Ronin Round Table: Modern Medicine

By Nicole Lindroos

Note: Nicole wrote and posted this yesterday to various social media sites, but it seemed fitting to re-post it here, today, for any who might have missed it.

Modern medicine, like whoa.

This morning in the pre-dawn hours I got up and took Pramas to the hospital for surgery on his neck. The neurosurgeon was scheduled to “excavate” a couple of the vertebrae in his neck, trimming back bone spurs that were compressing a nerve, scraping away matter to make room for a shim of cadaver bone to be wedged in place and secured with a titanium plate.

Walking through this experience with Chris, I felt very much like the surgeon in the Star Trek clip (really, no need to watch past 0:53 to get my point). All day I was thinking "What’s going on? Who are you people?" because this experience was unlike any medical experience I’ve had in my life. (Possibly because there’s never been a time when I’ve needed, much less been able to avail myself of, medical care with price tag in the many tens of thousands of dollars.)

Chris’s medical bracelet had a barcode and QR codes on it. Numerous times during his surgery prep his bracelet was scanned while an RN or PCT (Patient Care Technician, a new-to-me acronym) held what amounted to a tricorder. Need to check blood sugar? Scan bracelet, prick finger, test strip with tricorder. Need to record temperature? Scan bracelet, plug thermometer into tricorder, stick under tongue. Rinse and repeat for any number of other things that needed to be recorded.

While Chris was in surgery, I was given a pager with a range of 5 city blocks in case I wanted to go eat or run an errand. They also made double sure they had my cell phone, too. The surgery waiting room had several comfortable chairs, outlets(!), and four big screen monitors showing Chris’s personal ID number with a constant to-the-minute update of where he was in the process. The very minute his number would have shown that he had been moved to recovery, I was fetched to a private room by an attendant so I could meet with his surgeon. His number never even had a chance to roll up the screen!

Chris’s incision site is only about 2 inches long and was sealed with Dermabond instead of stitched or stapled. A short Google search on Dermabond told me all about its properties. It’s about $25 per application versus $5 worth of stitches, while being sterile, waterproof, and naturally decomposing (so no "stitch removal" appointment needed) as well as offering better healing with less scarring, plus getting the patient out more quickly than traditional stitching. As someone who had several dozen stitches in my face after a dog bite as a kid, I can’t even imagine the difference something like Dermabond would have made for all those multiple small cuts. For Mass Effect fans, this struck me as real world Medi-gel.

Chris was awake and alert by the time I saw him. I actually ran into him as I was entering the elevator because I’d been given his room number and told that I could go up to see him before he was wheeled up from recovery. He was transferred from the mobile bed to the bed in the room, hooked up to monitors for heart rate, oxygen, and so on. He was fitted with intermittent pneumatic compression devices for his legs to prevent blood clots, mimicking the effects of walking around for him in case he was weak, dizzy, nauseous, or otherwise couldn’t walk for himself for an extended period. I had expected him to be much more "out of it," in more pain, or otherwise incapacitated after this procedure. To my delight and amazement, the wound seemed incredibly minor and Chris was his basic self immediately. In fact, thanks to a double dose of Vicodin, he was downright chipper!

The medical team had a checklist of things he had to accomplish in order to leave the hospital. He was warned that he might have discomfort when swallowing, that they might start him on something like pudding and work up to more solid foods, that they might, that they might. Lots of "mights." Turned out that he was feeling so good that he was able to order a full breakfast (with latte) which he ate with no trouble. All of the other milestones were passed as well (basic things like breathing, peeing, walking around). After 5-ish hours of observation and hourly checks of his vital signs he was able to just walk out of the hospital and go home! They definitely didn’t push him out…in fact, they made sure to tell him that he could stay if he felt like it, but by 3pm he was up and pacing around the room. No mandatory wheelchair to the doors or anything, just walked to the car with me like he had coming in!

Thinking on this, I’m stunned and amazed. My husband walked into the hospital this morning crippled with pain and numbness. With barely an hour of work, his surgeon repaired his defective vertebrae through an incision barely two inches long, sealed him up with what amounts to magical glue, and he was eating, drinking, peeing, walking, talking, smartassing, and fully himself almost immediately upon waking up from anesthesia and released to go about his life with the mildest admonitions ("Don’t shower until Saturday. No lifting more than ten pounds for four weeks. If you have pain, bleeding, or fever over 101°F call your doctor."). This is astounding to me, no less amazing than Bones McCoy beaming in and, with a horrified "What is this, the Dark Ages?!" handing Chris a pill to new health.

I’m accutely aware that this experience was possible because of the Cadaver Bone Benefit Anthology. Because of the anthology, we could undertake this life-changing surgery and get Chris back on the road to health and professional productivity. Once past the barrier of covering "our costs" based on our lackluster insurance, Chris’s care was, indeed, first rate. Top of the line. Beyond anything I could have hoped for! I understand why people with access to this quality of care firmly believe that the United States has the best health care in the world, even if we don’t. It’s f***ing impressive! Without the anthology to raise money to cover "our costs" though? Chris would still be suffering. We would be putting off this surgery for as long as possible, while we tried to save our way to affording the surgery or putting it on a credit card or predatory loan with a 20% to 30% interest rate… because those are the options for people like us, self-employed, small family business folks ("Mom and Pop" business is apparently our "official" designation, while "small business" is reserved for million-dollar chain restaurants with less than 10 locations and so on, but I personally refuse to cede the "small business" label to those people…rant for another time) in need.

On the other side of this procedure, where the apparatus of modern medical technology was available to us, it all seems so easy to handle… so downright PETTY to deny someone a solution that was mere hours to accomplish after many months (half a year!) of suffering, and yet that’s where we would be if not for the generous support of our Cadaver Bone anthology contributors and the people who bought in. Even without the total costs in hand, or any additional bills for rehab, physical therapy, or follow-ups the fundraiser has removed such a substantial burden I almost don’t have the words to address it.

My brother and sister-in-law are both newly minted doctors. My brother has finished his residency and is working. My sister-in-law is finishing her own residency soon. I see their passion for helping people and I want them to be rewarded for their efforts… I want my brother to be able to pay off the quarter million dollars in student loans he had to take on to achieve what he has achieved! I also want my husband, my child, my friends, family (myself!) to be able to avail ourselves of this wonderful, futuristic world of efficient healthcare so we can undertake preventative care and, if that isn’t effective, reduce our suffering. Today’s foray into modern medicine only reinforced my belief that this is possible and that any civilized society should view access to such medical care as a moral imperative. As thankful as I am that Chris’s fundraiser helped us, I think it’s a crying shame that such measures are necessary.

Modern medicine, man. Like whoa.