I should start by saying I was drunk when I first triggered this series of events. So I'll admit, I probably could have avoided the entire ordeal had I been leading a more conservative lifestyle.
That said, a couple of months ago Dora and I came home after a late night and took the dog out for a walk. On my way down the stairs I cut my hand. The banister in our stairwell is made of metal. A few of the supports have snapped, and one of them caught my palm while I was descending the stairs.
At the time I though nothing of it. The cut was about an inch and a half long, but is was not deep at all. The next day, however, I noticed a stingy pain, not like the pain of a cut. I got to thinking about infections, gangrene, and amputation (I may be a bit of a hypochondriac). After I whined about it for a while, Dora and Lili called their uncle. He's a doctor. He felt I should go see someone, get it looked at, and get a tetanus shot.
This is how I was first exposed to socialized medicine. I want to write about this today because I'm fascinated by the e-debates that “SiCKO” has ignited.
Dora's uncle Peter told us that his brother-in-law was on duty at an emergency room in Ujpest. Peter said he'd call and let the doctor know we were coming. Dora, Lili, and I got in the car and were off to the ER. The hospital looked like a university building, brick and mortar, small entrance, tiny parking lot. We parked across the street in a massive lot serving a complex of panel apartment buildings. Free parking.
Inside we found a older woman in a nurse's uniform sitting in a glass reception box. Dora handed the woman my passport and explained that the doctor would probably be expecting us. That was the case. Even the glass booth lady was expecting us. She gave us some instructions and sent us in the direction of the ER. We walked into the hospital proper. It was a bit confusing. There was no waiting room, no signage, no help desk. There was just a hallway full of people in various states of disrepair, all of them standing and trying to stay out of the way of the occasional rushing paramedic. The lighting was industrial, but not as bright as I'd expect in a hospital. The three of us actually doubled back and asked if we might have taken a wrong turn, but we had been in the right place. We were told to wait there in the hall. My name would be called.
Lili hates hospitals. So right away my empathy nerves are tingling, but a few minutes in that hallway sent me spinning. It is the sight of the sick and injured that gets Lili uncomfortable, but Lili's discomfort was dwarfed by the guy rolled in on a stretcher. He was in a neck-brace and underwear. He had clearly lost a fight with either a big man or a motorcycle. He was lucid, even talking with the accompanying paramedic, but the cuts on his neck and his smashed up face had me a bit embarrassed to be bringing in my little scratch. The other people in the hall were wrapped in red gauze, holding wounded limbs, or displaying open sores. I was taken aback by the the lack of... well, shame. No one seemed ashamed of the rather horrible state they were in.
In my limited experience with US hospitals, it seems to me that the wounded and sick are allowed at least some level of privacy. Even if that privacy is nothing more then their own seat in a waiting room. It was unsettling to be surrounding by peoples' medical problems, but the people out there in the hall didn't appear to think anything of it. I guess it's the norm. I have been told that in most hospitals here, even in private ones, people staying in hospital cannot get a private room. There seems to be a dignity disparity between the US and Hungary there, but I suppose dignity is expensive, and Hungary is not a rich country.
After a short time, maybe ten minutes, I was called into the office. Peter's brother-in-law took a look at my hand. He made me fell better about coming in, told me the cut needed to be reopened and cleaned. I was definitely in need of a tetanus shot. He was worried about my health care status, however. He asked if I had any kind of ID that would suggest I am insured. I pulled out a cardboard card I obtained during the lengthy visa process, and my doctor couldn't have been happier. It was my government-assigned health care number. No one had to work in the gray. I was treated on the books.
The visit, the care, and the shot cost me a total of 300 Hungarian Forints = $1.50 US. That was what we had to pay for the actual tetanus vaccine. Strangely enough, they don't keep tetanus vaccine on-site. Dora and Lili had to run to the pharmacy for a vile of the stuff. I thought that was odd, but I'm not a doctor.
I got the shot in my butt cheek, and the young female nurse seemed a bit embarrassed when she asked me to pull down my pants. Then, less then ninety minutes after we walked in, Dora, Lili, and I walked out. And for the next ten years I can cut myself on all the rusty metal I want. Thanks Hungarian health care.
So whenever I wonder about health care in Hungary – a country that is not on the list of developed nations, a country with a per capita GDP of around $17,000, a country enduring tremendous pressure to reduce government spending – when I wonder why this country chooses to provide health care to all its citizens, I remember those people in the ER enduring what I would think of as embarrassing. Maybe their country can't afford to offer them much in the way of dignity, but their country would be truly ashamed to take away basic health care.
What do you think?
[Even if you don't like Michael Moore, when you have 15 minutes watch this video. The Lou Dobbs Tag at the end is the craziest shit I've ever seen. ]