Monday, August 9, 2010

Special day, special visit to the doctor

Today is a special day in general for all of us, and in particular for me. It was special for us all in that today is 8/9/10. This type of numeric sequence only happens 12 times each century. After today there will only be four more this century, 9/10/11, 10/11/12, 11/12/13 and 12/13/14. Then we will have to wait until January 2, 2103 for the next cycle to start. Chances are, none of us will see that day so I hope your day was as special as the date.

To mark this special day, I did my 50+ year old duty and had my first colonoscopy. While certainly the drink was no pleasure, I did not find the experience to be as horrible as I was lead to believe. I did manage to get some sleep last night, I did not have an accident on the way to the doctor's office and the procedure itself was a non-event. The IV drip was inserted, the anesthesiologist asked me a few questions, in went the knock out cocktail and the next thing I remember was my name being spoken to wake up. So, if you have reached 50 years of age and are avoiding this procedure, I happily recommend you take the plunge. Oh, and in case you are wondering, no polyps!

Of course, the purpose of this post is not to report on the status of my bowels. (Sorry, perhaps one should not use the word bowels in a blog). The bigger picture is the medical care I received as well as my overall impression of health care, health care workers and the health care insurance industry. (Back to bowels again?)

First, my current job as an employee of the state of Penna has afforded me with what has so far been very good medical benefits. While these benefits don't even remotely make up for the drop in salary that I have taken, they certainly provide relief from the constant flow of statements and bills that I received with my former employer. For this particular procedure, no copay was required. As I would consider a colonoscopy a routine screening for mature adults, I like that concept. To me, money should not be an obstacle for anyone to engage in this procedure. Like a mammogram or pap smear or EKG, I would hazard to guess that these kind of preventive tests save big bucks as opposed to a diagnosis of cancer or heart failure after the damage is done. I would ask all of you who have had any of these procedures (regardless of the outcome) to think what it would mean to you and your family if you were unable to afford it and found yourself on the short end of an unfortunate diagnosis. It still boggles me why anyone thinks universal health care for all American citizens is somehow a threat to our democracy or way of life.

As for the care I received today, it was excellent. No, I didn't have my own personal recovery room and they didn't serve me a mimosa after I awoke, but all the people I encountered from the nursing staff to the doctor proved to be health care providers, emphasis on the provider. The before-nurse made me feel comfortable, the nurse who started the IV was pleasant and competent (no resticks), the anesthesiologist answered my questions, the doctor quickly explained the process and asked if I had questions and the after-nurse was compassionate and personable. It was truly a successful team effort.

Of course, as I lay there with my legs up trying to exhaust my excess air, I thought about these people and I couldn't help but wonder if they understood how much their positive, caring attitudes really made a difference. And if their compensation was in the least bit equitable.

Don't get me wrong, I expect the doctor and anesthesiologist to earn a better living. They have advanced degrees, higher education debt, much higher liability insurance and they walk a tightrope where an honest mistake or accident can cause death in their patient. But what is that worth? Ten times more money? Thirty times? A hundred? And what about the nurses? They are the first to arrive at the facility and the last to leave. They are face to face with anxious, nervous people at their most vulnerable and are charged with not only preparing them for the procedure but to chat and distract them while doing it. In my case, I spoke to the doctor and anesthesiologist for about 5 minutes of the 45 conscious minutes I was with the team. That leaves 40 minutes for the support people. What is that interaction worth?

In the end (oops), I am grateful for the experience, and the time I spent with all of the health care providers I encountered today. When done properly as it was for me, their service is priceless.

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