Socialized Medicine

“I won’t keep you a moment, luv”

I’m pretty sure this is British slang for “I have to leave for a moment and how no idea how long I’ll be gone, but just hang out and I’ll be back at some time.”  This is good to know so you can translate properly and set your expectations.

Many people in the US are throwing the word “socialist” around like its a grenade, and health care is one of the main battle grounds for this.  So I was interested to see what socialized medicine was actually like.  Would the wait times be monstrous?  The quality of doctor sub-par?  The facilities more akin to 1970’s soviet bunkers than a proper hospital?  Would they charge this foreigner 2 arms and three legs since I don’t pay into their system?  Should be interesting.

As noted in my previous post, the first step was to call a hotline, explain my situation, and they recommended I just go to the ER (A&E, here) to have my cast inspected since it was already showing signs of wear.  So I found myself in the lobby of the Accidents and Emergency office with around 20 other people, waiting my turn.

And waiting.

The lobby was a bit shabby, but then this hospital is potentially the worst example.  It is in a run down area in a questionable region, and the nickname for the Mayday hospital is “May Die”.  So I would probably need to hang out in a hospital in Compton to compare properly.

After 2.5 hours, I was admitted and had a 5 minute discussion about the state of my cast and what I needed, and it was decided I needed to see a specialist / osteopath.  This was who I was hoping to see, so I was a bit deflated that one was not available after 2.5 hours.  However, they understood I’d waited a long time and made sure they got me the earliest possible appointment: 9:45 the next morning.

So, the longest I’ve spent in an American E.R. is a little over an hour.  Advantage: US.

However, next-day appointment for a doctor?  That would be pretty rare.  Slight advantage UK?  Tough call.

The following day I arrived at precisely 9:45.  The waiting room was similarly old, but this time I was in seeing the doctor in under 10 minutes.  The doctor, similar to doctors in the Seattle area, was a man with a name of far too many consonants, both first and last, so I won’t even attempt to reproduce it here.  We had a quick and friendly discussion about how the leg felt and he sent me to get the cast removed so he could examine it properly and get a fresh set of x-rays.

I hobbled down to the “Plaster Room” where a lady took a rotating saw to the cast, along with a miniature “jaws of life” device and efficiently, brutally, and thoroughly removed the cast.  I was only able to salvage a tiny portion once it was all over:

picture006
Only Trogdor survives

It’s hard to describe how nice it was to see my foot again!  And be able to rotate my ankle!  And yes; scratch my bloody leg.  So.  Nice.

Next I hobbled to the x-ray room.  My wait there was pretty much non-existent.  They efficiently took 2 shots of my foot, then I hobbled back down the hall to the doctor who already had the x-rays on his computer.

picture005
One of these things is not like the other.

He explained how a “shaft fracture” like mine is going to take longer to heal (bad news), but the bone was maintaining a good position over all (good news).  He also advised that we put the leg back in a cast, this time fiberglass which would be much lighter and stronger than the plaster one I was in, and hold up to more abuse.

I was keen to get into a walking boot, however.  We discussed my longer-term goals (get back to running, resume my travels, be in a kayak in the arctic by end of July, etc).  He agreed to let me try a walking boot with the only stipulation that I can only put weight on my heel, absolutely no weight on my forefoot.  Deal.  Score.

And so I present you: the new hotness:

picture007
Black goes with everything

In addition, we scheduled a follow-up for next week to ensure the bone was staying in a good position and would continue to heal properly.

So: now to pay.

I asked the lady working admittance how payment should work, and was met with my first instance of this phrase:

“I won’t keep you a moment, luv.”

After a few minutes waiting around, testing my new-found hobbling abilities up and down the hall, she put me on the phone with a lady from “Financing”.  The nice lady explained how payment would work (just need to give them my credit card) and then they would mail a paid invoice to my address.  All fine, though my address is my brother’s house, so he might wonder why Mayday Hospital in London is sending him mail.  After giving her my info, I got my second instance:

“I won’t keep you a moment luv.”

Hobbling up and down the hall is a little more restrictive when tethered to a phone cord.  Nevertheless: hobbling was done.  Several more exchanges of information, and several more instances of “won’t keep you a moment” later, she came back with a full description of charges.  So, we have an ER visit, a doctor visit, x-rays, cast removal, walking boot, plus next week’s visit that they’ll just charge now, as well as the follow-up x-rays.

Bracing for the total.

186 pounds.  Around $289.

Advantage: squarely in socialized medicine’s court.

So, let’s take a final tally of socialized medicine, shall we?

  • wait times for initial visit: poor.
  • Facilities: about on par with an older hospital in the US.
  • Doctor availability: very good.
  • Doctor quality: I’m no expert, but he seemed very knowledgeable, and what’s more: collaborative, friendly, helpful, and flexible.  Not cold and dismissive like some US doctors can be.
  • Cost: ridiculously cheap compared to the US.  Embarrassingly so.  The entire US health care system should be ashamed of what it costs for treatment.

Now, this is a sample size of one, with a fairly pedestrian (pun unintentional)  treatment, nothing like open heart surgery, or prolonged treatment like diabetes or cancer.  Still, for those who fear socialized medicine, the US could do way worse than offer what the UK did to me.

Stepping off soapbox.

So I have to report that being able to put weight on my foot is AWESOME.  I can now walk for a long time, whereas before I had to stop every couple blocks to sweat and massage my hands.  I left the hospital and promptly explored down 8 blocks to a park near Baylor’s house.  I had my first authentic British fish-n-chips (appropriately bland and greasy, as expected, and with a cup of bright green mashed peas to add extra authenticity).  Also: I don’t always need to use both crutches now, so around the house I can actually carry things.  Like a cup of tea.  Or my laptop.  Or my toothbrush on the way to the bathroom.  It’s the little things in life.

So: walking boot: fantastic.  It’s a whole new world.  Next: London will be mine <tenting fingers, cackling>.

10 thoughts on “Socialized Medicine

  1. This is a good read!!!!! Now to give us a full apples to English apples (or would that be pears?) comparison, can you possibly find out how much the taxpayer is paying into the system???? I don’t know why our politicians cannot give us an honest and straight forward evaluation? Oh and enjoy your new cast!!!!!!!!

    1. quick research doesn’t show me any good breakdown of how much a UK taxpayer pays into just NHS, so it probably takes a much longer analysis than I’m set up to do right now. Still, very interesting question, I’m going to have to dig into that.

  2. I remember getting sick in Tokyo, and going to pick up the three different medicines that had been prescribed to me (including morphine!). I explained to the receptionist that I didn’t have enough cash to pay now, so could I pick things up and pay tomorrow? She was very friendly and told me that of course it wouldn’t be a problem. To be prepared, I asked her what the grand total was. Her response? Less than $15. Oh, and seeing a doctor there was a flat $10. Wild, eh?

  3. Very glad to hear that you have a fancy shoe now instead of a cast. Probably will be easier to dance with at the clubs. My medical experience here in China was both way below US and way above. Of course my sample set is 2 so much higher accuracy than yours.

    1. Way below and above? So, it nets out in the middle? Is it way below for… scientific knowledge but way above as far as… integrated treatment? So many questions.

  4. So happy to see things are looking up! Definitely says something about our healthcare system doesn’t it? Things like this are the ones that will maybe hold me back from being an M.D. in the US. Sometimes I feel like I would do so much better working somewhere other than the good ol’ U S of A. Looking forward to further reads!

    1. Unasked advice: become an MD anyway; you’ll be employable anywhere in the world. Then either the US sorts itself out, or you travel the world doing good. Either way you win.

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