You know I said that maybe I should take cooking lessons?
Last week I received a painful reminder of why I should never operate heavy machinery, when I sliced my finger open with a bread knife. A woman’s place (well, my place) is holding a full wine glass in a restaurant and not fiddling around in the kitchen. Cooking really doesn’t interest me; my Dad once bought me a whisk and I used it to mix cocktails.
After my initial panic had subsided to a mere semi-weepy level, I realised that I had no idea where the nearest hospital was (or indeed sufficient cleaning materials to wipe the blood off the floor … oh the shame). My British sangfroid kicked in and convinced me that I would only be wasting their precious time anyway. Three days later, when my finger had begun to resemble a badly cooked sausage and was still bleeding, I decided it was time to experience the American health care system.
The emergency walk-in centre was all gleaming white counters and frosted glass, spindly twigs in vases and chunky art on the walls that looked like a geography school project. The glare from the aluminium light fittings bounced off the credit card swipe machine.
“Hey, how ARE you?!” asked a twelve-year-old boy in blue scrubs. Um, my finger’s a bit disgusting. “No problem! ID, insurance card and credit card please!” I was asked to enter my details into a tiny laptop. After three hours slumped in a big leather chair in the waiting room (no change there then, although there’s none of your Reader’s Digest here – Men’s Health, the Economist, and Popular Science only), I was led to a consulting room with soft lighting and an enormous telly on the wall and given the remote control, with an invitation to change channels if I wished.
The treatment was pretty quick – a rather strict ticking-off for not going straight to hospital and getting stitched up, and a discussion about how long to leave the steri-strips on before passers-by become offended by my stinky finger – and it was back to the shiny waiting room. “Hi! Let’s settle you up! What’s your co-pay?” asked the nice boy. I leant over the counter. “I don’t know what that means” I whispered. “Oh” he whispered back “you’re used to the National Health Service, right? Let me explain how the bill works ……”
I’m not even going to try and analyse the rights and wrongs of the American health care system. The arguments are complicated and emotional, and the system is so unlike anything I am familiar with (a bit like the kitchen). But I know from talking to my DC friends that people make long-term, life-changing decisions based on potential, life-changing events. They stay in jobs they hate because the benefits are good, or get married so they can benefit from their partner’s health insurance. I was horrified by a recent episode of the true-story tv programme ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant’ where a mum-to-be nearly bled to death in her bedroom because she had no health insurance and didn’t want to call an ambulance that she couldn’t afford. In DC, calling an ambulance will cost you (or your health insurance) a minimum of $420 plus $6.55 per mile.
My stinky finger has made me love the NHS even more.
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