Over the last few months I’ve unfortunately had the opportunity to test our health care system, and personally consider my own mortality.
In March I woke up in the middle of the night in extreme pain. Suspecting an appendicitis, my wife rushed me to the hospital. After a few hours of pain killers and tests, they concluded it was most likely a kidney stone and sent me home. They took a Cat Scan, which looked fine, and recommended I send it to my Doctor for his opinion.
My doctor found nodules in my lungs in the Cat Scan that he thought warranted follow up, and three months later I had another Cat Scan. And that is where the story really begins….
A couple days after my second test I received an email from my Doctor informing me of the following:
- My second Cat Scan looked very suspicious for lung cancer. The nodules had doubled in size.
- He was leaving on vacation, and his nurse would follow up with me to get appointments for tests with specialists.
- Kiss your ass goodbye, and get ready for a really rotten death. (OK – he actually didn’t say that, but of course after getting his email I jumped on the internet and did a little research on aggressive lung cancer, which brought me to that conclusion.)
And at this point my first experience with our wonderful health care system begins. For the next week, working in conjunction with my Doctor’s nurse, I attempted to get appointments with specialists. It was confusing and frustrating. I actually went to the doctor’s offices with copies of my Cat Scans – but no matter what I did I was thrown into a dark morass of bureaucracy, at the awful intersection of insurance company nonsense and our health care system’s idiocy. The only available appointments were weeks – even months away – and from what I read, I probably didn’t have that time to spare.
So I spent the next few days assuming the worst, until I hired a concierge doctor. For those unfamiliar with the term, a concierge doctor limits their practice to a small number of patients (my doctor takes a maximum of 50). The patients pay a monthly fee that covers all the costs for that doctor, they get to know you and your medical history intimately, and they handle all the hassles of the health care system.
Within a few hours of hiring the new doctor, I was handed back my life. He gave me a complete physical, then took my test results to several specialists to examine. They determined that my original doctor and radiologist has misread the results, and that there had been no growth in my lungs. He also arranged an appointment with a specialist a day later, and just to be sure, he arranged a lung biopsy to be performed two days after that, which also tested negative for cancer. The total cost for all of this (and bills are still coming in) is around $50,000.
Luckily I had the resources to hire the concierge doctor, otherwise they still might be shuffling me around our messy health care system. I learned a lot of tough lessons through the process:
- Always get a second, even a third opinion. Our wonderful new technologies often lead to incorrect diagnosis.
- You need to be your own health care advocate (or find someone that loves you willing to fight the fight). The system is a maze of incompetence that will suck you in.
- A lung biopsy is more serious and painful than they tell you.
- The everyday frustrations of life seem very inconsequential when faced with your own demise.
- Giving up cigars really isn’t that tough.
After witnessing it first hand, it is no wonder that we have one of the world’s most expensive health care systems, yet we rank very poorly in the quality of healthcare.