Thursday, July 23, 2009

This is why we need health care reform

As much fun as it is to live with and raise a toddler, especially one who is generally a sweet, funny little monkey whose vocabulary is exploding every day with new words and concepts, it's really hard when they get sick.  Not even so much because it's difficult to see them be uncomfortable and feeling yucky, but because before their language skills get really good, it's a challenge to figure out what's wrong.

After a while, certain things become fairly obvious.  The pulling at the ears, coupled with fever and an inability to lie down for long stretches without crying, is a pretty good indicator of an ear infection, particularly when combined with a runny nose.  Pink eye is relatively easy to discern. An nice rich, phlegmy cough that won't go away is a good indicator that a trip to the doctor's office is in order.

But sometimes the symptoms are more subtle.  

You pick your child up from school, and the teacher remarks that he has been inordinately fussy, which is totally not like him.  And you think, "Huh.  Maybe he's tired or having a bad day."

Then you get in the car, and suddenly he starts crying and won't stop.  And it's not whiny-type crying, but really upset, despondent crying that keeps starting and stopping.  No matter what you do or say, he's inconsolable.

And you say, "what's wrong, baby?" and he responds, "ouchie, ouchie!"  

So you ask, "where is the ouchie?  Can you show momma where it hurts?" 

But his language skills aren't quite there yet.  Then you notice that he seems to be tugging at his ear a little bit, and you say, "is it your ear?  Is the ouchie in your ear?"

And he responds, "yah."  

But he says "yah" in response to questions all the time when he doesn't really mean it, just as sometimes you'll hold out a cracker and say, "are you hungry? do you want a snack?" and he'll say "no" as he reaches for it and stuffs it in his mouth.

So really, who knows?

You think you should get him to the doctor, because it could be something that a little bit of children's ibuprofen will help, but it could be more serious, and you don't want to be up with him screaming in pain all night.  And of course, it's exactly 5:32 in the afternoon, so every pediatrician's office and walk-in urgent care place has closed for the night, so your relatively inexpensive health care options are ruled out.  

Meaning it's the ER or nothing.  And depending on what your ER coverage is, and how much of your deductible you've used, you could possibly be facing a few hundreds of dollars in medical fees for a doctor to look at the kid for 5 minutes and declare that all he needs is Tylenol.

I hate that the cost-benefit analysis ever crosses my mind.  And every time, I choose the ER, because the alternative -- that something is really wrong and making him wait out the night means to make him suffer unnecessarily -- is no alternative at all, as far as I'm concerned.  It's a no-brainer.

So I turn the car around and we head to the children's hospital.  And the minute we walk in the door to check in, Zeke immediately stops crying and gets all perky.  So I'm standing there talking to the check-in clerk, feeling like a ninny, and I say, "now he seems fine.  I don't know what to do."  And she says, "well, once you're here, we don't recommend that you leave without being seen."  So we check in and I fill out the paperwork.  

While we're waiting to go into a room, Zeke is playing with some toy and pointing out the colors of everything, happy as a lark.

We are escorted to an exam room and are seen by a nurse, a medical student and a doctor.  With all three, Zeke could not be more charming or flirtatious, giggling and obediently opening his mouth when they tell him to say "ahhhh" so they can look in his throat, calmly standing on the scale so they can get his weight, holding his head still and smiling when they look in his ears.

And it turns out he does have a little bit of an ear infection.  But it doesn't look too bad, so the doctor gives me a prescription for antibiotics, but because it's not good to overuse antibiotics, recommends waiting a day or two to fill the scrip and giving him -- wait for it -- Tylenol or Motrin in the meantime, because maybe it'll clear up on its own.

We go home, Zeke eats some dinner, takes some Children's Motrin, and sleeps relatively well.  No waking up screaming every hour or anything like that.

So now I'm waiting for my multi-hundreds of dollars in ER facility and doctor's bills.  For a Tylenol recommendation.  And thinking there has to be a more rational way for relatively simple, basic health care to be available to the public and not be so ridiculously expensive.

When I hear the discussion about health care reform and single-payer systems and universal health care, I hear opponents growling with horror, "It's socialist!  It'll turn us into Sweden or Canada."  They're practically spitting with disdain.  

And then I read about the health care systems in Sweden or Canada and think, "we should be so lucky."


  1. Before we had kids, nothing fixed a lethargic, not eating cat like a trip to the vet. Once there, the cat would always perk up, purr, and lick anyone who came near them. The same seems to hold with our kids, too. A quick trip to the doctor's waiting room can fix almost anything! I'm glad Zeke is feeling better!

  2. It's like hearing the disturbing noise in your car, which noise refuses to replicate itself when you're within earshot of a mechanic. So frustrating!

  3. Amen Sista, we have a phone number to call, day or night and you talk to a nurse, describe the symtoms and then he'll/she'll recommend either tylenol, ER, next day health clinic etc... cost: free!

  4. Ha! I was thinking just that. Are we really so arrogantly stupid to believe the superiority crap? Amazing, yes, the U.S. is, but superior in every way? Hardly.

    Bring on the socialized medicine. Mama needs an an operation she can't afford.

  5. Soph -- that's awesome. I'm jealous.

    Lisa -- my thoughts exactly. The superiority bullshit drives me insane. There are many, many things I love about this country, but the fact that medical bills are the #1 reason people declare bankruptcy certainly isn't one of them.

  6. Good post and glad to hear the little man is ok.

    Why can't a doctor work from noon to 8 one day a week? WHY?!?

    What if insurance companies were non-profit entities? What if?

  7. auntjone -- all excellent questions. Maybe someday soon we'll know the answers...

  8. Amen sister. That is all.

  9. I was in Paris, got a UTI, and was in and out of a clinic in an hour HAVING ALREADY BEEN GIVEN my first dose of antibiotics. The visit- to an ER, at 11pm, mind you- cost 50 euros. The script cost 10.

    So say we all.