The first time I met my dear friend Denise was at a Bible study through Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Denise’s family was Albanian. My family is Greek. Baklava is a great equalizer, and Denise’s father made the best. She would sneak me a few pieces like contraband, during the holidays. If she told everyone else, they’d all want some, and there was never enough inventory to satisfy all the demand.
Fourteen years ago, she attended a Christmas party at my home where she fell in love with her husband, Jeffrey. I knew that night they were meant for each other. Jeffrey was born in Britain, so soon after their son was born, the family moved back to London.
Nine months later, Denise went for a mammogram, which revealed a lump in her breast. The biopsy came back as early-stage cancer. That’s when things became surreal.
What Americans need to understand is that there are two parallel health-care systems in England. One is the socialized system that is “free.” The other is the full-pay system.
If you’ve been to England recently, you’ll see that everything is almost twice the price of what it is in the U.S. That includes full-pay health care. The full-pay system functions the way black markets do because the socialized system does not care for health at all. It kills people off early. I guess that’s the whole point. Black markets always rise when the main system is broken. You can get what you need, but you’ll pay dearly for it.
If you want effective health care, you must have the money to pay for the full-pay system. The best doctors and the best care are found in the full-pay system. Those of us who believe in free markets are not surprised by this. The cost of the full-pay system will take your breath away. I guess Will and Katie don’t need to worry about those things like most working people do.
In a socialized system, decisions are made by bureaucrats based on an arbitrary framework, not subject-matter experts – you know, like doctors and nurses who have trained for decades.
So the test results were in, and Denise entered the Alice in Wonderland world of socialized medicine in England. Chemotherapy is only allowed once in a 12-month time frame. Never mind the fact that the human body needs time to adjust to that treatment and to heal from it.
So the bureaucrats approved giving Denise one year’s worth of chemotherapy in a week’s time. What was the outcome? It fried her immune system. After that little adventure, a common cold sent her to the local hospital. It’s impossible to appreciate how hard our immune system works to save us from pathogens until it no longer functions.
The doctors in the socialized system decided to try to remedy the situation by doing a bone marrow transplant. This is a painful procedure with no guarantee of success. One of Denise’s cousins became the donor.
The procedure was complete. Denise no longer had cancer. Now her body was trying to reject the new bone marrow. As a result, she developed Graft Versus Host Disease, which she still suffers from.
GVHD has attacked her lungs, so she can no longer breathe on her own. A bipap machine suctioned to her face forces air in and out of her body to keep her alive. This hideous journey took six excruciating years to play out.
Denise also has to take steroids to prevent her body from completely rejecting her lungs. And did we say that the steroids cause severe osteoporosis, neuropathy and a whole host of other devastations?
I saw Denise four weeks ago, and my first glimpse of her was crushing. She wore the marks of all her suffering on her body. She lost half her body weight. Her hair is gone. Her face is twice the size due to the swelling from the steroids. Her hands shake and she is unable to walk. She said her teeth are like that of an 80-year-old woman.
Her spine is bent from frail bones that labor under even the smallest weight. She was taking a toxic cocktail of over 40 medications at one point. Each medication was designed to counter the side effects of the other medications. God himself is the only one who truly knows how much punishment these drugs have caused. Yet her mind is as sharp as I’ve ever known it. She knows exactly what is happening.
Denise cannot eat and breathe at the same time. She must accept a few seconds of suffocation in order to ingest nutrition. Denise and her husband know which tanks to use, when to change them and how much pressure Denise can take. They are more expert in her suffering than any of her doctors are at this point. And the health-care system provides home health aides during the day for “free.” They even send in a physical therapist for “free.” How convenient.
Her husband works a high-pressure full-time job, takes care of their son and then takes care of Denise at night. I doubt he gets two hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle. He has my prayers as does their son. Heavy, heavy burdens rest on his shoulders.
By a miracle of grace, Denise celebrated her 50th birthday in a hospital bed at home surrounded by those she loved and all her oxygen tanks. Her doctors actually admitted that “maybe we got a little too aggressive with her treatment.” Really? You think so? That’s quite an admission for shortening someone’s lifespan by at least 30 years and traumatizing everyone who loves her.
Had Denise been in the U.S. I firmly believe she would have had a very different future. She would have had more choices. Her son would not be telling her that he wants to marry and have children young so Denise can see her grandchildren. Denise was a healthy woman in all respects except for the lump that started this horrific downward spiral.
It wasn’t medicine that destroyed her health, it was the bureaucratic system that is blind and deaf to what patients need. The system is designed to perpetuate itself, not help those who are ill.
Do you know how monstrous the health-care system is in England? The number of administrators of the socialized medical system is second only in size to the Chinese standing army. Now there’s a big incentive for all those people to stay employed, even if their decisions kill their country’s citizens. Is this the way to improve employment prospects?
Here’s an idea. What if England were to fire three-quarters of the staff administrating health care and allocated those savings to paying doctors and health-care providers that are dedicated to doing the best thing for the patient? What if those pushing paper and making life-and-death decisions they are not qualified to make actually found jobs where they added real value?
If there were a compelling reason to reject socialized health care in the U.S., this is it.
Never forget that “free” can cost you your life.
Dawn Fotopulos is an associate professor of business at The King’s College, New York.