We were in Girona, Spain, recently, and my husband got a whopper-size kidney stone. It resulted in blockage and an infection in his bloodstream. Next came two hospitalizations, one life-saving surgery, a second surgery, outpatient IV antibiotics, diagnostic scans and stratospheric stress.
We reached three of our doctors in the U.S. The first offered neither advice nor asked how my husband was. The second, when asked about doing a specific test, wrote back: “I think so.” The third never replied.
Unfortunately, this unacceptable, uncaring behavior is now accepted as normal. Practitioners are overloaded and expensive because they’re repaying student loans, right? They don’t accept Medicare? Just pay out of pocket. Questions? You’re on the clock. Need to see a specialist? Sure. Four months from now.
This wasn’t the norm in Spain. A highly skilled surgeon and the department head were available whenever needed, and — shocker — they cared. It was evident in their behavior, speech, considered opinions and mutually agreed-upon decisions. They’re my new heroes. They treat nurses and hospital staff with respect. They’re not driven by money. They became doctors because they wanted to enhance and save lives.
My husband and I have wonderful physician friends who care about their patients. But we’ve also had experiences with doctors who are uncaring, judgmental and Antarctic cold. We have friends who don’t go to doctors because they cannot afford it. Others have no medical insurance.
How to reverse this untenable situation? We need to have free medical coverage for all; to subsidize doctors’ education so their exorbitant loans are not passed onto patients; to train doctors in school to be present and caring; to create a system where a doctor’s time is not consumed by billing and insurance so it can be invested in face time with patients; to offer doctors free courses in alternative therapies that may provide relief, cure and fewer side effects.
If we want our doctors to take care of us, we must take care of them.
The system we have now in the U.S. has transferred power away from people and toward paperwork and business. Medical practices are billing machines. I get news releases about which medical specialties offer doctors the greatest financial rewards. They hire medical business consultants to improve the bottom line, thus relegating patients to something to be dealt with on the way to a profit goal.
The bottom line is this: We all will need medical help from people who are driven by care for patients and not just profits. We need to use our voices, votes and social media accounts to get what is a human right. It was defined as America’s number one concern by the authors of the Declaration of Independence — people “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life. … ” It can’t be stated any better than that!
In the interest of alleviating these problems, and to make life better for all concerned, my husband and I would like to facilitate a nonconfrontational, solution-oriented meeting between patients and physicians about what can be done to make medical care easier, more accessible and less expensive for all. We could do so at any major medical facility that is forward-thinking and truly dedicated to our community.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist, author and speaker who lives in Santa Fe.