My husband recently had knee surgery. (My role as caregiver is part of the reason I haven’t been posting much recently.) He’s mending nicely now, and it looks like that knee might be good for another half million miles or so.
The whole episode might have ended tragically, however. A few days after surgery, the patient woke me up at 2 a.m. It seemed like he was urgently trying to tell me something, but he couldn’t speak. He just kept starting sentences that led nowhere, like “I, . . . uh . . . feeling . . . .” Then he’d start again, without ever telling me what was wrong. Figuring that driving him to a hospital would be faster than calling an ambulance, I got him into the car and off we went. He wasn’t thrilled about going, but I was in no mood to negotiate.
Nurses at the hospital couldn’t get a blood pressure reading at first, but when they did, my husband’s blood pressure was a very dangerous 240/180. Drugs brought it down quickly, and he seems to have suffered no ill effects from the incident. His doctors have two schools of thought on what caused the episode, including the possibility of a small blood clot caused by the surgery that went to the brain. Happily, in any case, he did not suffer a stroke.
We have excellent insurance—partly because I have made quality health care a priority throughout my working life. At various times, I considered the possibilities of opening a small business or doing free-lance writing and consulting work. However, the need to feel secure about health care kept me working for large employers who could offer quality insurance plans. Those decisions might have been responsible for saving my husband’s life the night his blood pressure went through the roof.
People without insurance hesitate to go to a hospital. They know that even a short visit or a minor problem can break their budget for the month, or for the year. A longer stay or a serious illness can mean bankruptcy. So they wait to be sure something is wrong. By the time they are convinced they have no choice but to get to a doctor or hospital, they may be very ill—or dying.
Had we waited to see if my husband’s head cleared the other night, he might have been among the 45,000 known deaths that result every year from our antiquated, inadequate, and often cruel health care system.
The good news is that one year ago today, things started getting better. By the time the Affordable Health Care Act is fully implemented in 2014, no one in America will have to risk death or disability out of fear of getting help when they need it.