Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Ode to Socialized Medicine

Jon and I had quite an adventure on Sunday night and, as a result, I don't really mind anymore that 20% of my paycheck is taken by the UK government in taxes.  That's right, ladies and gentlemen: we spent from 9pm to 3am in A&E.

I know you're now worried about me; don't be.  I'm fine.  In the end, the doctor determined that I had a migraine which, it turns out, is a normal part of the human condition and not, in fact, the end of the world.  The thing is, though, that I'd never had a migraine before and I had no idea what was happening.  It was a very scary experience - one that I hope to never repeat.

Newham General is, late at night, populated by exactly who you'd imagine in a hospital in east London (not the hip part near Shoreditch and Hackney but the scary part out past Plaistow in E13).  My favorite fellow A&E-er was the drunk man with bloody knuckles who alternated between aggressively flirting with the receptionists and aggressively trying to find out where his friend, who has been wounded in a knife fight, was being seen.  The triage nurse was completely blasé about the woman repeatedly vomiting into a basin in the waiting room.  We all ignored the man with tracks of blood running down his right leg who was talking to himself.  It was an uncomfortable place.

However, I cannot properly express how comforting it was to know that while I was in the hospital I would never be asked for insurance, that my lack of private healthcare would not inhibit the service I would receive there, and that the depressing numbers in my savings account would not preclude me from attracting the attention I needed from the staff.

The triage nurse immediately gave me prescription-level painkillers for my head.  The intake nurse took two vials of blood from my arm for testing.  The doctor I eventually saw did a thorough physical exam.  And, six hours after I arrived, I walked out of the hospital feeling almost back to normal and having never once been asked about my insurance status.

I know that there are downsides to socialized medicine, and I'm not such a blind liberal that I think that we should exactly follow the European model of universal healthcare; there are certainly problems with the NHS.  But I do think that the last thing ill or injured people should have to worry about is whether or not they'll be helped as necessary in relation to their ability to pay for their treatment.  And for relieving me of that concern, I have to say a big thank-you to the UK.

(Jon, by the way, was a total rockstar throughout the entire process; he demanded appropriate attention for me when I was too disoriented to do so myself, he stayed calm when I panicked about my body's betrayal, and he took care of me when I was beyond caring what a mess I was.  To Jon, then, an even bigger thank-you.)


  1. Drunken A&E characters are my fave! It's so strange people-watching there sometimes. Migraines are horrible, I am good you feel better. :)

    (On a ~srs ranty note, I cannot conceive of having to pay for medical treatment, outwith taxes. The selfishness of those totally opposed astounds me. If a person is in the fortunate position to go private, good for them but the NHS and similar are lifesavers. ~end rant)

  2. I love the NHS. My mother has a chronic problem which means we often end up at hospital for a few days every few years. It is enough to be worried about your health without having to worry about how you would pay for the medical attention. We have toured a couple A&Es now as she has moved around the country and there are always interesting characters.

    Hope your headaches don't come back.

  3. I have only had 4 or 5 migraines in my life, but man, they were pretty well the most horrible things I've ever experienced. Glad you're better.

  4. thanks, ladies! I really am hoping it was a one-off.

  5. Thankfully it seems most people don't go through the grief I go through with NHS. I've had really frustrating experiences with NHS: long (three months? Come on...) waits to see specialists, failure at diagnosing problems. I would prefer to worry about paying a bill rather than worrying about being treated on time and suffering while you wait.

    I had exceptional insurance in the States so it's hard not to miss it, especially when the costs are comparable to what's being taken out of our paychecks. But I know having great insurance is rare and shouldn't be the case.

  6. Glad you're feeling better. I'm a fellow expat-American and I LOVE the NHS.

  7. The SAME thing happened to me in London! First ever migraine, no clue what it was and I went to A&E! My experience was not as great. After waiting hours they said I and a migraine and sent me home. No examination or meds!


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