By Jack Jodell, Mar. 18, 2012
Contrary to what those on the far-right who are obsessed with what they call “free enterprise” may claim, we here in the United States do NOT have “the best health care system in the world” – far from it! We do a much better job of acceding to the wishes of our ultra-greedy health care insurance companies and protecting their profits than we do to the actual care and safety of our sickest patients. We have all heard of new mothers being booted out of hospitals only a day or two after having given birth , and, in my opinion, that is criminal negligence. But in the past few days, my own family has been also victimized by potential criminal negligence, and I will explain in detail below.
About three weeks ago, my 52 year old brother, who lives in Boston, bcame aware of some discomfort and pain in his abdomen. After a few days of this, he went into see his physician. Tests were run and a CT scan was done, and it was determined he had some gallstones, which would necessitate having his gall bladder removed down the line. He had also noticed some tenderness and swelling in his scrotum, which was diagnosed as a varicocele (a kind of painful varicose vein inside the scrotum). Since neither condition was life-threatening, he went back home to take care of some unfinished work at his job and to lay the groundwork for him to be able to leave that job for a few days to have these medical needs dealt with sometime in the near future. After a few more days, though, his abdominal pain worsened and he noticed his abdomen starting to become distended. It kept growing and growing over the next few days and he began experiencing some constipation and other gastric distress. Becoming alarmed, he checked himself into a nearby hospital. That’s when things really started to happen.
In the hospital, doctors were perplexed. After an ultrasound and another CT scan, results were inconclusive and seemingly contradictory. They couldn’t seem to ascertain why a perfectly healthy 52 year old man of medium build was suddenly having this abdominal swelling. Tumors and cancer were ruled out, but the mystery persisted. Eventually, they decided he was a victim of paralytic ileus, meaning his entire GI tract had become paralyzed and had shut down altogether! They deduced that a recent bout woth pneumonia may have brought about this paralysis. So, the next step was to hook him up to an IV to restore the nutrients and electrolytes which had been disturbed in his system, and then, to drain his stomach completely of all its contents. A tube was inserted through his nose deep into his stomach for this purpose, in hopes that this removal would somehow jump-start his digestive system back into action. Sound painful and involved? It was, but the worst was yet to come.
Friday, they saw that the forced evacuation had reflattened his belly, so yesterday they renoved that godawful drainage tube and gave him a quart-sized enema to clear out his lower portion. He was also given a laxative, but neither produced results. They did one more examination of him and claimed to have “heard some movement in the bowels.” So the decision was made to DISCHARGE him, barely two days after having entered the hospital, and with his lower GI tract STILL impacted! My brother was incredulous, as was I. He told them he was only marginally better than when he had first entered, and that without any marked improvement, he would end up right back there for the same problem in a week’s time. But the hospitalist refused to budge and told him, “This is simply a matter of economics. Right now, according to the tests we have done, you are simply constipated, and we cannot justify tying up a hospital bed for constipation. If your symptoms persist, come back in and we’ll repeat the procedure.” WHAT? WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GETTING PATIENTS WELL ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY AND THEN DISCHARGING THEM? Apparently, that is no longer how hospital medicine is practiced—they would prefer to treat and bill, and then treat and bill, rather than actually CURE! After all, they’ve got to conform to INSURANCE guidelines and dictates, not to MEDICAL guidelines! So, they booted him out of the hospital, and, very weak from his ordeal, he was forced to go back home! UNBELIEVABLE, but true!
However, my brother is a rebel just like me. NEITHER of us will accept “no” for an answer when we really believe something to be unjustly wrong, and certainly not from the lips of some mindless stooge or some stodgy bureaucrat! So he immediately went over to Urgent Care, and was seen by a G.I. specialist there. He was given a prescription for a laxative used for colonoscopy preparation, and was guaranteed that it would clean him out quickly, as those laxatives do. He will follow this regimen, and believes it will work. When he has more strength and is able to graduate from a liquid diet to a more normal one, he will get his gall bladder and varicocele taken care of.
I am shocked and angry about the flippancy exhibited by the hospitalist who discharged my brother. To reduce the suffering of a living human being to “simply a matter of economics” is not only brazen callousness, but wholly INEXCUSABLE as well! No doubt this worthless hospitalist really believed what he was doing was correct. If so, he is a very hasty and ignorant fool. He is merely being a pawn in some greedy, uncaring insurance company’s game, and he is too stupid to realize this. As for the insurance company, its desire to maximize its profit and take care of its stockholders and board of directors first while placing its subscribers a distant second shows once again the utter failure of our “private” health care system. If this is the best our “free market” system can deliver, then I would greatly prefer a Soviet-style, state-owned and operated COMMUNIST one! I say, resurrect and implement a true public option! MEDICARE FOR ALL!
Thankfully, my brother hasn’t died from this – YET. But what he has had to endure has been tragic, infuriating, wholly unjustified, and now PERSONAL, and neither he nor I will take this nonsense lying down!