I fell while crossing the street in Aigues-Mortes, France on September 18. I broke my hip and shoulder on the right side. Since then, I’ve sampled how healthcare is delivered, French-style. (Why You Should Care About Healthcare This Election: Part 1)
As crazy as it might seem, several years ago in the US I experienced an almost identical injury to the one in France. Except it was on my left side. This post is about my US healthcare experience.
The accident eight years ago happened in my home in South Carolina. I had just separated from my husband of 40 years, so I was alone. As I had been warned not to do many times during my marriage, I was standing on top of the kitchen counter. I fell off.
“Why was I standing on the kitchen counter? ” you ask. My most popular answer is “pole dancing.” Believe as you will.
When I fell from the countertop onto the tile floor in the kitchen, I landed on my left side. Immediately I knew I was in trouble. My left leg was crooked at a 45 degree angle. My left arm was killing me. I was nauseous.
There was no one around except my labradoodle, Bentley, so I had to find my cellphone to call for help.
But where was the phone?
In my foggy state, I remembered I had last used the cellphone in the living room. I dragged myself on the floor to find it. Fortunately it was where I thought I’d left it. I called my sister-in-law who was in the same town.
The next thing I remember, a strange man was kneeling over me calling my name. I had passed out. The man was an EMT. With the aide of another EMT, he lifted me onto what felt like a board. My leg was still bent. I was in excruciating pain.
When we arrived at the hospital emergency room, my brother, sister-in-law and my ex-husband were there. They took care of the details of admitting me to the emergency room while I was wheeled into a “holding area.”
As I remember, it was close to 9pm when I entered the emergency room of the hospital. After X-rays and the sad discovery that I had broken both my hip and my arm, I was put into my private room.. It was after 4am. Apparently the hospital had a problem locating the doctor. Without his approval, they could not admit me.
Fortunately, I was loaded with meds, so I was in and out of consciousness. I remember vividly, however, when they put me in the hospital bed and forced my leg down straight with a pulley and weights. That hurt big time.
US Healthcare: Surgery and Post Op
My hip was operated on the second day I was in the hospital. Three pins were inserted through a very small incision to hold the break in the hip. No surgery was needed for the broken bone in my arm. Just a bandage.
Five days after I was admitted, I was discharged from the hospital.
US Healthcare: Rehab
Anytime I’ve been hospitalized for surgery in the US, I’ve been asked “is there anyone at home who can take care of you?” Don’t ask me why no one mentions a stop at a rehabilitation hospital.
In fact, I know of only one person who has gone from a hospital to an inpatient rehab facility. It was my daughter-in-law after spinal surgery. It’s been my experience that you find somebody to take care of you after you leave the hospital.
Miss Rosie’s Rehab
That “somebody” for me was Rosemary. We’re like sisters. We were in journalism school together at UNC-Chapel Hill; we were in each others’ wedding; and we lived together in Greenville, SC for our first jobs out of university. At the time of my accident Rosemary was single. She lived on a farm with horses, donkeys, 3 dogs and 20+ cats.
Four-legged friends at Miss Rosey’s: Ester and her son, Firecracker
After my discharge from the hospital, no one talked about hiring an ambulance to take me home. Rosemary hauled me there in the backseat of her car. I’m not sure how we managed to fit my 5’9″ broken body in the car, but we did it. Family members met us at my condo and put me into my bed. I could bear no weight on my left leg nor use my arm. I was fragile and I was in a great deal of pain. Mind you, I had broken the femoral arm of my hip into two pieces only five days earlier.
Rosemary was with me through one of the most horrifically painful times in my life. We stayed most of the time at her farm in North Carolina. Neither of us knew anything about tending a patient after surgery.
View at Miss Rosey’s Rehab
Through trial and error we discovered “tricks” to help us deal with the adversities of my lame condition and pain. For example, “how to move a lame patient in the bed.”
I’d experienced being pulled on a sheet from the stretcher to the x-Ray table at the hospital. At the time I remember asking the two female X-ray technicians, “how do you two manage to move a large man?”
” The same way,” they said.
So Rosemary kept a doubled sheet under me at all times on the bed. When I needed to get out of bed, she’d pull the two corners of the doubled sheet towards the side of the bed. Laying flat, my body would slide with the movement of the sheet to the edge of the mattress. Then, ever so slowly and gently, I’d sit up.
We used this routine day and night. Especially when I needed the toilet. It never dawned on us to use a bedpan.
For over six weeks I moved from place to place at Miss Rosie’s with a walker. On one foot, with a broken arm. I was pretty much a prisoner in her guest room and kitchen. The floor plan of the house was multi-level.
One day we had the bright idea to use a kitchen stool to help me get to her deck outside. I sat on the stool in the kitchen. Then I swiveled my body around to face the kitchen door and the deck that was one step down. Rosemary took my walker onto the deck, and Voila! I stepped off the stool on my one good leg, grabbed the walker and I was outside in the fresh air.
US Healthcare: Physical Therapy
When I felt ok to be on my own, I left “Miss Rosey’s Rehab” and returned to South Carolina. I had to go back to work. Fortunately I telecommuted from home with IBM, so there was no “going to the office.”
I began a twice weekly regimen of physical therapy. My health insurance with IBM allowed for 8 weeks. After 6 weeks I had to stop. The pins in my hip were causing a problem. I waited until they were removed a month later to resume my treatment. Fortunately, IBM insurance paid for another 6 weeks of physical therapy.
The good news is that the physical therapy experience was excellent. I regained mobility and strength nearly one hundred percent.
US Healthcare: Costs
I wish I could recall the hospital and surgery cost but it was eight years ago. I don’t remember how much I was paying for health insurance, either. I do know, however, that I wasn’t on Medicare; I was covered by an employee policy provided by IBM; and I paid monthly for a supplemental insurance policy. Bottom line, I was well-covered.
That means nothing now. With the cost of healthcare in the US today, whatever it cost in 2010 wouldn’t be relevant today.
Which is why I’m writing this post.
I’m writing this post because I think it’s important to let others know about healthcare outside of the US. As difficult as it is to believe, the US no longer has the best healthcare. (See below.)
Think of your own experience in the US with hip surgery, back surgery, or any other condition where you required extended care. Compare it to what you read about my healthcare in France.
Over 28 Million Americans have no healthcare insurance.
Just the other day, I called a dear friend in the US who had expressed concern that I was staying in France after my accident. The first thing she told me when I called was that her son had been in an automobile accident. He was in the hospital with a crushed ankle, a broken leg and a broken wrist. After telling me about the car crash, we celebrated the fact that he had survived.
Then she revealed a horrible truth. Her son had no medical insurance. His policy had lapsed. A sad mistake too many of us make when have busy lives.
As a result, my friend’s son was leaving the hospital after five days and two surgeries. He was going home to avoid the continuing hospital costs. He was barely conscious because of the massive doses of medication he needed for pain. He had a metal rod visibly running through his foot.
A third surgery is scheduled in two weeks. He’ll go to the hospital, then back home after surgery. There’s not a trained medical person to stay with him during those days he’ll require intensive care and pain management. The entire family will need to chip in with time off work as they can.
US Healthcare: 3 Reasons We Deserve Better
#1 Worst Healthcare in the Developed World
The state of healthcare in the US is alarming. Once a leader, US Healthcare is Ranked the Worst in the Developed World.
#2 Cost is Prohibitive
The cost of healthcare is prohibitive for many, especially those without insurance or with poor coverage,
#3 Healthcare Costs are Bankrupting America
Healthcare is the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the US today.
I read a statement recently that I can’t get out of my head. A young girl who was returning home to France after two years in the US as an au pair was asked:
“Would you like to stay in the US?”
To the surprise of the interviewer, she replied “No,” and continued, “the US doesn’t take care of its people.”
French Healthcare for Expats?
Renestance, an American-staffed relocation company in Montpelier, has produced an excellent series of ebooks on Healthcare in France. Check out their website for all types of guidance for expats.