After our honeymoon, Mrs. Angry announced that I would soon be receiving a comprehensive medical physical. “I’m a twenty-five year old man!” I declared. “I have the resting heartbeat of a professional athlete! I don’t need a physical! I need a pizza!”
With grim determination, and believing she needed some sort of security on her long-term investment, Mrs. Angry scheduled me an appointment with a general practitioner despite my ill-tempered shouting. Days later, I found myself at the center of a battery of basic medical exams. The doctor pounded my knee with a rubber hammer to check my lightening quick reflexes. He ducked for cover as I was bombarded by dangerous x-rays. He had a iron-faced nurse draw vials of blood from my well-muscled arm. At the conclusion of the tests, the doctor said to me, “What are you even doing here? You’re twenty five!”
Believing my ordeal of prodding and shirtless-ness over, I moodily resumed my angry lifestyle. However, my peace and fury was soon interrupted by a phone call at work. “Mr. Czeck,” said the nurse on the other end of the line, “We’ve conducted a number of expensive tests on your blood samples and we’ve concluded you might have a bizarre disease of the liver. You need an abdominal CAT Scan.”
Off I went to the hospital for my abdominal CAT Scan! Mrs. Angry and my brother (we’ll call him “Heather”) sat anxiously in the waiting room as my body was blasted by mysterious energy. I secretly wondered how much an abdominal CAT Scan costs. A hundred bucks? A million? I didn’t want to know almost as badly as I didn’t want to know whether or not I had a bizarre disease of the liver. If you don’t know, you don’t have to do anything about it. That’s my motto.
It’s like your whole body is getting stuffed into a big, fancy vagina!
For days I waited nervously for some doctor to read the results of my pricy abdominal CAT Scan. Three days went by. Five days! I’d have started a one-man riot in Memphis were it not for the possibility of my disease-riddled liver exploding while upending a Ford Focus. Finally, a co-worker demanded that I give the physician’s office a call, if only to make me billable again. With fingers of fury I dialed the number. The receptionist answered, “I’ll put you through to Office X!”
That sounded official, until it became clear that Office X was a barren wasteland containing only a stack of outdated issues of Grit Magazine and an old, rotary-style telephone that rang for eternity. Three times the receptionist transferred me to Office X! Enraged, I dialed the number for a fourth time and screamed, “If you don’t let me talk to someone, I’m coming over there!” That did the trick. Immediately, I was transferred to a nurse who – at some tragic point in her life – had been completely stripped of emotions.
“I’m reading the doctor’s notes right now,” she said tonelessly. “Your liver looks fine, but you might have cancer. I’ll have the physician call you back.” And then she hung up! I leaped into my Angermobile and raced to the physician’s office and very calmly shrieked, “I want to speak to a doctor! Now!”
I must have looked like a man who might have cancer, because my physician suddenly appeared like a magician. Presto! Like a salesman listing the optional features of a Dodge Intrepid, my doctor informed me that while the costly abdominal CAT Scan did not reveal any abnormalities in my liver, it did unearth a few nodules in my colon that should be investigated by a gastroenterologist. Again, this was information that I had rather not have known.
Bravely, I scheduled an appointment with the gastroenterologist myself. My gastroenterologist seemed a very nice man. You’d never know that he made his fortune sticking his hand up to his wrist inside people’s assholes. I was very much afraid that this was the grisly fate in store for me, and I dimly wondered if I would emerge from my appointment a much-changed man. It did little to assuage my fears when the gastroenterologist instructed me to take off my pants.
“You know,” he said as he nonchalantly handled my nuts, “I looked at your luxurious abdominal CAT Scan, and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary. The nodules I see are a very common symptom of stress. You should take it easy.” After he was finished with my nuts, I slapped my pants back on and sighed with relief.
“Thanks, doc,” I said. “I was a little worried there.”
The gastroenterologist clicked his pen and began writing illegible notes on his clipboard. “Yes. But I also reviewed your chest x-ray from your physical and noted a dark spot on your lung. You should have that checked out immediately.”
“It appears you still have some money left in your wallet!”
Later that day, while not doing anything billable at work, I resolved myself to simply ignore the doctor’s advice. I didn’t smoke. I felt great! There was no way in hell I had lung cancer, so everybody could just fuck off. And I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it. I practically wanted to eat an asbestos sandwich just to make the whole damn experience worth my time. I settled for a hamburger and forgot about my chest x-ray.
Except a week later, an acquaintance of mine was diagnosed with leukemia. I didn’t know him well, but he was a big, strapping guy. The kind of guy who drives around with a kayak tied to the roof of his Subaru Outback. He had just gotten married to one of Mrs. Angry’s best friends, and the diagnosis came as a shock to all of us. He was only a year or two older than me.
I didn’t want to spend the rest of my new marriage struggling with chemotherapy and selecting grave-marker styles with my sobbing wife. Not when I could do something about it. I called the physician and scheduled another chest x-ray. Two days later, I received word that the second x-ray revealed two healthy lungs, and that the first x-ray must have had a shadow on the film. Case closed.
While my ordeal ultimately granted me a clean bill of health, it did expose the glaring problem with our current system of healthcare. Even though I told my general practitioner that my blood had registered abnormal test results in the past, and that it had been attributed to rare enzymes found in my liver, the doctor pressed ahead with ordering a costly abdominal CAT Scan anyway. Why? The suppressed, browbeaten romantic in me wants to believe that the doctor simply wanted to prescribe the most comprehensive healthcare to his patient. But the rancorous cynic in me knows that our culture of lawsuits compels doctors to cover every base possible, even at the expense of out-of-control healthcare insurance premiums.
Lawsuits put the little man on par with the billionaire giants who control our country. A lawsuit is our only protection. It is the only language soulless corporate CEOs understand. Yet it is lawsuits that are slowly crippling us. Recently, I heard that the State of Illinois was experiencing a significant medical talent drain. Many physicians were packing their shingles and moving to other states. Why? Practicing medicine in Illinois was becoming too expensive. Malpractice premiums were simply too high.
The United States Healthcare System as seen by the average attorney.
The consequences of multi-million dollar awards handed out in our courtrooms like Halloween candy are beginning to haunt us all. Personally, my health insurance premiums went up this year by 20%. That is a mammoth increase that was absorbed only through a sacrifice of my 401K investment. I can afford my healthcare now, but only because I can’t afford to retire until I’m 100.
Some Republicans are seeking to apply limits to how much can be won in a malpractice suit. Predictably, Democrats are screaming, but not without good reason. Like I said, lawsuits are what prevents drug companies from feeding us pills that dissolve our ovaries and punishes arrogant surgeons who carve their names into a patient’s skin with his scalpel. It is a checks-and-balances common Americans simply cannot afford to surrender.
There is no easy solution. There is too much money at stake to funnel our healthcare system to a government agency. Pharmaceutical companies will never allow legislation that limits their incredible profits. I don’t begrudge anyone for making a profit. So let’s be reasonable. How long does a pharmaceutical company own a patent on a specific drug? Ten years? How about we make it three years? Three years for the company to recoup its research costs, rape the public, and collect dividends, and then it becomes a generic. We can all afford to live.
And yes, the Angry Czeck is for limiting awards for malpractice. We cannot risk discouraging our brighter minds from pursuing a career in medicine for fear of making mistakes. Medicine is not like plumbing. It’s not even like building a car. Why do we place our physicians on the same tightrope?
Perhaps we need to create an entirely separate court of law just for medicine. We could devise protocols to determine which suits are worthy to pursue, and which are superfluous. Yes, we would be placing much faith in the hands of a fistful of judges, but we must do something before it costs me a trillion dollars just to check my knee reflexes.