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It’s A Small World After All

Mon, 02/22/2010 - 5:37am
Zoe Kiren Deol, MD, FACS

In Part 2 of 2, Dr. Deol discusses the cultural differences she has experienced during her international exposure to the world of medicine.

February 23, 2010

Finally, my experience in Paris occurred during what was supposed to be a day trip from London. Unfortunately, my dinner of les moules marinière (mussels) extended our stay for an extra day. As we stood in Le Gare du Nord, waiting for our train to take us back under the English Channel, I felt the familiar queasiness that comes on with a case of food poisoning. What I hadn’t counted on was how quickly this would progress from queasiness to vomiting of exorcism proportions. After paying for the first two, back-to-back trips through the turn style, and into the restroom, I just decided to camp out there. 

Finally, my experience in Paris occurred during what was supposed to be a day trip from London.  Unfortunately, my dinner of les moules marinière (mussels) extended our stay for an extra day.  As we stood in Le Gare du Nord, waiting for our train to take us back under the English Channel, I felt the familiar queasiness that comes on with a case of food poisoning.  What I hadn’t counted on was how quickly this would progress from queasiness to vomiting of exorcism proportions.  After paying for the first two, back-to-back trips through the turn style, and into the restroom, I just decided to camp out there. 

Fortunately for me, a kindly Jamaican cleaning woman took pity on me, and carried me back out to my anxious husband and his buddy with a plastic garbage bag taped to my mouth.  As my husband tried to shove me into the nearest cab, over the protests of the cab driver who kept screaming, “Mais non! Ma voiture!, my husband’s friend took the luggage and said he would meet us at the nearest hospital.  It turned out that the nearest hospital was a “public hospital”.  I didn’t care what it was called, as long as they had Zofran.  It turns out that their public hospital was filled to the gills with people all waiting to be seen.  My impression of Linda Blair did not faze anyone, and I was told it would be three to four hours before I could even be checked in.  By the time our friend showed up, he had learned that there was a private hospital called the “American Hospital in Paris” we could go to, however it was rumored to be very expensive.  At this point I would have taken a second mortgage out on my house in exchange for medical care, so we got in a second, much more sympathetic, cab and headed to the Paris suburbs in search of care.

When we arrived at the American Hospital, I was surprised, and relieved, to see no one waiting.  Within a span of 10 minutes, I was checked in, blood drawn, IV placed and Zofran administered.  My doctor was an ER physician from Colorado who left her job in the US three years earlier because she did not want to become, as she put it, “ .. as bitter as all of her colleagues”.  On the weekends she worked in the ER in Paris.  During the week, she worked for a med-evac company, traveling the world to escort businessmen and women who had fallen ill, and needed to be flown home.  She gave me a sublingual Xanax and promised me that I would feel like life was worth living again in just a few minutes.  When I woke up three hours later, she was sitting next to me with a confused look on her face.  After I confirmed to her that I did indeed feel like life was worth living again, she asked me where my husband was.  Apparently she sent him and his friend to a pharmacy on the Champs Elyseé to fill a prescription for antibiotics.  Since the pharmacy was only a half hour away, she was concerned that he had left me high and dry.  We both quickly turned and breathed a sigh of relief when we saw his luggage still in the corner.

As if on queue, they both walked in at that moment, laughing and regaling stories of the best meal they had ever eaten, at which point my doctor interrupted to inform them that I was feeling better and they were being insensitive to my delicate stomach’s condition by talking about food.  After she put them in their place, my doctor told my husband he could cash out and take me to the hotel next door for a good night’s sleep.  She also gave me a couple of Xanax for the road, probably figuring I had my hands full with these two. 

As I saw my husband and his friend throwing money into a pot on my bed, I realized that there was a bet going as to the price of my very fancy, personalized, health care.  I too was nervous about the cost as I made a mental note of each of the drugs, IV bags, and laboratory samples that had exchanged hands.  The grand total for my speedy recovery in this Paris emergency room was 500.00. I tried to wrap my head around this number as I recalled the 3,000.00 cost of the blood work alone for my annual physical back home.  I understand that everything is relative, and in France where they are heavily taxed for healthcare, among other things, they do not have the means to afford private care such as this, and thus have to resort to waiting in lines at the public hospital.  So here we have a single payor system, which dominates the market, and while it provides coverage for all, the quality of care at the public hospital is much less desirable than that which can be found at the private hospitals.

To sum it up, Jerry Springer style (as my friends have accused me of doing), we have an opportunity in the US to learn from all the positives and negatives of health care systems from around the world, and create one for ourselves that would surpass them all.  So what are we waiting for?

What's your take? E-mail zoedeol@msn.com

Click here to read Part 1 of "It's A Small World After All"

Dr. Deol is a self-employed, board-certified general surgeon.

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