Published Brownsville Herald 11/11/2007
Up until a week or so ago health care, for me, was pretty much only an issue to be discussed. In just a few days it became one of the most critical issues, as I found myself in Valley Regional Medical Center bloated like “Michelin Man” with hives and other evidences of a severe allergic reaction. Though that was bad enough the treatment was aggravated by a preexisting skin problem and diabetes. To that point in my life, health care was the country doctor in the rural area where I grew up. Then forty years ago there was the corpsman in the Vietnam conflict and the Jacksonville Naval Hospital that put me back on my feet when I returned to the “States”. While in the Philippines six years ago, I was hospitalized for three weeks for an emergency surgery and serious infection at one of that nation’s foremost hospitals, The Makati Medical Center. More recently I was the guest of the Brownsville Surgical Center for three days for a non-life threatening procedure.
I think my experience is not unlike the majority of “the folks” who rarely think of health care in terms other than when the body is broke the doc fixes it. Over the years, now in the sixty’s, the medical care has never been less than adequate and most often excellent. I have never been denied medical care in the U.S. for any reason nor have I ever heard of anyone else being denied. I have had disagreements with providers concerning the accuracy in the invoicing and amounts and have always found that those same providers, if not ignored, were open to some accommodations, when justified. In every case I have found that the current system is concerned with successful health care first! Certainly, now I wish I had paid more attention in health class and lived a better life, but what will any adolescent give priority to when healthy and indestructible?
The military facilities, while somewhat spartan were efficient and had some of the best surgeons in the country. One of my comrades who had most of the major bones in his body broken was in the Jacksonville Naval Hospital at the time I was there, and was pretty much rebuilt by the great military surgeons and is living a successful life today. In Manila, I went into the emergency room and after a few very brief tests was put on a trolley and wheeled into an operating room. The surgeon, Dr, Rosas was something like a “Hawkeye Pierce” and exuded enormous confidence, which lessened my apprehensions at being in an unfamiliar place. The surgery was successful. The remaining three weeks were very uncomfortable during the recovery, from an infection that was precipitated by my reluctance to seek care earlier; however the medical care was excellent by any standard. The nurses were especially competent and contributed to the Filipino reputation as being among the best caregivers in the world. The food was so good that many nearby office workers regularly came to the hospital cafeteria to eat. The cost in 2001 Manila, for the surgery, pharmacy and a private room for nearly three weeks was $3,600 in cash. A private duty nurse (BSN) could be secured for about $200 per month or so. In an earlier column, I described the excellent care that I received at the Brownsville Surgical Center.
As I have gotten older and my body shows evidence of its past mistreatment, I have also found a particularly competent physician in Dr. Baduel, here in Brownsville, to help guide me towards better health. Over a very short period between appointments, I started to notice some unexpected changes which were tolerable at first but became progressively more difficult and resulted in my referral to allergist Dr. Lekach who confirmed the circumstances. The difficulties of a medical treatment for the problem without hospital supervision and the presence of issues that could potentially make the situation more difficult were explained to me. Though it didn’t appear that the situation was immediately life threatening, my reluctance for hospitalization was finally superseded by apparent need and I was admitted the following morning. The administrative requirements were satisfied in a calm professional manner with just the right amount of concern to inspire confidence. It was thorough but relatively brief.
Once settled in the room the army of professionals, in various colored scrubs looked, poked, jabbed and stuck me. Finally, they had enough blood and information and went on to analyze it so that results could be fed to Dr, Baduel and Dr. Adames who were the generals in my life for the next five days. Treatment, a process which began almost immediately when a nurse with a special talent for inserting an “IV” needle arrived and attached it, with only minor discomfort, in such a way that it stayed without further problems for the entire stay. Bags of stuff were hung on the “IV” pole and, after a description from the nurse as to what it was and what it would do, were plugged in. My attention was then focused on the mobile table that came in with the nurse that had a laptop computer on it, as I had never encountered one before, even in my reading. Each patient was recorded with a unique barcode, also printed on the patient identity wrist tag, and information necessary for treatment was recorded. Medication for the rounds was checked into the computer with a barcode reader when secured from inventory and dispensed only after checking the patient barcode. A wrong medication, wrong patient or a wrong time would result in an error. I was impressed with the obviously important asset in security for the hospital and safety for the patient. All the folks were pleasant, friendly and very professional, which extended even to the folks that cleaned the room and took the trash. The charge nurse Jessica was often evident checking on progress but I was especially impressed with Cesar, the nurse that I saw most often, especially when I found out that he was a recent graduate of the UTB/TSC Nursing program. He demonstrated a maturity and skill well beyond his recorded education. That program can be proud of this young man.
During the earlier tests, it was found that a couple of scrapes on my ankle area, which I had not considered of much importance, were not healing and one was infected. Immediately at hand was nurse wound expert Christine Trejo who promptly worked her magic and both were well on there way to healing within just a few days and the infection stopped. I have to rate her almost as high as the corpsman in Nam’ and a lot more pleasant. Now a week later both wounds are nearly invisible. The details I recorded above are not unique in health care in the United States; different hospitals innovate to improve service, lower costs and hopefully improve profits for the privately owned. The things I perceived as special, if they are, will become commonplace through out the country and other improvements will be made by others so as to improve position and stay in business. I often hear criticisms of the medical care from some here in Brownsville but have never experienced or verified anything other than the kind described above. Certainly there are limits to availability of specialized services which are only available in large cities but we can take pride in what we have here. The variety of medical facilities we have, all competing to become better, just improves the quality of care, efficiency and economy to secure the client base and stay solvent. Unfortunately, the experiments with socialized medicine have not!
We are reading daily about the benefits of a socialized health care where the government would become the single payer and controlling bureaucracy for all health care choices. In the past it was referred to as “Hillary Care” and has resurfaced in a variety of new names and even has some advocates from the “right”. In the last few days I have had occasion to chat with former health care workers from Canada and England. They confirm the reports of delayed access to many services because of long lines and in some cases like nursing homes the wait of as long as two years effectively makes it unavailable. It appears that the tax system is having difficulty supporting the English system which is substantially reducing staff. In Canada many are getting U.S. Health insurance so as to have reliable health care available when needed and in Europe many are taking medical vacations to places like India and the Philippines for what they need. Is it any wonder that we hear reports that the cost of Medicare is creating more and more financial problems for the budget? We do not need to be further enslaved with government run health care that will decide who can get well and when!