Appointment with the Future

We went to the local Veteran’s Administration Hospital today. As I waited with my husband for his visit with the doctor, I considered that this may well be the new face of health care in the United States.

On the surface, the VA is a wonderful institution, doing its very best to care for our veterans on a sliding scale, income related basis. Many vets who would not otherwise get medical care at all, do receive care, solely because they are veterans.

The staff are universally polite and at least superficially grateful for the sacrifices made by these veterans. Occasionally, one may even draw a truly great doctor or nurse who really know their medicine.

Most likely not.

Sometimes you get a doctor who thinks that prostatitis is caused by a bulging disk. (No, I am not kidding.) Sometimes you get one who thinks a yearlong dose of cephalaxin is the cure for everything. (It is not.) I know… it’s like that everywhere in the world these days. In every field, you get professionals who are professionals and professionals who think they are professionals. However, in medicine, mistakes can be lethal at worst, costly at best.

So, we’re at the VA and we see the physician’s assistant, because someone over-booked the actual doctor. The doctor himself was in surgery, but since someone had booked an entire day’s worth of patients for him (roughly 32 patients), they had a choice to cancel all the patients or let the PA deal with the ones he could help – or not.

We were in the latter category. Apparently, the condition from which my dearest suffers will require some outpatient surgery. Unfortunately, the doctor/surgeon (the over-booked one) is not scheduling any more surgery, since he is leaving in a few days and has handed all of his patients over to 2 other doctors, one of whom – who will be seeing my husband – is Dr Kim. I feel very comfortable in using his name, since it seems every third doctor or nurse at the VA is named Dr. Kim, and from our experience over the years with the VA, I feel certain no one could ever track him down.

This transfer of patients would not be disturbing at all, except that while we were in the waiting room, I overheard a conversation between two doctors, and one of them was Dr. Kim.  The first doctor was also handing over all his patients to Dr. Kim (are they all leaving the VA like rats from a sinking ship?) and was explaining to Dr. Kim that he would recommend this particular schedule of treatment and antibiotics for this particular patient’s condition. The disturbing part was that Dr. Kim did not know the antibiotic mentioned nor did he know its use. The really, truly disturbing part was that I did, and honey, I’m no doctor or nurse. It was a pretty commonly used antibiotic and a common treatment plan.

We had to re-schedule to see Dr. Kim later this week as he was also over-booked. It was shocking to us all – doctors, nurses & staff – that we were able to get an appointment for Friday (this is Wednesday afternoon) – there was apparently a cancellation. We’ve been waiting for about a year to get this far.

And how, you may ask, does this story relate to the future of healthcare in America? Humm – let’s see…high rate of physician/nurse turnover, high rate of foreign residents posing as experienced doctors, questionable practices and service…gee, it’s not too much different from what we already have, with one major exception.

You won’t be able to get an appointment. Everyone else got there ahead of you and the waiting list is weeks, maybe months long. Even if you could get an appointment, you will get it on a “need to have” basis, much like triage at the local emergency room. Are you sick enough, hurting enough, pitiful enough to need an appointment right away or can they stall it a few weeks or months while other, more needy patients are treated? Perhaps you are too old, too young, too mentally unsound, too physically damaged to need it anyway.

When and if you do get an appointment, perhaps the surgeon has just quit, having had his fill of being in the cheap labor mill. Perhaps you don’t get to have a surgeon, because your surgery is, after all, optional as your conditional is not life threatening, merely debilitating and horribly painful.

It is worth noting that low-income families have had this kind of healthcare at large institutions for many, many years. VA hospitals, inner-city hospitals, “public” hospitals – all filled with sick, hurting people with no health insurance. These are the same people who, if the feds have their way, will be paying a penalty for the privilege of not being able to afford health insurance, as if THAT made any sense at all.. People die everyday because they cannot afford healthcare or prescription medicines. And they will continue to do so, because in the new regime, they may not be worth treating or, perhaps that $750 they used to put toward their expensive prescription drugs will now be used to pay a fine to the government in punishment for having the audacity not to have health insurance.

Now is the time to get ready. You have absolutely nothing to loose and everything to gain. Maybe even the life of yourself or someone you love. Prevention is still the best medicine.

Learn now how to care for yourself as well as you can. Eat well and try not to eat too much. Get some exercise. Pray. Find ways to bring peace and harmony into your life. Learn how to use simple herbs and home remedies to care for yourself and your loved ones for everyday needs. Stock up on books about herbology and alternative medicines. Learn to craft medicinal herbs or start a medicinal herb garden. Whatever it is you choose to do to enhance your health, do it now.

We can tolerate and understand the need for triage in an emergency room. Living our daily lives on a triage basis is just not acceptable.

Welcome to the future of healthcare.

Kristen Hall

September 10, 2009