Thoughts on American healthcare

For lunch on November the 20th, I was trying to struggling with a can of refried beans. This was one of those difficult cans without a pull tab, and we had no openers at home. The frustration led to a moment of madness where I just decided to stab the can top with a large meat knife. Pop-pop-pop and stab! Yup, I looked down to find I had stabbed the webbing of my left hand. Only a moment later there was blood oozing out left and right. Perturbed by all the blood, I decided to stop everything else and run to the Northeastern student health center.

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Before we begin here, its important to share that this was my first experience with any American medical facility. Now healthcare is not too bad back home in India either. In a similar situation in an Indian college, I would have gone to a dispensary, possibly gotten roughed up by a couple of nurses and “compounders” over the unavailability of the correct doctor, but eventually stitched up with a pair of sterilized scissors and new tapes.

With the insurance card in my pocket, I entered the health center. First impressions – it was nothing like any dispensaries back home. There were four booths and students in small queues in front of those. I went up to one of them when it was my turn. The lady at the booth asked for my college ID, and pulled up my record. They already knew I had had a tetanus within the last year (yeah I keep doing these things). She pulled up a number from my insurance card, gave me an appointment number and asked me to wait in the spacious waiting area. She added I could use one of the self check-in terminals (placed on the sides of this first room) next time.

I had barely waited for 5 minutes when a nurse came out of the clinic door looking for me. I followed her in an entered one of the rooms. She asked me to place all the stuff in my pockets on a table, and stand on a weighing scale. To me, this was frivolous. Why would anyone take my weight for fixing a knife cut? It only got weirder when she next placed a blood pressure clip on my finger and took my temperature! Seriously, what was going on? In fact at this point, I went ahead and insisted once again that I was only here to get a cut fixed, pointing at my broken webbing. She replied she knew, but wants to go through procedure to see if anything else was wrong. She left once she had taken my vitals and asked me to wait for the doctor.

Next up – the doctor. She was probably no older than 30 and beautiful, I must confess. My next interrogation began with a series of questions about the injury, followed by my history of bruises, allergies and reactions. She looked at the wound for a bit and decided that we would need a couple of stitches. Next, she pulled out a square box case – about 6 inches side – broke open a seal,  pulled out a syringe and a small bottle of numbing anesthesia and began with the, by now seemingly mandatory, disclosure about anesthesia and its effects. I declared I was okay with all that and just wanted to get the procedure done with. She cleaned the wound, numbed the wound and pulled out a brand new pair of surgical scissors and cut a small piece of the surgical thread for stitches. Diligently, she applied two stitches and rubbed a small gash of disinfectant on the now closed tear.

While all the care by this moment had been overwhelming enough for me to actually bring up the differences with the Indian procedures, what happened next flummoxed me completely! She trashed the entire kit with at least 15 other medical supplies such as unopened packs of tapes, bandages, scissors, ointments, etc in it. Unbelievable! Totally new, those could have been used by another patient bringing healthcare costs of the system down, or even sent for medical relief to another country. Additionally, it would have saved all that extra medical waste to be dumped. Anyway, albeit stupefied, I thanked her, fixed the followup appointment on her computer and asked if I had to pay anything. To my surprise, the expenses (apart from the care, wonder what that kit had cost) were covered by my insurance. So I left the health center, fixed up and not a penny lighter.

Since then, while I commended the excellent care received, I’ve asked my friends about the wasteful medical policy of dumping the entire supplies kit. Matter-of-factly, they replied it was routine procedure and pointed that the kit “wasted” in my little procedure was nothing compared to the ones thrown away during complex orthopedic or internal surgeries. The inefficiency it seems, is because of the supplier-hospital contracts in this capitalist economy which stipulate the hospital to use an tool kit only once after its seal has been broken! An unbelievable and inhuman requirement at so many levels, only in place to maximize supplier profits. Hospitals don’t care because in the end its the doctors who receive royalties for the products developed.

So while America contemplates the pros and cons of Obamacare, deep rooted capitalism kicks humanity hard.

 

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Captain Planet

Captain Planet, He’s our hero; Gonna take pollution down to zero

 Watching Captain Planet team up with the Planeteers, fight against the perpetrators of environment crimes, is one of my most cherished childhood memories. Sadly, as it later dawned, Captain Planet existed only in the cartoons.

Now I’m not claiming to be an environmentalist here. In fact my habits would show I’m quite far from being one. But why I refer to this iconic planet-protecting superhero of my childhood this World Environment Day because he had a simple message for all of us – “When our powers combine, we can save the planet.” It is with this spirit that I can look into myself and realize I can make a difference.

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Saving the planet should not necessarily have to be about fighting pollution crimes. It begins with me – I can start with the basics, for eg. by using the air-conditioning judiciously; by applying proper waste disposal by using the correct bins for plastics and organics; by not letting the water run incessantly in the washroom. Its little things like these that will help bring about a larger change. We may not realize it yet, but the biggest challenges that lie ahead of us ( and in very near future ) are going to be those of sustainment and replenishing energy. Is it so difficult ?

It might be very little, but I convinced my flat-mates to keep the air-conditioning off tonight. In fact, its been a wonderful wind circulating through the house all evening.

Lets do our bit – Reduce, Replenish, Recycle. The power is yours.

(Picture courtsey Benprice )

Why don’t you smoke?

I’ve come across this question quite a few times, and frankly, the reason is, its purely out of choice. In return, I always come up with, “Why do you smoke ?” And generally, nobody has a clue, as they give me a puzzled, all confident smile.

The reason I’m jumping my ass into this ever controversial tobacco battle tonight is something I witnessed about an hour back. I was inside this grocery store, buying some random stuff, and amongst the small crowd, there was this really cute little girl not more than 6 or 7, buying herself an ice cream. Seemingly her parents had sent her to the shop, just outside the apartments’ gates, to pick her favorite ice cream. I was looking through the rack for the stuff I had come for, while noticing how cute the entire thing seemed as she kept contemplating between the flavors. Just as she finally decided on the dessert she wanted, she went to the counter, and muttered, ” I want this ice cream, and 2 cigarettes “. I was aghast, shocked with complete disbelief. What did this little ice cream girl have to do with cigarettes? The shopkeeper, almost matter-of -factly, handed her the 2 smokes, and she happily exited out.  Just as she was leaving, I asked her, almost calling out, “Aapko cigarette kyu chahiye ?” (Why do you want these cigarettes? ), and in unison with the shopkeeper, she replied, her dad wanted them ! It was just plain, disgusting parenting, and I didn’t know what this kids parents were upto.

But, what happened tonight is obviously not the reason I don’t take to smoking, the reason I don’t is that I have a choice. I have the choice to avoid one of the ways to fall to something as fatal as cancer; I have a choice to keep my lungs clean, be able to maintain good stamina, to keep healthy, and to not slowly, voluntarily kill myself. I have seen and read about innocent people, little kids who’ve had to face life-threatening, and often fatal diseases, for no real faults of their own. Kids, who were born to HIV; people who faced cancer just out of sheer bad luck, whose bodies were messed up from the inside, and they didn’t have a clue about where it came from. I know, just as much as anyone that I could face it tomorrow. But I have this choice today, right now, in this moment, to make it less probable. I have a choice to a healthy life, and I know I’m not the cleanest one around, nor for a moment am I implying, that I don’t have habits that I don’t regret, but this is something, that never caught up to me, and so I plan to keep it that way.

As for that little girl, I really can’t come up with words to express how pathetic I feel about her parents. Your parents are the ones you look up to, especially, more so as kids. They are your role models, the ones you brag about, the ones you protect, the ones you defend, the one who defend you, but parents like hers, are shameless, and to say the least, not worthy for any child to look up to. I am just a young guy myself, but that right there, is something I would never be proud of, as and whenever I become a parent. And, to think that her father send her out at 10 in the night, to buy cigarettes, with the lure of an ice cream, just disgusts me to the core. Think about it, I don’t imply you were to ever do this, but unless you were to quit, you’d never know when it drove you to this !

Vegan

( OK, I’ve been told that vegan is an extreme form of vegetarianism; no milk,yogurt et al; by a few of you. So, thanks for that. Won’t be changing the title here though )

I decided to go vegan for a month, this Monday evening. Its been 4 days of February now, and its not been all that bad.

Why? What does it bring to the plate? For starters, haven’t been feeling good about myself for quite sometime now. Its been a lots of things, but I figured I needed to take a stand on something, to apply method, to turn the corner probably. So with that, and also probably because I felt I had been consuming too much of the meat these past 6 months, I decided to stop.

Vegetarianism as a habit comes to us naturally; yes as humans we’ve always been omnivorous, but the measures our civilizations have gone to, to sow, to wait patiently over the crops, to cultivate, to select and to relish the harvest go a long way in explaining our primal interest in the green diet. It is complete, brings in a lot of variety to the plate, and is above all very healthy. The oft laid criticism is its supposed lacking in the rich protein content, esp. vis-a-vis the muscle build department, where the non-vegetarian alternatives are said to be leaps and bounds ahead. I believe its about selecting your vegetarian diet wisely; indulging in large helpings of legumes, beans, yogurt, and off course-milk. And then again, vegetables are the best supplies of all essential vitamins and minerals, which go a long way in keeping healthy; and all carbohydrates are essentially grains. Lots of energy and well-being there !

Personally, for me, this is just a break from gobbling down on too much meat, at every excuse for a meal. I plan to go back to the more suited 3 non-vegetarian meals a week plan after the month. Do you ever consider your eating patterns? Sometimes, its very enlightening ( not The Enlightenment, NO ) into your general external self. For instance, if you’re a chronic skipper, chances are, you’re either always too hurried, or too high ! If you’re always pushing bytes down your stomach, or looking for something to eat whenever your hands are free, you could be really anxious, the can’t-stay-idle kinds. Look into yourself, your food habits mirror you.

Bon Appetit !