(With apologies to Deborah Peel -PB)
So I had this uninsured patient with a chronic medical problem that was being addressed at The Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away who came to the department with worsening symptoms from her chronic medical problem, a problem that was competing, I might add, with several others that were lifestyle related. No problem, of course, because people can’t choose when they are going to get sick and if we have to fill in for The Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away then so be it.
An expensive workup ensued which confirmed the worsening of her chronic medical problem. Score! A slam-dunk admission. A pleasant phone call to the admitting physician who, even though it was 3 AM would agree, ruefully and without the usual surliness and rolling of the eyes that it is our lot to elicit in every doctor in town at one time or another, that the patient really was sick and really did need admission. Unfortunately, as soon as I mentioned the patient’s name he related to me that at her last admission for a similar exacerbation of her chronic medical problem she had eloped, leaving the hospital and her doctor’s care because she believed she was being treated rudely. On her way out she had sworn to “never let them touch me again.”
A week after her elopement and while visiting her sister at the Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away (a sister who interestingly enough had the same chronic medical problem), she checked herself into their swank Emergency Department for a similar worsening of her chronic medical problem and was admitted; receiving an expensive workup and, on discharge, a follow-up appointment with one of the Leading Specialists in the Field of Herchronicmedicalproblemology, a lady who has written textbooks and who had followed her at the Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away.
The admitting physician adamantly refused to admit and suggested, not unreasonably, that I transfer her to The Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away as they were the last to lay hands on her and were most familiar with her condition. The Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away agreed, without hesitation, to accept her and I even spoke to the Leading Specialist in the Field of Herchronicmedicalproblemology who happened to be on call. Oh how the heavens sometimes align and, just when you think you are heading for a knock-down, drag out patient transfer brawl you see the triumphal field just ahead and prepare to eat the cheeses and hams of victory!
Unfortunately, despite having no insurance, no ability, and no intention of ever paying a thin dime for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of free medical care that she has received and will receive until that tragic day when the treasure we spend will only bore the Reaper, the patient refused transfer to The Big Academic Medical Center Sixty Miles Away citing a litany of complaints against them from rude nurses to bad food, perhaps most damning being her observation that the Leading Specialist in the Field of Herchronicmedicalproblemology didn’t know what she was doing and, “Didn’t do nothing for me.”
Not to mention that the one hour drive would inconvenience her family, their constant attendance with cell phones at ready being a necessary adjuvant therapy for her chronic medical problem.
Oh my gentle readers, scholars all and deeply interested in this insane goat rodeo known as American Medicine, you would have wept at the sincerity of our efforts to prevent her, unsuccessfully, from eloping and leaving the department to nestle in the bosom of her uninsured family. There may be 47 million uninsured (most of whom are young enough to never require expensive medical care or wealthy enough to afford insurance except they have other priorities) but this particular one of them was so unconcerned for her own health that she spurned our best efforts over a matter of overblown pride and convenience for the many visitors she expected. Is she typical of the uninsured? Maybe not. But we can and do move heaven and earth to care for all of our patients, even those who cannot pay. I have never heard of a patient who needed treatment being turned away which is why a wino living on the streets of our country can receive medical care that European politicians living in The Health Care Paradise Across The Water have to fly to other countries (ours) to get.