When you think that it can’t get worse.

istock_keyboard_money_stethoscopeWithin a few hours of my last post I found myself in an emergency room and admitted to the hospital. All I had gone there for was a blood test and chest x-ray. But the process of a young technician poking a needle around in my arm for 2 minutes apologizing for not finding blood did something bad. An unexpected episode of “vasovagal syncope.” In English, fainting when the heart rate and blood pressure drop through the floor due to some physical or emotional assault on the body. Hospitals treat such things as potential heart attacks. Thankfully I awoke as they were just beginning to start doing compressions, but not before I got one very painful and bruising compression of my ribcage.

A few hours later and I was upstairs in a room, attached to all sort of wires and having all sorts of tests carried out. Excited doctors were talking about he possibilities of putting in a pacemaker. Blessing or curse? If you are going to lose consciousness what better place to do it than in a heart hospital one might think? Then again, do such folk take anything less than seriously? Being in a heart hospital gets a heart condition label stamped on your forehead. Within 24 hours they were given me baby aspirins, prescribing lipitor for my borderline-high cholesterol, and feeding me egg-beaters, fake sausage, decaf coffee, and jam with no sugar from their “heart healthy diet”. Does anyone really think that a heart hospital had any other diet than something not palatable? Or that every patient who ends up in the emergency section isn’t seen to walk and talk like a duck, and therefore it must be a duck?

I finally escaped with an appointment with a cardiologist to undergo stress testing, in case there just might be something subtly wrong with my heart. Scary. Not that there might be something wrong with my heart. I’m turning 60 this year. No spring chicken, though the high-tech ultrasound of my heart showed it looking great. Just likes to shut off for a second when people dig around in the antecubital fossa of my arm (the frontside of the elbow joint). What’s scary is how easy it is for a  little spark to become the great Chicago fire.

How much of health care is really needed or is done because it is better legal protection to avoid the even thin possibility that a patient with a suspected problem might be released and suffer later? Who wants law suits when the alternative is also profitable? That admission to the private hospital and all that testing didn’t even need my insurance carrier’s authorization. They were due to an emergency. What a win-win scenario.  And most of the patients are very grateful for the intervention.

When most people feinted in a non-medical setting prior to the days of 911 services they got their legs raised above the level of their heads, a cold wet towel to caress their faces, and smelling salts. A few moments later they were resting for a few moments before returning to normal life. I remember waking up that way as a child.  Cheap, too.  How much will my recent affair bill for? Any guesses? I’m guessing well over $30,000. What did I get for that?

Before someone accuses me of being ungrateful for having my life saved, I want to make it clear that my life was not saved. Yes, they were there, ready to go in case I didn’t wake up. But laying me out flat with my head lower than my feet, feeding my nose some cold oxygen, and monitoring me does not make the saving of a life. I am grateful for the response of the nurses and emergency room technicians. They worked like a real team and flawlessly. Had I truly had a real heart issue, perhaps they would have saved me from passing, or limited the level of damage.

Medical care is not always good. Hard to say this to people of a nation of which the majority live on prescription medications. The same people spent more on healthcare costs in the last quarter of 2014 than any other category of spending, no thanks to being owned, lock, stock and barrel, by the government and the crony insurance industry. But not only is this impoverishing Americans, but receiving unneeded care is not necessarily harmless.

Not only do we deal with a big pharmaceutical industry and insurance industry with Congress and state governments in their back pockets, we deal with doctors who believe them. Specialists who profit off of doing procedures that are not needed are not only financial crooks but criminal threats to our health as well. Whether a dentist who likes to do crowns and root canals that don’t need to be done is doing it out of greed or not, the patient with those unnecessary procedures is at greater risk for heart disease. They won’t tell you that of course, and most of us don’t care as long as there is little out-of-pocket cost to us.

I speak not out of some personal opinion but personal experience on both sides of the coin. I’m a patient with a head full of damaged teeth due to my foolish ignorance of how many dentists are financial crooks. And I’m a health care provider with 35 years of seeing people harmed by providers that are feeding their egos and/or their pocket books. No, most don’t set out with a plan to bilk patients. They slip in to it the longer they co-exist in a healthcare system funded by crooked insurance companies, manipulated by greedy big-pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies, and directed by an oligarchy that orchestrates the whole mess via the government. It’s sweet when you make it mandatory for citizens to buy a specific company’s product! Be it an insurance policy. Or be it via the FDA and its buddy-buddy approval of drugs on the “you are only allowed to take these with a doctor’s RX and by the way these are the only medications that your insurance company will pay for.”

My last bits of employment ended badly as I had to resign, on the spot, when my employer demanded that I start booking Medicare patients 2 per treatment slot. And bill for full treatment. That’s illegal. Unethical. Dirty. And not nice. So I walked out and was subsequently blackballed in the local community. Don’t weep for me—it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It caused me to realize how unhappy I was after 35 years of healthcare work. I was miserable, despite what was a comfortable income. But trying to live in that world and maintain my ethics and sanity was simply not possible. Each year I watched us all slouching towards utter fraud. Tweak the bills to reflect the codes that paid better—all the while justifying it because the code list “was outdated.” Provide the care that reimbursed the best rather than was what was needed. Provide care that was really not beneficial because the patient’s insurance company covered it, and it wasn’t costing the patient a dime. Even when the patient desires the unnecessary care and is therefore complicit in defrauding the insurance company. If I told you that this was more common than uncommon, would you believe me?

Dealing with delusion sometimes means admitting that we are part of building the false dream. That we are part of the deluders and deceivers, no matter how minor or major our role. It means admitting that humans generally put financial gain above honesty. Greed and pride motivate us all, and it is rampant in the modern American healthcare system. I would propose that it outweighs damage done by incompetence. When the stars, planets and moons of greed and graft align in the field of healthcare it covers the government, the insurance companies, the companies the provide care and equipment, the providers, and the workers. That’s how bad the scenario is.

Is there anything we can do about this? Not really. Not when government enforces the whole system with threat of violence, the law. But we can protect ourselves financially and physically, and do things to maximize our own heath. The first requirement is a healthy dose of reality. It means seeing the humans and human systems that are all part of this grand scheme for what they are—agents powered by power and greed. Follow that with a a dose of determination to no longer be a pawn and a victim.

Freed of enslavement to delusion and deception, we can be free to focus our energy on ways in which we can impact our own health positively. Diet. Management of stress. Exercise. Use of alternatives to prescription drugs. Use of natural alternatives in treatment. And use of cash medical services overseas for serious issues like elective surgeries. Because they are unabashedly for profit, there are excellent sources of health care in other nations at a fraction of the cost of having the same service provided in the US.

Today I’m still removing sticky medical tape. And trying to do a bit more to remove the “Treat Me!” sign that somehow can gotten affixed to my backside. Somehow I need to reduce the risks of coming into contact with the healthcare system in the future. And better identify the best and worst of local healthcare providers. Is the system entirely without merit? Of course not. Many are helped in their need despite crooks, liars, and charlatans. Despite a predatory political system that has robbed them of their wealth and forced the into increasing amounts of slavery. I don’t expect justice will ever be done or things to get better. I just want the future encounters of myself and my family with the healthcare system to be positive ones.

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