Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What Ails America: More on the American “system” of “healthcare”

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Timothy Snyder writes in the NY Review of Books:

I was in Germany when I got sick. Late at night in Munich on December 3, 2019, I was admitted to a hospital with abdominal pain and then released the next morning. In Connecticut, on December 15, I was admitted to the hospital for an appendectomy and released after less than twenty-four hours. In Florida on vacation, on December 23, I was admitted to the hospital for tingling and numbness in my hands and feet but released the following day. Then I began to feel worse, with a headache and growing fatigue.

On December 27, we decided to return to New Haven. I had not been satisfied with treatment in Florida, and I wanted to be home. But it was my wife, Marci, who had to make the decisions and do the work. On the morning of the twenty-eighth, she packed everything up and got our two kids ready to go. I was a burden. I had to lie down to rest after brushing my teeth and after putting on each article of clothing. Marci arranged for wheelchairs at the airports and got us where we needed to be.

At the Fort Myers airport I sat in a wheelchair with the children on a curb while she returned the rental car. As she remembers the journey, “You were fading from life on the flight.” At the Hartford airport she wheeled me from the plane straight to a friend’s car and then stayed with the kids to wait for the luggage. Our friend had not known what was happening; she looked at me in the wheelchair, said “What have they done?” in Polish, shook her head, and got me into the front seat. I lay down flat as she sped to New Haven, because my head hurt less that way.

I struggled to get admitted to the emergency room in New Haven. I had to use a wheelchair to get from the parking lot to the lobby of the emergency department. Another friend, a doctor, was waiting for me there. When I was admitted to the emergency room at midnight, I used the word malaise to describe my condition to the doctor. My head ached, my hands and feet tingled, I was coughing, and I could barely move. Every so often I was seized by tremors.

Although I did not understand this then, I had a severe infection in my liver, which was leaking into my bloodstream. I had an abscess the size of a baseball in my liver, and the infection had spilled into my blood. I was in a condition known as sepsis; death was close.

The nurses guarding the entrance to the emergency room did not seem to take me seriously, perhaps because I did not complain, perhaps because the friend who advocated for me, though a physician, was a black woman. She had called ahead to say that I needed immediate treatment. That had no effect.

After the better part of an hour sprawled between a wheelchair and a table in the lobby, I finally got into the emergency department. Nothing much happened then, so I reflected on what I had seen as I stumbled from the lobby to an emergency room bed. I have been in emergency rooms in six countries, and have a feel for them. Like most American emergency departments, this one was overflowing, with beds lining the hallways. In Florida six days before, the overcrowding had been even more severe. I felt lucky in New Haven that night to get a small area to myself: not a room, but a sort of alcove separated by a yellow curtain from the dozens of other beds outside.

After a while, the curtain started to bother me. Getting attention in emergency rooms is a matter of figuring out who staff are and catching someone’s eye. I couldn’t see people passing when the curtain was closed, and so it was hard to decipher the uniform colors and the name badges and ask for help. The first doctor who opened the curtain decided that I was tired, or perhaps had the flu, and gave me fluids. My disconcerted doctor friend tried to suggest that my condition was something more serious.

“This is someone who was running races,” she said. “And now he cannot stand up.”

My friend told the resident that this was my second emergency room visit within a few days, so extra attention was warranted. The resident left unconvinced, and with the curtain partway open behind her, I caught a glimpse then of the two nurses who had admitted me and heard what they said as they passed: “Who was she?” “She said she was a doctor.” They were talking about my friend. They laughed. I couldn’t write this down then but did later in the diary I kept while I was in the hospital: racism hurt my life chances that night; it hurts others’ every moment of their lives.

I was tested, slowly, for  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 September 2020 at 2:49 pm

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