Travis (orlith) wrote,

Matters of the Heart

Afternoon, gentle readers,

I had an echocardiogram of and a stress test on my heart done this morning.

UCLA is an amazing medical facility and their heart center seemed especially impressive to my untrained eye. It was quite interesting, if not a bit daunting, to see all these folks who were there either pre- or post- heart transplant. One older gentleman and his wife were talking to another couple in the lobby about their experience with the husband’s heart transplant of six years ago. They were bubbly, happy and seemed to me to be very much happy, go-lucky, retired folks. You never would have known that 6 years ago, they literally took his diseased heart out and put in a new one. Medical technology is quite amazing.

There were some folks there that seemed VERY sick, and honestly, I felt a little guilty for complaining about my health at the moment. I mean, after all, I can walk and run and I don’t have to use a wheelchair, or carry an oxygen tank in my hands whenever I move, and many of these folks obviously did not have those luxuries.

The technician who did the echocardiogram was very friendly, as was the nurse who ran the stress test. I felt pretty comfortable, reflected by a blood pressure of 134/74, which is the closest to normal I’ve ever tested in the past three or four years. When I went to my regular doctor last week, it was 140/110, despite being on medication to keep it lower. That’s NOT good. I have NO idea why it wasn’t elevated today, but even after running on a treadmill today, it still wasn’t elevated past normal. Ahhh, the sweet mysteries of life.

For those of you that don’t know, an echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart, which is basically a picture/video of the working heart. At first, I was a little repulsed to see my heart up there on the screen. I mean, it’s a little strange looking, and it’s full of blood and well, it’s all the way INSIDE me. It was kinda scary, to be honest with you. But after the initial “ewww” moment, it was very interesting to watch it do its thing. The angle was from the side, so the structure, along with the working valves, reminded me of an abstract ballerina doing some Martha Graham choreography. Or a football fan doing the wave at a game. I couldn’t decide.

The stress test was basically me with a lot of electrodes, and I felt like were were re-enacting the opening scene of the “Six Million Dollar Man” for those of you old enough to know that show. I went for about 10 minutes, then my legs felt like they were going to fall off, and I was breathing pretty hard. They rushed me to the gurney two feet away to get a picture while my heart rate was up. My heart was still doing its thing. I have no idea if it was doing it well or not, but there it was, dancing right along. The thought that occurred to me is that my heart is as much of a camera whore as I am.

I have to admit that I’m a little afraid of what the bill is going to look like when it comes in. This little round with the doctor had not only blood tests, but today’s two tests as well as two doctor visits. Might end up putting some of the bill on credit, which I am loathe to do, but I might not have any choice in the matter.

I’m going to try to upgrade my current insurance benefits at work, so I’m not spending $500 every time I say hello to a doctor. It’s going to cost me money every month, which I haven’t had to pay before, thanks to my employer, but it will hopefully be less in the long-run.

The health care debate is raging all around us, and I’ve been trying to figure out what my basic truths are about it.

I read an article in the New Yorker, called “How Healthcare Killed My Father,” and it basically posited a new way to deal with Health Insurance. He insisted that “catastrophic” should be defined as over $50,000. I don’t know about the lot of you, but anything over $5,000 to $10,000 in hospital bills could bring my whole world following down around my ears and leave me buried for the rest of my life, and I think I’m farther up there on the scale than a lot of folks. And let’s not talk about what would happen if I lost my job due to being ill. Not only do I have more bills than ever, but I have no way of making money to pay those bills.

He also suggested that employers stop being made to pay for health insurance, and that employees put money away every month for it. His economic belief is if employers are not required to pay for health insurance, then it would be reflected in higher wages for the rest of us and we could afford to put that money away. I’m not so sure about that, myself. My experience with employers is that they will pay as little as possible, if pinched, and that in a down market, they will pay less. Which leaves the rest of us high and dry if we get sick when there is a down market.

He also said that the government should take care of those who can’t pay their monthly allotment. I can see the libertarians and the republicans having apoplexy at just the very thought. To his credit, he did recognize that changes of this nature would take at least a generation to implement. “What do we do in the meantime?” is my question, of course.

I will also say that reading some of the economic theories on this whole subject makes my eyes glaze over and immediate snoring sounds to emanate from my head area. Not because it’s particularly boring, but more because this is not my area of expertise and some of it sounds like wild fantastical conjecture based on theories that I have no education in, so can’t give an informed opinion on. If any of you know this article and believe that I’ve got it wrong, let me know, and tell me what your impression is ... gently, of course.

Here’s what I believe. As a society, we need to be able to help each other out, on a large scale and a small scale. I believe that making health care dependent on whether each individual can afford to pay for it is fundamentally wrong, short-sighted, and, to be frank, immoral. I think we need some lessons in compassion. Yes, there will be some people who abuse a system based on compassion, and sharing, but nothing is perfect, and I would rather walk the high-road and be taken advantage of a little bit, than be afraid to ever reach my hand out to folks that might genuinely need it. Yes, this can also be taken to an extreme, but I don’t think we’re even close to being there.

Another issue raised by this gentleman, and several other is that doctor should be paid for results rather than the procedure. While it does seem that there might be abuses of a system that rewards doctors for more procedures, I also have quite a bit of trepidation about a system that requires a doctor to get results. Who defines results? After all, people are mortal and sometimes, despite a conscientious doctor’s best efforts people die, or deal with things that can’t be cured. If you’re rewarding doctors for “results,” is it not conceivable that a doctor might not give enough care to somebody that he or she knows can’t be ultimately helped or cured? Food for thought.

On the practical side of things, once I get the bill for this current go-round of lab tests, my heart will probably stop beating all on its own, so the whole issue will be moot ... at least for me.

Peace, y’all.

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