Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Cold Arms

On the eve of the final day of Spring Break, I break my foot. I knew it was broken when it happened. Felt the tiniest crunch along with the eerie shredding of muscle. Body talks to mind and sometimes we listen. The ER doctor didn't look at my foot. Too impressed with the grandeur of his all black wardrobe, I guess. Maybe even a bit squeamish at the bloodied calf and foot. Who knows?

There were X-rays during the four-hour wait in stall number 17 of the emergency room. They got my $100 co-pay for sure. The doctor returns to tell me, "You're lucky. No broken bones! Just a sprained ankle." Off he waltzes in his all-black splendor, disappearing from the hubbub of the ER, finding a safe haven somewhere where the walls are painted a color other than green.

Toward the end, a nice nurse dressed my wounds, wrapped my leg in gauze and fitted a little plastic nothing around my foot, heel and calf. Then I hobbled out of the ER, hobbled back up the offending front steps, said goodbye and thanks to my friend, who was more concerned with her terminally ill mother than my current catastrophe, and who can blame her?

Ten hours later, an unidentified someone fro
m the ER calls to tell me they have looked at the X-rays and there's a "problem" with the foot. "Define 'problem,'" I say. Lo, there's a bone broken. I knew it. Dammit. What kind of health care is this anyway? Now, ten hours later, after I have hobbled my way throughout this too large house, hobbled up and down the front steps and hobbled into Walgreen's for my prescription and hobbled around to my office, to my bed, to the sofa, to the kitchen for coffee and a bite to eat, hobbled up and down the toilet seat - now this voice tells me: "Stay off that foot!," an imperative coming ten hours later, and fourteen hours after the injury, when my mind clicked into the recognition of "broken foot."

It's now day three of the broken foot. Yesterday I worked six hours trying to get an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. After repeated grade school excuses ("we don't have your x-rays," "the doctor's assistant will have to do that," "the doctor will have to okay this"), they reveal that the doctor doesn't do feet. I'll need an appointment with another doctor, one who does feet. That won't be until Thursday. Four days after the fall.

I call my primary care doctor's office for help. In thirty minutes, I receive three phone calls, four references and instructions on the care of my broken foot. Now THAT is what health care is supposed to be. Yes, I'm just a lowly consumer out here, caught in the morass of institutionalized "health" but I do recognize a broken bone when it happens, and I do recognize negligent service and I certainly recognize a helpful voice when I hear it.

Today I hope to get a pair of crutches. Today I hope to go to the store for groceries and for more of that sticky wrap and non-stick pads, and to the monolithic office supply store for some necessary duplicating. I hope my life can resume without the hobble and the grief and the pain. Meanwhile, I've lost three days of work with a fourth coming tomorrow.

This is why I abhor the traditional, institutionalized, allopathic health care in the good ole US of A. It's not "health" and it's not "care." It is negligence and delay and bureaucracy. And my experience is only just begining. I hope never to experience another broken bone. I hope never to experience an extended illness. I hope to die quickly rather than in the cold arms of American "health care."


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Lyle Daggett said...

Oh, ouch! And yeah, no kidding about the cold arms of "health care."

My own most insane experience with the medical-industrial complex was, fortunately, not painful, though ludicrous. Many years ago I interviewed for a low-level job with a large corporation. The interview altogether took 4 hours (!), and included a cursory (to put it mildly) exam in the company medical office across the hall from the interview room.

I went into the medical office, which was staffed by a doctor and two nurse-practitioners or something of the sort. One of the n-p's was checking me over to make sure I could stand and breathe, etc., and -- based on noticing some tiny pinpoint red speckles on the skin of my arms (something that's always been there, never paid it any attention), she started using a word, "petechia," not familiar to me.

She called the doctor in, and he checked it out, and he said, "Oh, no, that's not petechia, that's false hemangioma." They then called in the other nurse practitioner, she took one look and said, "Oh, yeah, that's not petechia, that's false hemangioma."

Good news, they told me. I passed the "medical" "exam," and wound up working for the company for several years.

Shortly after that day, I checked a medical encyclopedia, which said that petechia is a red or purple spot or spots on the skin, caused by a minute hemorrhage, characteristic of typhoid fever.

So good news, I didn't have typhoid fever. I had, instead, false hemangioma, which the encyclopedia said is a congenital anomaly in which there are tiny red spots on the skin. Real hemangioma is a type of cancer; false hemangioma (what I had) is innocuous and harmless.

Walk into a company medical office feeling fine and I'm nearly diagnosed with typhoid fever. Apparently my experience there wasn't unique. Eventually the labor union at the company put out word to union members, officially recommending that nobody go to the company doctor's office, under any circumstances.

I do hope your foot gets well.

Kate Bernadette said...

Awful story! I belong to a consumer panel run by a big health insurer and recently they linked us to an article which stated that it is best not to go to an emergency room when you break a bone, but rather to get to your PCP first. That seems stupid to me ... but it would appear your experience confirms it. (I give than panel a regular piece of my mind!) Hope it all works out well for you.

Mim said...

On top of having to cope with an injury, one now has to cope with faulty care. It can wear one down! Get well!

Ann said...

Lyle your story has all the flavor of typical institutional insanity. Reminds me of the Doris Lessing quote, paraphrased: "In an insane world, only the crazy are sane."

Ann said...

Kate - this is my second instance of negligent ER care. Both occurred at night. I had one other ER experience during the day, and the care was not half as bad. In that one, they shot me up with Valium, so my perception might be a faulty one ;-)

Ann said...

Miriam thanks for the well wishes!