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.