Thursday, April 13, 2006

A blockage

These past few days have been quite hectic. Larry has recently felt very tired and sluggish during the day and has been awoken by a burning sensation at night for three or four weeks now, the latter symptom he tried to banish by taking antiacids to no avail. So he decided to visit his primary physician who told him to go for a stress test at a cardio clinic he recommended. The clinic has four branches yet only one had an opening to see him the following day. Being a trifle anal about getting to a new place without incident--namely he and I screaming at each other because we're postively retarded when it comes to our senses of direction and almost murdered one another after dropping my sister and her family off at JFK seven years ago--we duly set out on Monday evening to ascertain the exact location of the clinic. It was a good decision because we could not find it easily notwithstanding the huge water tower landmark.

Next morning I sat in the waiting room as he took to the threadmill and did a battery of tests. Half an hour later, I grew weary of flicking through the magazines--cooking and family orientated for the women and sports for the men--and listening to the very helpful (it must be said) receptionist gossip with a trickle of nurses stopping with her while eating their lunches. Presently a door opened, literally. I heard a woman talk about a blockage, ask someone questions, and then Larry responded. For a moment my own heart reared in its cavity because I knew the words 'heart' and 'blockage' never feature happily within the same sentence. A number of phone calls ensued and then Larry appeared and we had to drive off to the hospital ER where they'd arranged for him to undergo further testing.

Naturally, Murphy's Law kicked in at the hospital because no-one there knew about the clinic's results or even that we were expected. Additional calls resulted in the person who did know coming to the rescue. A wait then commenced: It was the cardio unit's busiest day in months because six people with heart attacks--yes six--were in various stages of admission or on the operating table. Larry remained very calm as the minutes ticked onward. I resolved to remain calm too, but my hypochondrical streak would have none of it. Absolutely none. This was its opportunity to inflict maximum anxiety and it has never been known to forgo such a plum. It would brook no attempt at suppression and sent other parts of my brain into a frenzy of conjecture; I saw clots forming before my eyes in glorious technicolor; I saw Larry clutching at his heart and me shouting at the doctors to do something, anything; I saw rushing guerneys and flailing arms.

The cardiologist appeared at last only to say he was running very late as it had been a busy day and, as Larry wasn't experiencing discomfort, he was going to admit him overnight and perform the procedure first thing in the morning. And that he did. The procedure confirmed there was indeed a blockage and a stent was inserted to get blood flowing properly and Larry spent that night in the hospital, too. He's now out, feeling so much better, but surprised about having a blockage in the first place because there is no history of heart problems in his family.

All in all, the experience has left me confident about the level of care within the American medical system. Yes, the system's unwieldy, expensive, involves a great deal of waste, but care really is top notch. No matter that it galls me a little to have to admit it, the system functions better than the National Health System that exists in the UK. My mother has had an issue in the past in connection with her heart and I learned it takes far too long to get an appointment with a specialist. In Larry's case, he was seen immediately and the entire procedure done in forty-eight hours. If he had not been able to be seen so speedily, the cold fact is he could have had a heart attack and/or stroke. I shudder to think about the number of people in the UK who have not been seen by a specialist on time and have died needlessly as a result. I think the addage about the squeaky wheel should be remembered at times like this.

I also wish to say that the goal of the British National Health Service, namely that all citizens have access to quality medical care, is laudable and moral. American citizens and residents should also have universal coverage and the present system fails miserably in this regard. I hope sincerely that the health care model which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seeks to implement very shortly will work and result in all its residents having access to quality medical care. If that happens, it will surely be just a matter of time before other states follow suit.

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