The Museum of Ham, Health Care, and My Most Expensive Infection – Ever*

As I wrote awhile ago, I am not impressed with socialized medicine. Normally, I refrain from writing about incendiary subjects but this one does have to do with being an expat. Disagree with me, as is your right, I am just here to tell you that, having witnessed it, it is not pretty. For the sake of this discussion on a possible government health care plan in the United States, the focus will only be on the level, or lack thereof, of medical care in the socialized countries in which I have lived. I wrote this last week, sat on it, and did not post it because I did not want to inflame passions. But the urge is still there. Why? Because, as I have pondered this for a week, I want to spare my readers a similar fate. Go back and read the thesis so we are clear on this. Maybe the same thing has happened to you in America but I have had few bad experiences there so I am not really a good judge on that front.

But before I take you on a trip to the local ER, I think it is only fair to expose my own biases, even at the risk of being flambeed by my readership, let me lay before you a few facts which influence my opinion. Your personal bias, as you read this, will naturally influence your own opinion. Here they are:

1) a father who, as a lawyer, defends insurance companies, mainly automobile accidents
2) former employment as automobile insurance (personal injury) adjuster in Maryland and Florida
3) eldest daughter, born with genetic syndrome
4) same daughter who receives treatment for said syndrome annually at Johns Hopkins Hospital with world-reknowned pediatric cardiologist/geneticist
5) two nephews with rare, unrelated genetic disorders; these disorders are unrelated to each other and to that of my child
6) my father had his kidney, and its malignant tumor, removed within 3 days of it being diagnosed in the United States
7) first-hand experience in hospitals in the US, Mexico, Brasil, China, and now Spain –
8) we have health insurance via my husband’s employer in the US
9) although we pay taxes in Spain, we do not apparently pay enough and so do not qualify for their socialized medicine program. We are legal immigrants.
10) I am not a germaphobe – although I encourage my children to wash their hands and not use hand rails if at all possible but the five second rule for food is fine with me (except in China).

Every year, my daughter and I, sometimes the whole family, travels to Baltimore to see her set of specialists. We are very blessed for a variety of reasons: we have insurance, generally have the means to travel there, and have access to the world’s best doctor, the latter of which is stupendously serendipitous. Not to mention having friends in that fair city, having been a former resident. Mr. Understanding works very hard, in part, to provide our daughter with the best treatment possible. We pay for the trip out of our own pocket. Thus far treatment has been minimally invasive, a true best case scenario. In any event, Mr. Understanding has an incentive beyond filling our coffers. In the US during the summers, we also have physicals with the local doc-in-a-box or get treated for the occasional illness such as shingles. Sometimes I even have an organ removed (there are getting fewer and fewer). I am generally pleased with the situation.

Contrast that with Spain, a “First World” country with socialized medical care. To me, medical care here is on par with its restaurant service. Pretend you are having lunch in the restaurant, Museo de Jamon (Ham Museum), a large franchise with relatively inexpensive, simple fare; rows upon rows of cured ham hocks dangle from the ceiling, veritable pork garlands, little plastic cones inserted at the ends to prevent oil from spilling out. There is no tipping for service in Spain. As a result, grumpy waiters deign to take orders, forget half the food, and slam plates down on the customer’s table in random fashion as the plates are prepared, sort of like in China but worse (the Chinese aren’t snoots). Talk about your perdonavidas! The Museo de Jamon is always busy and the waiters always stressed, never smiling. They are not partial to tourists. So when a family of tourists sits down to eat, it is double grump.

Now we come to the TOO MUCH INFORMATION part of the post. If you are a male or my mother-in-law, just stop reading. But if you are a woman, put yourself in my shoes. For about a month, I had a little female problem. First, I self-medicated and, for the first time ever, probably exacerbated that particular situation. Very bad. So I called Expat Doctor to the Stars, explained my problem, and got a prescription, all without an internal exam (he is not a gyne) for 75 Euros. This was on October 13. After about a week of no improvement, I asked for a referral to a gynecologist. The next available appointment was November 18. Ruling out suicide, the next best option was the ER or a trip to the US, if the situation did not improve. Finally, and fortunately, the doctor wangled me an appointment with a gynecologist for October 25. Fab!

On the appointed date, after waiting an hour and watching no less than fifteen women come and go from the doctor’s office, it was my turn. In Spanglish, the doctor and I discussed the problem. After a quick, pseudo-exam, I was out of the office five minutes later with a new prescription. I forked over 100 Euros and left. A week later, the problem persisted, but had mutated slightly. The gynecologist recommended I go to the ER next door – she was too busy to see me.

And here is where it gets icky. After paying 350 Euros (approximately $550 USD), I sat down in Swine Flu Central, a hospital located within ten miles of my house. Feverish, hacking folks surrounded me with nary a face mask, bottle of hand sanitizer, or tissue in sight. GADZOOKS, I thought, good thing I’m getting those B12 shots! Finally escorted in, I met with a doctor, who told me to pee in a plastic cup. Ever the logistician, I wanted to know precisely what to do with the urine, since I was given no little personalized, computer generated label to afix to the plastic urn, no little handy wipe, no special room. “Go to the bathroom and then take it to the front desk.” GADZOOKS, I thought to myself, haven’t they heard of secret sample doors? I will not even describe the restroom but let me just say there were no paper towels and the hand dryer did not work. So, hooking my wet finger in the door latch, I swung open the door, and with my sample dried off via toilet paper, swanned off down the hall to the receptionist’s desk where I was told to put it on the counter. Where on the counter? Right there on top of the requisition order, the only piece of evidence that the urine belonged to me. Apparently, I did not dry the sample off completely because it left a little ring, I noticed, when the receptionist, ungloved, took it off the counter and told me to return to the waiting room. GADZOOKS. The results would be ready in an hour – they would call my name over the loudspeaker system.

In the meantime, I meandered down to the cafeteria for a quick coffee where the other customers were smoking, sucking back beers, and chewing on bocadillos. The smoke drove me back into the waiting room. After waiting two hours, I went back through the swinging doors and finally began to ask if the results were ready. After two and a half hours, I camped outside the doctor’s office. A different doctor was inside the exam room reading a magazine. He told me the result was not ready – they would call my name. He did not look at a computer screen or get out of his seat, barely lifting his head from the rag he was reading. After three hours, I went and stood in front of the receptionist’s desk. Perhaps my name had been called and I just did not understand it? The PA system of the hospital has speakers that function akin to every McDonald’s drive-in in America. Try deciphering your name pronounced in a foreign language on top of this. But no, my name had not been called. Then I saw the doctor who attended me. After much prodding she went and chased down the results. Nothing wrong with my test! Did she know what the problem could be, I asked? Nope. No idea. Better luck next time. Could I even feel certain they checked out my urine and not someone else’s????

When I got home that evening, I was $550 poorer, had no idea what was wrong with me, and discovered that my car had been keyed in the hospital parking lot. Nice. I could go on and on … because this is a subject I have thought a lot about over the years, sitting in various hospitals, both in the ER and in the surgical ward, around the globe, observing the level or lack of care. This is just one experience in Spain and it was not a truly dire situation. If there are others, I hope they will be better. But I know it won’t be, especially since Expat Doctor to the Stars worked as the head of this same ER for a year and gave up because he could not institute new, better, more hygienic practices.

Is this our American future? Where are we going to go for better health care when it ceases to exist? Nowhere else I’ve seen yet. And I am not saying things don’t need to fixed. But I am saying that other countries with socialized medicine do not do it better. I have seen it for myself. The above anecdote is just one of many, the latest and freshest. If, however, the US government ends up running our health care system, I suggest we rename all the hospitals “Museum of Hams” because there will be no incentive to be polite, the service will suck, and the fare will be rudimentary. Bring your own wipes. Print your own labels. Give the doctors your old People magazines. But maybe, just maybe, they will serve beer and wine in the cafeterias so we can all anesthetize ourselves while we wait. That’d take the edge off.

*The title refers to my post of 4/17/2007 – it is only funny to me, so don’t worry if you don’t get it. The case of shigella when pregnant in Mexico probably was more expensive, if I am being honest though …..

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17 Comments

Filed under Domesticity, Family, Mature, Moving, Princessdom, Spanish vocabulary, Uncluttering

17 responses to “The Museum of Ham, Health Care, and My Most Expensive Infection – Ever*

  1. 425Heidi

    GADZOOKS is right! What a nightmare! But, you left me wondering…are you still infected? Because, you obviously have not committed suicide.

    I am sure you will hear from 602Jill about her opinion on health care. She is a breast cancer and stroke survivor who had to shell out mucho money each month for minimal coverage before Medicare kicked in. It pretty much depleted her savings for the future. The US health care situation is scary, but socialized medicine frightens me even more. Great post!

  2. The Bride

    Guess I’d like to stick to American innovation, availability and excellence. Let government protect borders and figure out how to fund schools and build roads. Can you imagine how ENORMOUS the bureaucracy for health care will be????????????????
    The turf wars, the competing cultures for accomplishing tasks and tedious and necessary glacial pace of checks and balances that are part and parcel for the American bureaucracy that is porous at all levels and that is exposed to the grip of special interest groups, the media, and Congress- it doesn’t quit!

  3. 425Heidi: I went right before MRM and Leezer came over and my plan was to get on a plane going home with them if necessary. In the meantime, the situation resolved itself. Perhaps it was all in my head? Maybe I am a Nervous Nelly? Ironically, yesterday I received a garbled voice message from the hospital which I could not understand. Maybe I have something terrible, in fact, or I owe even more money. What’s up with that???? I welcome 602Jill’s POV because each one is so different and I am sure she can contribute MUCHO.

  4. 602Jill

    I’m so sorry princess.that you’ve had such a problem.
    I had breast cancer in 1993…my husband left me one year to the day after that…so I was my own insurer. Blue Cross was charging me 1200 a month before Medicare kicked in. I’m so afraid that our current congress will get us on this socialized path…the worst! So many of our Dr.’s will get out of medicine…because they can’t make enough money to pay back their school loans. Care stinks in Holland and Canada also. We need help!!!!

  5. Expat: First: Did you discuss your female problem with Dr. to the Stars? Is he the same one that came to the house to examine MRM? OMIGOD!! He’s so hot! How did you discuss such things with him? I would do so only with a woman or someone who looks like Jimmy Stewart.

    Second: I believe its a scientifically proven fact that British women have higher instances of late-detection breast cancer because their mamograms are paid for only every TWO YEARS!!!!

    If your panties are the problem with your female issues, you can always borrow the ones I left at your house. You can keep them! 🙂

  6. Mood Ring Momma

    Socialized medicine frightens me too. I value getting in to see MY doctor within 24 hours of a phone call, and I’m perfectly fine that he makes a decent living – he’s earned it, he deserves it, and it’s an additional incentive to continue being an outstanding service provider.

  7. 602Jill: really, Jill, it was nothing compared to you! My mother’s health insurance premiums have kept my parents from living large. All because of damage caused by rheumatic fever as a child, one reason negating pre-existing conditions should be changed. They also have a Medicare gap insurance which will now be cut or taxed and she needs a new pacemaker, which will also be taxed (to whom? ultimately the consumer). I’d rather have an expensive, educated doctor than a cheaper, less educated one. You can get a degree from a medical college in Europe in 5 years. Would you like a 23 year old treating you for your cancer? Pass!

  8. Lisa: yes, same one. It was difficult but when given no other alternative … And I just saw our ambassador to Hungary, the founder of Susan G. Komen, on TV today decrying that very fact.

    Mood Ring: back status??? How was your doctor date today?

  9. Princess Ai Lin

    well….in a nutshell I believe affordable (at the very least) health care should be available to all citizens of the US of A. Affordable, at the moment, it is not. And insurance rates are crazy high and I don’t think they should be given the ability to pick and choose who they insure and what they cover in the way they do now. Really, we are all just a terrible change of course away from not having insurance coverage.

    One of your FB friends commented on her recent mamogram not being covered by insurance. Preventative health care not being covered??? INSANE! And really, how can birth control not be covered? This is a very funny video re: insurance companies: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/041b5acaf5/protect-insurance-companies-psa

    Seems to me there must be some middle ground between socialize medicine ala Espana and what we have going on the USA right now.

    This is a very interesting article that is good food for thought:
    http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/ci_13195977?source=email

    Bottom line for me: something needs to change and there is no easy answer.

  10. smartalec

    Government controlled healthcare scares the daylights out of me!! These new guidelines for breast cancer screening are ridiculous too! Just another precursor on how healthcare controlled by the government will not work!!

  11. flaky friend

    I’m glad you are okay. I think the situation you described is truly awful. However, the situation here is truly awful. Like you I have a child with a genetic condition. Right now he probably has the best care in the world. However, unless we have legislation banning discrimination based on pre-existing conditions in health insurance he will have very limited options for getting health care once he is an adult. I do not want socialized medicine; I think we can fix the system not completely change it. What I would love to see is the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program open to everyone. Under that system, people have a choice of plans through private insurance companies and cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.

  12. Smartalec: agreed!

    Flaky Friend: I knew you would write a salient, mind-broadening, well-written post. I, obviously, share your concern vis a vis the pre-existing condition situation. Although, I will say in the case of our children, pre-existing to what? Conception? (I had to argue this with an insurance company when Thing 1 was diagnosed in order to get my own echocardiogram. The adjuster, to her eternal credit, actually researched Marfan Syndrome and agreed with me). However, if that particular portion of the whatever bill gets passed I will be very happy; it’s the rest of it I do not like. I completely agree that we can fix the system but not completely change it. Thanks also for the tip on the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. That sounds like the fix right there!

  13. flaky friend

    I think it is the fix and I can’t understand why that’s not the actual legislation. No socialization – just coverage for everyone. Also, I’m not real keen about a large part of our health care system – vaccine distribution. I had to call in favors to get Joe a swine flu shot (still no vaccine for the rest of us) and he could only get the seasonal flu vaccine at our appointment in Seattle (a shortage in Oregon and no vaccine, again, for the rest of us). I have been beyond pissed about it. Hope all is well and thanks for meeting me halfway on the issue. I think we could run the world together. You and your liberal friend. 🙂

  14. FF: can we add no coverage for illegal immigrants, portability, and tort reform? Then I think I’d be okay with the whole situation …. off to brew coffee. No matter the political scene, Christmas is a comin’! Christmas is always bigger than the rest of the world.

    • flaky friend

      I think the current bill would not cover illegal immigrants – not sure about portability but I think so. I don’t know about tort reform either. The local radio station started playing Christmas music this week – it made me very happy. 🙂

  15. Dear Readers: PAL’s comments were found in my spam file. Check them out above! And I cannot believe mammograms are not routinely covered by insurance companies – unconscionable. Sorry, PAL, that your comments were not promptly processed and commented on!

    In a new twist, Mr. Understanding’s knee MRI is taking 10 days to read. Hello? Fortunately, he is still walking …

  16. P.S. I got my Museo de Jamon discount card in the mail last week!

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