Getting Sick in Europe

One wonderful thing about getting older is I get to write about history that I actually saw and experienced.  As I look at our country, the United States, rushing in certain directions, I am both amazed and amused to find such ignorance of lessons already learned.

In the rush to “universal healthcare”, including the new federal electronic surveillance of medical records, we are truly seeing “change” of a magnitude Americans have never before experienced.  I know where we are going, both as a national economy and as a nationalized health system.  Within a few years we will be where Britain was in the 1980s.  I actually lived in Britain in the 1980s, and while I could quote lots of statistics, they are available other places online.  Because I lived it, I can tell you stories of what the reality looked like.

My first experience was touring the local hospital on a public information day.  We toured the Obstetrics unit, and as the ward sister (nurse) enthusiastically spoke of mothers being able to labor on the floor if they wished, I looked at the floor.  It looked as if it had not been mopped in weeks.  It was literally muddy.  Next came the emergency room.  It wasn’t full, with an overflowing waiting room, which I found interesting.  Later on I would learn why it was so relatively quiet.

I made friends with an elderly neighbor.  She had cataracts, and could barely get around.  I decided to help her with her grocery shopping.  Turns out she was on a two year waiting list for cataract surgery.  Once her cataracts became “ripe”,she went on the list.  Trouble is, she was quite blind before her name came up.  After her first cataract surgery was complete, she waited another two years to have the second eye done.  She eventually found a lump in her breast.  She was put on a list to see a surgeon and waited several months for an appointment.  She eventually had a radical mastectomy, but died of her cancer shortly afterward.  I will never know whether seeing the surgeon earlier would have made a difference, but the attitude of her caregivers was she was elderly and had a good life, so what.

I lived across from a children’s playground.  One day a child fell out of the equipment and obviously had a broken arm.  She was in shock and vomiting from the pain.  I convinced her mother to take her to the local emergency room, where they waited all night without being seen.  In the morning they were scolded for coming, and told to go to their g.p. (general practitioner).   Having lived in America, I thought it was unconscionable to let a child suffer in pain that long unattended, but this was how it was done.

A friend was in a motor vehicle accident and it was thought he had a fractured cervical vertebra.  They kept him on a gurney, and put on a cervical collar, but he was unattended for 24 hours–just lying in the hall, not being treated.  After 24 hours with no fluids, no food, and in pain, he convulsed and eventually died.

Another friend, in his 50s, had a heart attack and died in that same emergency room.  He had never had blood pressure medication or statins, although that kind of medication was already standard in t he U.S.  I actually heard a physician say it was a waste to give such medication just to prolong life a couple of years and have a person become senile instead of just dying.

So, look out when the government becomes your doctor.  You had better have good genes, good luck and good knowledge of whatever alternative care you can find for yourself. 

Britain now has a two-tiered health system.  The national health service couldn’t take care of everybody, so working people finally had the option of a system similar to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and many are now using it.  Remember that the “Hilary Healthcare Plan” wasn’t going to give us that option.  A “single payer system” doesn’t have any other options.


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