experience with a universal health care system. There were no charges for anything. I did not have to worry about whether I could afford to spend another night in the hospital, or whether I really, really needed one more dose of pain medication. I have to tell you, when you are having a health issue, it is very nice to not have to worry about money. I shared a room with 4 other men, all Scottish. (One of the inconveniences of the system is lack of private rooms). They all were extremely complimentary of the system. They were all very relieved that they could just get their health issues addressed without worrying about the money.

I know that such a system costs taxpayer money, but it’s not like we aren’t paying for health insurance right now. My health insurance, split between my employer and myself, is around $5,000 a year. I would be completely in favor of a system that instead turned that money into a tax and made health care just as accessible in the U.S. as it is in Scotland. One of the saddest things for me to see is various fundraisers to come up with the money for Johnny to have his kidney transplant. Those fundraisers should not be required. If Johnny needs a kidney transplant, then I believe we should demand a government that takes care of that so that Johnny’s family does not have to choose between Johnny’s health and bankruptcy. I think all it would take for such a system to be demanded in the U.S. is for most citizens to experience what I just experienced.

If you want an even stronger endorsement, though, see this story by one of my TOD colleagues Jerome a Paris:

Gold in the head and lead in the stomach

Jerome tells the story of his son’s battle with a brain tumor, and closes with:

100% of the cost of the care for my son comes from our national healthcare system. We’ve never had to wait for any treatment, we’ve never had to disburse a cent, my wife got an allowance to compensate for the fact that she had to essentially abandon her job to take care of my son. The quality of care has been as good can be found anywhere, and it’s paid for by social contributions and national solidarity (even if some of the care is provided in the private sector). Dealing with our kid’s illness was and is stressful enough, and I can’t imagine having to juggle in addition with major money headaches – including to the point that it can threaten care provided, and reading stories about such woes here on dKos break my heart each time.

Finally, this is not going to become The Health Care Blog. I just wanted to share my experience (and based on my e-mails, some were wondering where I went). I will now return to your regularly scheduled programming. In a few days I will have an article up on the potential of pentanol as a gasoline replacement.

18 thoughts on “Now For Something Totally Different”

  1. Some of my conservative co-workers here in California are strangely angry with the Canadians for their health care system.

    There is some odd psychology there.

    I’ve visited the Canadian system (for a very minor problem, traveler’s tummy) and found the clinic to be low key and nice. They apologized profusely because they had to charge me, an American $20Cdn for the visit.

    To put it gently, I think we have a very oddly balanced health care system here in the US. I think it’s time for an overhaul …

    but I won’t be surprised if a few haters show up to vent on any system that is not Amercian … and to insist that our wobbly and regulated system is still somehow “free market.”

  2. Some of my conservative co-workers here in California are strangely angry with the Canadians for their health care system.

    I have had the same experience. Otherwise very compassionate people come out passionately against universal health care because they view it as big government intrusion and anti-free market. It is quite a disconnect. These same people would go to great lengths to hold those fundraisers to fund that operation, but they don’t want taxpayer money funding the system.

    I also received this comment via e-mail:

    As someone in the healthcare world, I completely agree. We waste Hundreds of Billions of Dollars in the US on efficiency loses. There is a whole healthcare financial accounting industry in the US that is completely irrelevant to patient care.

    Cheers, RR

  3. My mom had this kind of attack a few years ago and it’s one of the worst pain possible. I’m glad you’re back and to see that you have fully recovered.

    Thanks for the link to Jérôme’s story, I was not aware he was facing such challenges.

    Unfortunately, health car systems are strained everywhere due to an aging population and rapid rise in health care costs (+10% per year in the US!).

    The Canadian health care system is good but is facing serious difficulties. The emergency rooms here in Montreal are overwhelmed. We have also a shortage of doctors and specialists that are moving south of the border to the US looking for a better pay check (also a consequence of free market in a way). Being a Frenchman, I’ve never struggled that much with the health care system since living in Canada.

    I always noticed that free market for health care is always advocated by people than can afford to pay their medical expenses.

  4. Glad you’re feeling better.

    I would entirely agree with you, except that our government seems to be having a chronic attack of critical incompetence in leadership, vision, and implementation. I’m not just talking about the Bush dynasty (though it’s certainly gotten much more obviously bad in the last 4 years).

    Our healthcare system is at least decent, if you can afford to pay, or have an employer who does so.
    My greatest fear is that the government would get directly involved and crash it entirely. Perhaps that would be more fair, at least, since then everyone would have access to an equally crappy level of care, but it’s not much comfort, really.

  5. I consider myself a conservative and I would favour some sort of national insurance. I would not like to see health care providers turned into government employees, however. We have the best health care providers in the world here; it’s the patchwork, employment-based private insurance system that’s in need of replacement.

    Get well and stay well, RR.

  6. Robert,

    I had renal colic (for the first time) from a kidney stone six weeks ago. It was also caused by dehydration from working too hard in the garden in the Australian summer. Since we have free health care in Australia (and I am an Australian citizen) I had no hesitation in going to hospital. I really do sympathise with you because I had my family near to call the ambulance and look after me. I don’t know if I could have got off the bathroom floor to walk to the phone!

    I think I had four shots of morphine, but it was the stong NSAIDs (Voltaren etc) that really helped with the pain.

    My attack happened in the morning and I was out of hospital by 7pm. I had an MRI scan a few days later and fortunately there are no more stones. I am very careful to keep my fluids up now!

    Oh FYI, my day in the hospital cost me nothing, zero, nada. I had to pay around $200 AUD for the ambulance which I will get back through my (optional) private health insurance. I have no idea why the hospital visit is paid for by the government and not the ambulance, its just one of the quirks of the Australian health system.

    You’ll be surprised to learn that our conservative government has spent the last decade trying to Americanise our health system. You won’t be surprised to learn that our current health system is very popular and every move to privatise the health system has been resisted.

  7. You have my complete sympathy. I had a stone many years ago, and I still shudder when I remember the pain.

    Once the stone passed, my doctor told me to drink more beer as it would help keep my kidneys flushed out.

    So, Here’s to your good health, bottoms up.

  8. Hi RR,
    Sorry to hear about your illness and glad you are better.
    My wife had a similar incident with a smaller stone a few years ago, and now she was diagnosed with a large stone that was blocking her ureter. They attempted to break it with a laser catheter two months ago, and that wasn’t successful, so they put in a ureteric stent, that she still has in. This round didn’t have the intense pain of passing a stone (yet?), but she is awaiting a hospital appointment to go for a second surgery where they will attempt to break it again. We are Canadian and our home province of Saskatchewan was the first to implement universal health care in Canada and the Saskatchewan model was used nationally and the Canadian model has been used globally.

    She said that passing a stone was much worse than labor, and having been in the delivery room 4 times and watching that, I am amazed that there is ever such a thing as a second child. I thought the least we could if she is going to carry this stone for a few months is name it.

    We decided “Eugene” was an appropriate name for a large kidney stone.

  9. for ever good experience that folks have with universal health care aka National Health, there are untold stories of folks suffering because the healthcare is rationed. For example I saw a video the other day in which a young woman was forced to wait for a particular type of surgery in Canada. Her doctor was only allowed to do this particular type of surgery once a month. There were 35 folks in front of her, thus a 3 year wait. Her only alternative would be to travel to the US to pay to have the surgery done which should couldn’t

    one more example is from the UK where a gentleman was diagnose with prostate cancer. His doctor said he was a perfect candidate for the radiation seed implant procedure. NHS said no can do, we don’t have the money. The man paid out of pocket for the procedure then sued for reimbursement. he won. There ar e currently 8,000 junior doctors aka interns in the UK who do not have a job because NHS does not have the money.

    If you want to make healthcare better in the US then we need consider the use of Health savings accounts (HSA) which put the power of the purse back in the patient’s hand and out of the insurance companies

  10. “(5/18/06)- The results of a recent study indicated that Americans 55 and older are much sicker than comparably aged individuals from Britain, even though we spend about $5,274 a year per capita, compared to the $2,164 per capita spent on these same age group individuals in Britain.”

    from a piece called:

    “Why Does the Average Canadian Outlive the Average American?”


  11. Certainly the USA is unusual in it is the only OECD country that does not have universal health care. Instead it has HMOs and other strangeness.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with the Canadian system myself. I know that statistically it suffers compared to some European systems. I formed the impression quite awhile ago from talking to someone about the Brazilian health care system that Canada suffers from the competition the USA provides. It inflates salaries and siphons off trained personnel.

  12. For example I saw a video the other day in which a young woman was forced to wait for a particular type of surgery in Canada. Her doctor was only allowed to do this particular type of surgery once a month.

    There is no perfect system. But the goal should be to help as many people as possible. I don’t think the system we have in the U.S. accomplishes that. I do think that the system in the U.S. is fantastic for those who have plenty of money that they are willing to spend on health care.

    I am well aware of the counter-arguments against nationalized health care. Up until now, I had accepted them as legitimate reasons for accepting the system we have in place in the U.S. However, after my own experience, and after talking to numerous people and receiving a number of letters from the U.K., Australia, Canada, and even Iran, I think a nationalized system provides the greatest benefits to the largest number of citizens. It is true that this might lead to some rationing of health care, but I am sure that 1). The rationing is based on level of need; and 2). There are options for private health insurance to cover this sort of thing.

    What is unacceptable to me is that we have people suffering because they can’t afford the health care. We aren’t talking about luxuries here; health care should be a basic human right as far as I am concerned. It should not be restricted to those who can afford it.

    Cheers, Robert

  13. Certainly the USA is unusual in it is the only OECD country that does not have universal health care.

    In the U.S., we are conditioned to believe that we do things better than everyone else. So, there will be a significant number who think that the U.S. has it right and all the OECD countries have it wrong. I wish we were more willing to learn from other countries.

    This experience has greatly changed my perspective. While I was generally in favor of health care for all, I also knew that it comes at a cost, and the system is not perfect. However, I now believe that such a system would be much better than what we now have in place. But I think drug companies, health insurers, and a number of doctors would be against changing the status quo.

    Cheers, Robert



    You made Salon. Now that *is* something. And I agree with all the nice things they say about you.

    I could bore for England about healthcare policy in here and Canada.

    Let’s say that the British system has a safety valve, in that you can always go private if you have to (and you will pay for the nose for it).

    That said, I’ve known of babies who died in childbirth, because they were at the private hospital. It took too long to get to obstetric emergency a couple of blocks away. The reality is if you need emergency care, or oncology or chemotherapy or whatever, you are in the hands of the NHS.

    What a private hospital provides here is basically a luxury hotel room. The care is not different from the NHS.


    And there is something of a lottery in the NHS: some hospitals are better than others.

    Canada doesn’t have that private sector safety valve.

    But I think both systems beat the pants off the US.

  15. Odograph

    Americans in my experience are always surprised at the good things in foreign countries.

    That Germans and French get 6 weeks holiday a year. That Swedish women get universal daycare for their kids.

    That Japan has incredibly modern and fast trains. And that customer service is so obliging.

    That mobile phones are both more ubiquitious (higher penetration rate) and more useful in other developed countries.

    That over half of Korean families have broadband (getting on for 80% I believe).

    That interracial marriage is more popular in the UK than in the US.

    I think American media gives very little insight into life in other countries. And Americans have short holidays, so they don’t travel much abroad. I read somewhere that only 3% of Americans have passports (seems too low a number).

    And Americans are, bluntly, taught in school that America is the richest and free-est country in the world.

    (rest assured there is a British version of this. That life was better under the Empire, etc. Which is all nonsense, but that’s another story)

    There are lots of very established, entrenched special interests that wouldn’t want Americans to believe that other countries had good healthcare systems.


  16. Sorry to hear about your troubles.

    Brother has a stone, and is finally going to drag his Doctor-fearing self to the Doctor. He won’t have to wait for treatment, even though he is poor and has no insurance. Most folks here in his situation don’t have to wait either.

    I’m an American, and am never surprised about the good things or the bad things they have in other countries.

    I don’t go around saying that U.S.A. is the richest or the freest country in the world.

    My Mom had to have total knee replacement surgery. She didn’t have to wait any amount of time for it. She has an HMO. She got an excellent surgeon and above standard physical therapy. Didn’t have to wait for any of it at all.

    One of the reasons California conservatives don’t want California to have ‘free’ healthcare is because the lkast proposal I heard of would have made it illegal for California residents to purchase personal medical insurance on themselves. Thank goodness for Governor Schwarzenegger.

    I don’t particularly want ‘free’ healthcare, personally. My two cents.

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