Thursday, December 17, 2009
Ahh… Spain. Amidst the beauty of the architecture, the delicacy of the food and the intrigue of the people lies an interesting fundamental establishment… socialized medicine. Yes, I said it. This is a phrase that triggers elation, contemplation or anxiety in the hearts of Americans – depending on who you ask. It’s become a polarized subject for debate… to say the least. And as one who has not had health insurance for a few years now, it is an issue my husband and I find intriguing.
Last week, I had the opportunity to become more intimately involved with this system. A hair follicle located in my armpit (yes, rather gross, I admit – but a source of rather real pain) became irritated and infected. I wasn’t exactly sure of the rules governing Spain’s health system, so I turned to my student handbook and made a phone call.
Could I make an appointment? Of course. So. Did I want to come in at 12:30pm or 4:15pm or 6:45pm? Um, Today? I asked. Of course, today. And just two hours after my initial call, I was ushered into a lovely doctor’s office and my armpit was viewed with concern. Antibiotics might be the answer. 12€ later, I had antibiotics and a hopeful attitude.
However, two days later with my armpit inflamed and growing by the hour, (probably an exaggeration, but not much of one) I was encouraged to visit the Emergency Room. Now once again, I wasn’t sure my armpit equated an “emergencia,” but off I went to a nearby hospital.
Upon arriving in an examination room, the doctor took one look at my armpit and made a large slashing gesture with his hand, complete with sound effects. This was a gesture that overcame all language barriers. Yep. My armpit needed to be cut open and drained. (I hope you’re not eating while reading this, by the way.) The doctor opened the door and invited a few other people to look at my freakish arm infection. Apparently, this was something they didn’t see every day. Somehow they patiently communicated that I needed to wait 4 hours after I had last eaten before they’d drain the area. OK. I had a good book with me. No problem. As I sat waiting, a few more people were brought in to catch an eyeful of my armpit. (To this day, I don’t know if this was a teaching hospital, or if they just specialized in the axillary.)
Three and a half hours later, I was wheeled to a different floor and shown to a dressing room where I was given a hot little O.R. outfit. I looked around and realized I was on the operating room floor. OK. I guess it’s a kind of surgery. I changed and put on booties to cover my feet and a hairnet to cover my head.
The nurses escorted me to an operating room, complete with a sterile bed and giant light. As I was lying there, they told me they needed to check with the anesthesiologist to see if I had waited long enough after eating. I nodded. Anesthesiologist? When the doctor returned, he told me they couldn’t put me under general anesthesia as I had eaten such a short time before. I said that was fine – local anesthesia would be just fine. (In my mind, I wondered how I would have gone about finding Peter and telling him they put me under for my armpit. And could you help me get home. How do you put that in a text message?)
The doctor had studied some in the U.S. and his English was fairly good. He joked as he went along. Once the procedure was complete, he patted me on the shoulder, told me to get dressed, and I went along my way.
Just over a week later, my armpit is back to normal and my experience is now just fodder for stories. But when I reflect on this experience, though, I’m left feeling grateful for living in a place where an experience like this only cost me a grand total of 12€. Had this occurred last year when I lived in Indiana, I have no idea what the end cost would have been.
The purpose of this blog is not to make a statement about the health care system in the United States. It is a complicated issue which needs a lot of research and a good deal more wisdom. However, I am concerned that basic health services are not available for those without the ability to pay. And pay a lot. There must be a way to enable everyone to have access to the care they need – even if it’s just for a silly armpit infection.