Asking For A Friend

So, what do you think? Is health care—access to it, diagnostics, treatment, testing, necessary pharmaceuticals, emergency care—a right in this country or a privilege?

Asking for a friend.

I’ve had my share of health issues in my 74 years, including heart surgeries (stents), a knee replacement and prostate surgery. I have a brother who was helicoptered to a hospital in St. Cloud from his Alexandria lake home last year and they saved his life. Most of my immediate family, brothers and sisters, have needed emergency care at some point.

So I’ve reached my own conclusions on this suddenly hot topic through personal experience. I had another opportunity two days ago to think about this as I was being ambulanced to St. Francis hospital in Shakopee from the clubhouse at the Ridges at Sand Creek, one of my favorite little golf course gems here in the Twin Cities. My emergency responders were all young, earnest, extremely competent professionals, all with fairly advanced senses of humor which allowed them to give back as quick as they were given, since my first reaction in one of these medical emergencies is to crack as many jokes as possible as quickly as possible to let everyone know that I’m all right.

ME: [FROM A PRONE POSITION ON THE FLOOR OF THE CLUBHOUSE] Can you hand me my glasses before you attach those leads to my chest? I want to be able to identify you guys in case there’s a lawsuit.

EMT: Sure, and we’ll give you our names too—I’m Jenny. And that’s Bob. Now I’m going to shave a few of your chest hairs. No shaving cream though, is that OK?

I had just finished playing a round with my usual foursome, dragging myself up the 18th fairway feeling tired, slightly nauseous, and needing to lie down somewhere soon. I’d been joking that my low energy had slowed down my swing and allowed me to play a little better and that maybe I should only play when I felt sick from now on.

We parked the carts, climbed the steps into the clubhouse, and as I sat at the table I began to wonder if any of my symptoms might be cardio-related. Having had a couple of these heart incidents over the years, my first thoughts are always “Am I having a heart attack?” and “How close is the nearest EMT team?” Kelly, my playing partner for many years, said I was looking pale—did I need a ride? I was about to ask him to bring my car around so I could recline the seat and rest in the AC for a few minutes, but I didn’t get that request out—I opened my eyes and looked up at Kelly from the floor as he said “You’re OK, keep breathing. Help is on the way.” Apparently I passed out and slid off my chair right in the middle of the club’s lunch run. Embarrassing. And seeing Kelly’s face as he cushioned my head wouldn’t have been my first choice if I’d been dying.

The EMTs arrived quickly, put an oxygen mask on me, and went to work. The ambulance arrived shortly after that, they slapped some EKG leads on me after I told them my history, and they quickly determined that it didn’t look like a cardio related incident. I woke up that morning with a slightly distressed stomach and lower tract, but I dismissed it as a probable effect of the tacos the night before. The oxygen was helping, I was feeling a little better, still weak, so they gave me a choice: stay there, rest a bit, and go home on my own, or zip off with them in the ambulance to the hospital for a complete check.

My original partner and longtime friend Joe, the original SNOT in our exhaustively long-running comedy show, had a similar choice to make almost nine years ago. Ironically, he had been at a golf course, had experienced chest pains strong enough to make him sit down between holes, and had decided (despite his girl friend’s pleas to go get checked out) that whatever it was he could handle it. He wanted to finish the game, eat with his friends, and go home. All of which he did. He was supposed to meet his regular running group early the next morning for their Monday run, and when he didn’t show up, they went to his house and found him dead on the floor of his living room.

All that ran quickly through my head and I said “Let’s take a ride to the hospital, it’ll be fun. Can we play Scrabble on the way?”

This is a long trip down the page to get to my original question. But here it is. IF I wasn’t on Medicare, IF I wasn’t able to afford a good supplemental health care plan, IF I had to decide whether or not I could afford the (1) bill for the ambulance, (2) the bill for the emergency treatment, (3) the bill for the hospital emergency room treatment, (4) the bill for the tests that determined that it was safe for me to be checked out without having to worry that I’d die before I got home, (5) the miscellaneous additional bills that always result from the most expensive medical treatment we have in this country—emergency room care—IF I had to decide if I could afford all that, I would probably have turned down the ambulance ride and taken my chances.

And that, my friends, is why the CDC can predict with depressing accuracy how many people will die if the Republicans somehow succeed in removing access to health insurance for millions of people.

And that, my friends, is why I maintain, along with most everyone I know who has an ounce of empathy and common sense and the ability to relate to people who don’t have the resources they do, that access to health care—the same level of health care as I got on Tuesday—and the same level of health care that our elected representatives get every day—-should be a RIGHT, not a privilege that the accident of your birth either allows you or denies you.

Every other developed country IN THE WORLD has made that very obvious, very caring decision: that we’re all in this together, that health care is something that everyone needs eventually—like air and water—and that no one should be allowed (or condemned) to die because they couldn’t afford to see a doctor.

Market-based health care in this country is a curse we can lift if we want to. No company should be allowed to exist that grows and profits off denying people health care, and that is exactly how health insurance companies and their obscenely well-compensated executives make their money. We are still a third-world country in this regard, and it’s something that makes me cringe whenever I’m at a sporting event and have to listen to the patriotic songs and cries of “USA, USA!” and “We’re #1!”—-well, we aren’t number one. In SO MANY WAYS. You can look it up. Infant mortality rates, maternal survival during birth, cancer rates, elder care, you name it, we’re WAY down the list.

All because we haven’t had the political will—or heart—to fix this broken system.

Bernie Sanders was and is right. Medicare for all should be our ultimate goal. But it won’t happen till we take the money and bribery out of our political system, get rid of the criminals who take the bribes and vote against the best interests of our citizens, and start saving money by creating the same system that Germans and Canadians and the French and British have been successfully employing for many years.

I got checked out and my bill will be practically nothing. I can’t say the same thing will happen to friends of mine who don’t have my level of protection, and they deserve it just as much as I do. My diagnosis was a simple gastro-intestinal bug that somehow shut me down. But I’m OK and almost back to normal.

Let’s start asking every pol who asks for our vote how he or she will vote on this important, life-saving question, and if it’s the wrong answer, or if it’s a hedged answer, make it clear that not only do they not have our vote, we will actively work against them ever representing us.

It’s the right thing to do.



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