"In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted." - Bertrand Russell
Story Short: The Medical Money-Making Miracle
I'm a ridiculously healthy human. Over the years I've generally visited
my physician only after having contracted the Creeping Crud, which occurred
like clockwork about every fourth Thursday in November ("Please
pass the sweet potatoes, and the protozoans.") but the wonder of
flu shots eliminated that little inconvenience years ago.
So it was with pop-eyed wonder which I beheld all that is wrong with
the medical industry after my beloved Pookums dislocated her shoulder this
past weekend. I'm sure you all have your own tale of medical woe. This
This has happened to her before as she damaged the shoulder in a fall
many years ago. Usually she could manage to coax it back into place but
this time it was really bad. Her shoulder was clearly out of its socket
could convince it otherwise. So it was off to the local clinic.
After gingerly getting her into the car we drove to the local doc-in-a-box,
but all they could offer were x-rays. "What good is that going to
do her?", I asked with a degree of exasperation approaching homicide.
The clerk behind the counter began furiously chewing her cud and tried
hard to pretend I wasn't there.
We then proceeded to race through the scattered remnants of hurricane
Ike to the nearest hospital and there the real drama began.
Now this is a dislocated shoulder, remember? And when we entered the
emergency room, on a Saturday afternoon, there was but one other person
in the place, seemingly only having dropped by to catch Notre Dame vs.
Perdue on the big-screen TV. If the volume hadn't been set to "newkular" the
place would have been as silent as a tomb.
During the admittance process the receptionist asked what I considered
to be a rather ridiculous question ---
"On a scale of 1-10, how
much does it hurt?"
The answer is always "27" because
one doesn't visit the emergency room to soothe a modest itch,
you're there because you HURT! And they already know that, especially
if your shoulder looks more out of place than Puff Daddy at the RNC.
Besides, a pain of 10 should
mean you're dead or something, right?
actually be an important line of questioning if there had been, say,
a zeppelin crash and the waiting room was stacked with mutilated bodies.
Triage is very important but not on this particular day.
After culling all her personal data the
hustled her back to a private room
(1) Put her on a saline drip
(2) Hook her to a heart monitor
(3) Put her on oxygen
(4) Attach an automatic blood-pressure cuff
(5) Other arcance procedures beyond my naive ken
(6) But no pain medication. At all. (That only came after
a midnight trip to an all-night Walgreens.)
Then everyone vanished for a surprisingly extended period of time, allowing
me and the girlfriend to make uncomfortable small talk, each of us trying
terrible pain she was quite stoically enduring. An X-ray technician
eventually broke the suspense, shuffling in
of the GF's
Watch the irradiated birdie!
When the time came to re-set the shoulder, four hours after the initial
shoulder separation, there were eight people in the room, four of whom
did absolutely nothing except observe the proceedings. I watched with
fascination as the doctor levered her shoulder back into place, basically
the arm up, back and to the right, as his helpers held her in place.
He said he was surprised that in slid back in so easily, without even
(Side note: The GF was rendered briefly unconscious for the extremely
short duration of the actual procedure, about a minute, due to the properties
of a miraculous potion called Propofol. It's a milky fluid, injected
directly into the vein, that the staff continually
to as "Milk of Amnesia". Har-har-har.)
After a successful realignment Little Miss Gamma Ray returned for
a final set of x-rays.
the Doc returned for a little bedside propaganda, giving
an almost-but-not-quite-persuasive "aww-poor-baby" plus
a side-order of "tsk-tsk" at the state of medicine
today, though not offering anything in the way of preventative
The bill was $950. The x-rays may be extra. We're not sure yet. This
is an important number as the GF has been consistently denied insurance
because she is self-employed and has fibromyalgia so this all comes out
of her own pocket.
It's clear to me that this vast parade of procedures weren't as much
about the hospital covering all its legal bases as much as a standard
process of squeezing every last dollar out of each patient.
Don't get me wrong. I am of course grateful to live in an era when medical
technology has reached almost magical levels of effectiveness but that
doesn't mean we have to be treated like sheep with credit cards. It's
bad enough to suffer physically. It's worse to be treated like chumps
Pookums and I are both currently studying anatomy books and sourcing
effective muscle relaxants on the web. She's also considering gritting
her teeth, tightening her belt and engaging in a little arthroscopic
surgery. I'll keep you posted.