Tuesday, May 29, 2007

At Least You've Got Your Health

For no good reason apparently I just haven't gotten myself together to post for a while. Though my individual efforts have no influence on important matters, the collective efforts of regular bloggers have changed our world. So it's back on the horse again, as it were.

As Shakespeare wrote in Henry the Fifth:

"And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

So it is with blogging methinks....ahem...

No battle was won that e'er was fought by those that sat in silent thought
Their counsel kept as secret treasure for fear of being held to measure,
The gold of silence oft is a weight when last unpursed is spent too late
To change the trade thus far agreed nor satisfy each trader's need.
For to the bold go victor's spoils, and so to them go victim's oils

Sorry, I got carried away there...anywhoo....

Michael Moore’s latest ‘opinion-reportorial’ on US health care, Sicko, may actually have the same kind of impact that “An Inconvenient Truth” has.

Here’s a personal comparison of the UK’s National Health System and the US “system”.

I was born at home (whilst the house was still being built, actually)—no hospital visit necessary, just the attendance of a midwife.

Even though my father was a manager at BOAC his pay was miserable and we led a frugal life (especially compared to today--we didn’t get a car until I was eight and then it was the cheapest—a Mini-Van). Mum got a job then. We got our first TV when I was ten (1970). My clothes were all hand-me-downs until I was 11. I got my first (and only) new bike at 13.

But of all the things my parents struggled to afford, health-care was never a problem thanks to the National Health Service.

We had regular checkups at school (not just for lice or “nits” but general health too), and doctors would make house-calls on request. From one of these my eldest brother was found to have a problem which further examination showed to be a hole in his heart.
He spent two weeks at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital where he was operated-on in one of the first heart surgeries of its kind (this was in 1964). It didn’t cost my parents a penny.

When I was 13 I jumped-off a moving train (out of perceived necessity, not for a dare) fractured my skull and spent two of my seven days in hospital unconscious, all at no cost beyond the normal automatic NHS contributions.

In my second year in the US my throat began to feel tender and it was painful to swallow. It got so bad I could only eat soup and yoghourt, and I was running a temperature.
I was earning $4 an hour (no health insurance of course) and knowing the cost of health care I kept working and hoped my condition would just go away (I’d never had anything worse than a cold before).
Luckily for me a regular customer at my store was a male nurse who worked at Bellevue Hospital. He noticed my throat was swollen, gave me an impromptu exam right there and then literally dragged me up the block to the E.R., telling me not to worry about the expense.
It turned out I had a temperature of 104 and a virulent form of strep-throat. Fascinated interns made notes whilst the ENT specialist stuck me with an antibiotic and told me my throat was so swollen that I would otherwise have been dying from asphyxiation within an hour. The diagnosis and cure had taken about an hour altogether and totaled a week’s wages for me.

Years later working as a cabinetmaker my hand slipped into a table-saw blade. I broke two fingers and the tip of one of them was not-very neatly split laterally for about ½ an inch under the nail. The doctor took off the nail, washed out the wound, closed it up with five stitches, put my nail back on and as a precaution against infection recommended I stay for two days on an antibiotic drip. I was put on a gurney for no obvious reason and whilst an available bed was being looked-for I was wheeled into a supply closet where I was re-discovered six hours later.
I compare that to when as a 14 year-old I accidentally sliced the top of my thumb off; I got sixteen stitches from an ex-seamstress Indian nurse and, job done, was sent home immediately. My thumb looks normal, my left index finger looks odd and the bill for my saw accident was $2000. Worker’s compensation covered the cost of my saw incident, but of course the contribution went up by 40%.

The last six weeks of my mother’s life were spent in hospital; a week in the ICU and then under constant care, attached to various necessary life-sustaining tubes (but no major machinery). Again, the NHS took care of everything, we had no forms to fill-out or bills to pay.

The UK’s NHS was established as a flexible investment in the public and the future. Basic nationwide health-care serves both moral and practical needs. A healthy society is a stable and productive society. It is high time that the US realized that the notion of the individual as the salient characteristic of this nation’s identity is a myth, and a destructive one at that—and I think that’s the psychology behind many of the US’s problems.

The US as a nation needs to understand that it has a responsibility to care for its own. It needs to grow up. It has to apply it’s founding humanistic values on a nationwide scale by taking care of the poor and downtrodden, of being neighbourly and pitching-in and working hard in the present to make a better future. A real national health system would be about as democratic and American as it gets.


teaghan's mom said...


Carl said...

First lesson for you, son: keep your hands away from sharp objects.

The US ought to have the same rights afforded to us in terms of doctors as we do in terms of lawyers: if you really need one, one will be provided to you, gratis.

Now, when you just sort of need one, there ought to be an affordable plan in place that everyone can get onto, no matter what.

If you can afford private health insurance, maybe you can opt out of this plan.

This national plan would encourage health maintenance (the way HMO's were supposed to work), but provide relief if you do get ill or injured.

This would cost far less than the war in Iraq has cost us.

5th Estate said...

Carl... well put.

What is it here in the US, 47 million without reliable, regular affordable health insurance?
The UK which has 1/10th the US GDP/Economy, far less national debt, a stable and strong ecomomic growth rate and come economic rain or shine has still provided it's citizens (now 60 million) with accessible and affordable essential health-care. I can't remember the precise figures but I think the US infant mortality-rate isn't even in the top ten of industrialized nations ( environment of course has something to do with that as well). I just don't see how the US can afford NOT to invest in its own populations health and the nation's future--indeed such an investment would provide national dividends within a decade.

BTW Teaghan's mom I happen to know has just been informed of a serious health issue. She's "lucky" she has 80/20 health insurance but that's stil 20$ out of her unremarkable pay packet. She could be cured Thanks to the best heralth professionals in the world), but left homeless as a result (due to the expense of the best health-care industry in the world) quite easily--and so could tens of millions of others.

5th Estate said...

Oh and re Carl's comments about sharp objects and worker safety:

"Woodworking" in general has consistenly ranked 10th I believe in insurer's lists of dangerous occupations. Some trades are exponentially more dangerous but each has their own hazards.
I'm not aware of any deaths in custom cabinetmaking (unlike construction) but it's dangerous nonetheless and nothing like the crap you see on "The Yankee Workshop" and "This Old House".
Apart from the above mentioned saw incident (trying to manufacture from scratch a mechanism that had never been invented before thanks to an idiot designer and the exigencies of the job contract) I've foregone plenty of visits to the hospital for fear of the expense in time and money and lost production. Not every cut or wound deserves stitches and antibiotics--a quick wash and a duct-taped bandage often does the trick. But external ailments are easy to assess. Health however is another matter.

Ann said...

This is a very nice post, and I want to see how others react to this.

5th Estate said...

Thanks, Ann.

The main complaint against the UK's NHS is the bureacracy, but that exists in the US health sector too.

Lynne said...

I'd like to have the same health care plan that members of Congress have.

teaghan's mom said...

Lynne said...
I'd like to have the same health care plan that members of Congress have.,


Parklife said...

Asking the US to grow up? Jessh.. we just like to blame everybody else for our problems.

Carl said...


My dad was a carpenter/cabinet maker.

I'm the one who nearly lost fingers "helping"...

Lynne said...

Even with health "insurance" some of us struggle. After my late husband lost his battle with cancer the hospital bills I was facing totalled over $31,000. That's more than my annual salary. I had to declare bankruptcy.

sumo said...

In case you haven't figured it out...the problem with our nation getting the appropriate health care if the AMA and the pharma company's. The doctor don't want this to happen because they will lose their fat bloated salaries...and the same for the pill pushers. And then you have the HMO's and various insurance company's that would cry foul...they want their money too. The lobbyists for these people lobby long and hard and it's all crooked...and they don't give a damn about everyone else but themselves and keeping the money cow going. Our government just turns a blind eye...while accepting cash in the back pocket. I've always said we should have what England has. Greed is the most powerful thing now.

sumo said...

There's typo's...you'll figure them out...argh!

teaghan's mom said...

i just noticed you mentioned something - albeit not specifically - about my situation and i really wish you hadn't. i would rather not be used as an example - especially without my permission.