The Universal Notebook: To your health

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My mother taught me that polite people do not discuss money, religion, politics, sex or their health in public.

But since I am already guilty on several counts and my dear mother has been gone four years, I guess a health column couldn’t hurt. After all, health care is a hot topic these days.

This year I have been hospitalized several times with a flare-up of a condition I have had for 30 or 40 years. I’ll spare you the gory details, other than to say that I went into the hospital to fix a minor plumbing problem and ended up with a major electrical malfunction.

One minute I was having my blood pressure taken and the next I was in a critical care unit with a team of doctors, nurses and technicians hooking me up to needles, tubes, wires, computers and monitors. Medical technology and professional expertise in action is an impressive thing to watch, especially when you’re the focus. It took the doctors about 10 minutes to figure out what was wrong and another 20 minutes to fix it, at least for the time being.

My impression of medical professionals is that they sometimes perform miracles and they sometimes have no idea what’s wrong or what to do about it. We humans are complex organisms. It’s a wonder we last as long as we do given all that can go wrong.

Doctors examine, diagnose, operate and prescribe, but it’s nurses who put the “care” in health care. I was so impressed with the kindness, compassion and professionalism of several of the nurses who cared for me at Maine Medical Center that I sent the hospital a letter saying so when I got home.

I was also reminded during my hospitalization and convalescence why it’s so easy to get addicted to painkillers like Oxycontin, and why Michael Jackson liked the anesthesia drug propofol so much. You can be suffering greatly, but when the warm opioid bath washes over you, you are instantly just fine. It’s a wonder we aren’t all addicts.

And when the velvet hammer of propofol knocks you out, it’s not only painless and instantaneous, it’s just nothing. Pure, blessed nothingness. Makes you think death might not be all that eventful. Lights out. Two, four, six hours pass and you have entirely avoided the unpleasantness of the scalpel, the scope, the tube down your throat and the electrical shock.

Turns out I had let a fairly serious condition go on for several days because I didn’t want to be a hypochondriac. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to be a weenie. Post-op I now feel vulnerable and hypersensitive. Every twinge, flutter, ache and abnormal sensation feels mortal until it passes. Then it’s just heartburn, nerves, old age or hypochondria.

Both as a health-care consumer and a curious newspaper columnist, I pre-priced the surgery that was originally scheduled – $6,000 for the surgeon, $3,000 for the anesthesiologist, and $36,000 for the operating room and one night in the hospital; a total of some $45,000. As I had to be readmitted for another three nights, I’m sure I ended up receiving in excess of $100,000 worth of medical care. Fortunately, I have health insurance that will cover most of it. Can’t imagine what would happen if I didn’t.

A few weeks back, we had a financial consultant come by to help us do some planning for eventual retirement. That will involve switching over from private insurance to Medicare and, depending on when we pull the trigger, we may need to purchase gap insurance for a few years until we both qualify for Medicare. The consultant suggested looking into a policy under the Affordable Care Act.

“Really?” I blurted out incredulously. “You want us to predicate our health and our future on a program that Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can at this very minute to destroy?”

It makes me sick to think that Republicans in Congress want the ACA to fail and will likely go after Medicare and Social Security next. That’s one reason I predict there will be far fewer of them in Congress in the very near future.

Having now touched on health, politics and money in a single column, I suppose I might as well toss religion into the mix as well. I am a Christian. But people of all faiths should be able to agree that health care is a God-given human right. It offends my sense of fairness and all that is holy to think that everyone might not receive the same excellent health care that I did.

Get well soon, America.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Susan Larsen

    Thankful for the skill and care Ed Beem received. He is a treasure
    in our community and deserves our good wishes and kind thoughts.

  • Ted Markow

    Well put, Ed – and I wish you many years of good health.

    Allow me to add my 2¢ to a couple of things you wrote:

    “But people of all faiths should be able to agree that health care is a God-given human right.”
    It is in most other industrialized countries. Whether they consider it God-given or humane, the belief is that all people deserve access to good health. The USA, however…(see below).

    “Fortunately, I have health insurance that will cover most of it. Can’t imagine what would happen if I didn’t.”
    You know what would happen and what does happen every day in the USA – people get sick(er) and die – often, after going to the emergency room when their condition(s) worsen to a terminal state, making their treatments so much more expensive (for all of us) and their early deaths tragic.

    You and I are very fortunate to have health insurance. My 5+ years of treatments has probably surpassed $1,000,000. Unfortunately, the increase in covered Americans since Obamacare came on the scene is now going to reverse, costs will go through the roof (for all of us), and more Americans will get sicker and die sooner.

    Maybe that’s the Republican plan. If so, it’s inhumane, immoral, and not of this planet.

  • peterplus

    As a proud, card carrying member of the republican party, I am vehemently opposed to working stiffs like you, Mr. Beem, having access to decent health care in America. Furthermore, I don’t think people like you should be able to send their children to college or be paid a living wage for your labor. If you were not born with your pockets stuffed with money, like our noble president, then too bad for you. Being a born again Christian evangelical, I prefer taking the money our government spends on helping working class fools like yourself, and spending that money instead on bombing countries on the other side of the world, and killing innocent people by the thousands, and giving tax breaks to the wealthy corporate hoarders. I would rather my tax dollars enable a Wall Street prince to purchase another cashmere overcoat than to pay for your health care. Here is the great difference between people like you, and myself. When liberals see a poor person they want to give that person money. When I see a poor person, I want to use that money to make certain I never end up poor. That is the principle America was founded upon. Survival of the fittest. If you’re no longer fit, perhaps you have only yourself to blame.

    • Little crow

      Darn! They figured us out. Let’s hope they don’t reveal all our plans to poison all the children and pollute the rivers.

  • Max Millard

    It’s a good general commentary about health care in America, but it would have been more instructive if you could have highlighted Senator Susan Collins’ share of the blame for going along with Trump’s new tax bill, and what was her motivation for voting away the Obamacare protections for thousands of Mainers. Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski were hailed as two of the Republican fence-sitters. Murkowski was persuaded when the Republicans tossed in permission to open 1.5 million acres of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. What did Collins get in exchange for her vote?

  • Charles Martel

    Sorry to hear about your health issues. However, health care is not a “God-given human right” except to socialists. Be honest; ObamaCare wasn’t the answer. Now, you’re angling toward single-payer health care and we all know how well the government runs most things.Yes, our system is expensive but it’s the best on the planet.

    “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
    -Margaret Thatcher

  • EdBeem

    This from the National Catholic Reporter: “Access to affordable quality health care is a God-given right. Not a privilege or a grant of charity, nor a last resort provided by a “safety net.” A right. This is traditional Catholic teaching and the first principle by which Catholics should judge the various proposals to expand health insurance to the nearly 50 million of our uninsured neighbors who currently lack the security such coverage provides. Read the encyclicals, read the catechism, read the teachings of the pontiffs, read what the U.S. bishops — speaking through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — have written.”

    • Little crow

      You can’t have a right to someone else’s labor or property. You can only assign privileges, and they can be revoked by whoever issued them, as they have been in countries with socialized medicine. As for Catholics, have you ever known the Catholic Church to be wrong?

      • EdBeem

        So you don’t think you have a right to a fair trial? That requires a judge, a prosecutor, and investigator, a stenographer, a court clerk, etc. You have a right to their labor. As far as property goes, property rights are a bundle of sticks, some of which belongs to owners, some of which belong to the public. I only cited the Catholic position on healthcare as a God-given right because a comment was made by someone I take to be Catholic that there is no such right. We have socialized medicine in this country already. We just do a lousy job of it because we are so afraid to admit it. Insurance is socialism for heaven’s sake.

        • Little crow

          The jury trial example is good one to raise, because there’s an important distinction: the right to a jury trial is a right retained by the defendant, who does not require anyone’s labor or property. That is the responsibility of the state. All the lawyers and stenographers etc. are there voluntarily and can leave at will. The jurors have a duty to respond, but in essence are there voluntarily. If the state fails to muster a jury then the defendant must be set free.

          So you still don’t have a right to someone else’s labor or property.

          I will agree that we now have a bad version of socialized medicine, but that’s what’s wrong with it. It would be much better if we can get it back to a free market system, and get the government out. Insurance is not socialism because it’s voluntary. The only trouble with socialism is they want me to be in it. To make an analogy: free markets are like consensual sex. Socialism is like rape.

          • EdBeem

            The right to a jury trial requires taxpayers to subsidize the defendant, using public dollars to pay for the labors of others. Every civilized country other than the US has some form of universal health care. Your sex analogy is wrong and rotten.

          • Little crow

            The sex analogy is exactly right. Free markets allow people to vote with their feet, to choose what they want according to their own needs.

            Socialism treats people as cattle, robbing them of free choice and forcing their one-size-fits-all polices. And who gets to make these policy decisions? Someone who claims to know what’s best for you? If you want to know why socialism is harmful to the human spirit, imagine your worst enemy (for some of you that would be Donald Trump) making decisions of how you are to conduct your life.

          • EdBeem

            The military draft is another example of the right to the labor of others.

          • EdBeem

            You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you. Conscription, bankruptcy, eminent domain, adverse use… the right to the property and labors of other are many.

          • Little crow

            Again I emphasize that it is the defendant who retains the right to a trial – he does not require the labor of an attorney unless the government wants to prosecute him – the onus is on the state to provide these things if they want to deprive a citizen of his liberty. The defendant’s claim to the state is that if you wish to deprive him of his liberty, you must provide him with representation. If the state is not willing to do that, they must set him free.

            Eminent domain is covered in the 5th amendment, and requires that the government compensate the taking of property for public use, and therefore places only that limit on the right to own property.

            It should be noted that the Supreme Court violated the Constitution in 2005 in the Kelo decision when they ruled that the government can seize property from a private entity and give it to another private entity. The Maine Supreme Court violated the Constitution when it decided in 1974 that the town can seize all of your property at the expiration of a tax lein, even if you only owe one dollar in property tax.

            I would argue that conscription (the draft) is also unconstitutional.

  • Chew H Bird

    Ed, may good health bless you this coming year.

    Our health care system has been screwed up for a long time. Decades ago insurance costs were within reach of businesses and individuals and the coverage was very complete. Decades of increasing costs from research to litigation to regulatory details have inflated the cost of healthcare to a point where the entire system is stressed. The losers are the American people and the ACA has exasperated the frustration by combining not only the worst of government and private coverage but also charging citizens for services not rendered which is illegal (except for when mandated by government).

    Health care is not a God given right and never will be, but it is a human right and it is our responsibility as a nation to make it affordable for everyone, not just the poor and the wealthy. As part of the so called “middle class” which is the group of people that make too little to afford healthcare without insurance, and earn too much to qualify for any discounts, the ACA is the equivalent of criminal poaching of my economic resources. Our health care premiums are higher than my mortgage and car payment combined, (including car insurance), and our deductible is so high I can only afford to get sick in the last month of the year. We need to fix the entire system and Trump appears to be only making what Obama instituted worse than before.

  • JimDSull

    The elephant in this hospital room is why those medical professionals think $36,000 is fair price to pay for the space. When Obamacare came on line, we were obliged to do two things: 1) get everyone insured and 2) and start agitating about exorbitant costs. With its $512 million expansion, Maine Med’s adding another 128 individual hospital rooms and 19 more operating rooms… and the elephants parade on.

  • Queenie42

    Please keep well, Mr. Beem. This next year may turn out very interesting and so many of us rely on your thoughtful columns. Keep hope alive and……….