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By Robert Rapier on Apr 6, 2007 with no responses

Now For Something Totally Different

I just unexpectedly spent the last 2 nights in the hospital here in Aberdeen. I went to bed Wednesday night, but then woke up about 2 hours later in excruciating pain. It was so bad that I passed out twice from the pain – and I have a very high pain tolerance. I have never experienced anything like this, and I really thought the pain might kill me from shock.

Since I am living alone at the moment (my family comes over this summer), it was apparent to me that I could not continue to gamble that the pain would stop any time soon. (In hindsight, I was correct about that). But of course in the U.S., we always have to balance the costs with the need, so I spent a lot of time unnecessarily debating whether I really needed an ambulance. I finally called the ambulance, and when they got here my blood pressure was crashing and my heart was racing. They gave me a morphine injection, and said it was classic acute renal colic, brought on by a kidney stone (too much coffee drinking, and not enough water). For an idea about the level of pain I am talking about, see this article:

Acute renal colic is probably the most excruciatingly painful event a person can endure. Striking without warning, the pain is often described as being worse than childbirth, broken bones, gunshot wounds, burns, or surgery. Renal colic affects approximately 1.2 million people each year and accounts for approximately 1% of all hospital admissions. Most active emergency departments (EDs) treat an average of at least one patient with acute renal colic every day depending on the hospital’s patient population.

The typical attack starts early in the morning or at night, waking the patient from sleep. The pain level may increase to maximum intensity in as little as 30 minutes after initial onset or more slowly, taking up to 6 hours or longer to peak. Once the pain reaches maximum intensity, it tends to remain constant until it is either treated or allowed to diminish spontaneously. The period of sustained maximal pain is called the constant phase of the renal colic attack. This phase usually lasts 1-4 hours but can persist longer than 12 hours in some cases. Most patients arrive in the ED during this phase of the attack.

Anyway, as a result I spent 2 nights in the hospital on painkillers. Finally, after about 18 hours of pain, it started moving down and easing off a bit. I am now home and feeling fine, although I had 150 e-mails to work my way through when I got home. If I was slow to answer your e-mail, now you know why.

One thing I would like to mention though is that this was my first experience with a universal health care system. There were no charges for anything. I did not have to worry about whether I could afford to spend another night in the hospital, or whether I really, really needed one more dose of pain medication. I have to tell you, when you are having a health issue, it is very nice to not have to worry about money. I shared a room with 4 other men, all Scottish. (One of the inconveniences of the system is lack of private rooms). They all were extremely complimentary of the system. They were all very relieved that they could just get their health issues addressed without worrying about the money.

I know that such a system costs taxpayer money, but it’s not like we aren’t paying for health insurance right now. My health insurance, split between my employer and myself, is around $5,000 a year. I would be completely in favor of a system that instead turned that money into a tax and made health care just as accessible in the U.S. as it is in Scotland. One of the saddest things for me to see is various fundraisers to come up with the money for Johnny to have his kidney transplant. Those fundraisers should not be required. If Johnny needs a kidney transplant, then I believe we should demand a government that takes care of that so that Johnny’s family does not have to choose between Johnny’s health and bankruptcy. I think all it would take for such a system to be demanded in the U.S. is for most citizens to experience what I just experienced.

If you want an even stronger endorsement, though, see this story by one of my TOD colleagues Jerome a Paris:

Gold in the head and lead in the stomach

Jerome tells the story of his son’s battle with a brain tumor, and closes with:

100% of the cost of the care for my son comes from our national healthcare system. We’ve never had to wait for any treatment, we’ve never had to disburse a cent, my wife got an allowance to compensate for the fact that she had to essentially abandon her job to take care of my son. The quality of care has been as good can be found anywhere, and it’s paid for by social contributions and national solidarity (even if some of the care is provided in the private sector). Dealing with our kid’s illness was and is stressful enough, and I can’t imagine having to juggle in addition with major money headaches – including to the point that it can threaten care provided, and reading stories about such woes here on dKos break my heart each time.

Finally, this is not going to become The Health Care Blog. I just wanted to share my experience (and based on my e-mails, some were wondering where I went). I will now return to your regularly scheduled programming. In a few days I will have an article up on the potential of pentanol as a gasoline replacement.