Chronic vs. Acute

Based on my perusal of the morning news, the desperate GOP health care bill was resurrected then died again. John McCain made a tear-jerker speech about working together but voted in line with his own party’s divisiveness. And despite getting some of the best health care in the world for a horrible disease, McCain seems willing to deprive millions of others of access.

In other words, just another day in the asylum.

For anyone enjoying this chaos, I caution you about the chickens not being hatched. This isn’t over and if you care about this issue, you need to make your voice heard. After all, if you live in my state you saw our senator refuse to support the bill and then vote yes on it.

If you don’t think any of this matters, let me tell you a story of how my nondescript summer turned downright scary.

My son, a rising high school sophomore, has been training intensely for the opportunity to try out for goalie on his high school soccer team. Toward the end of June he began to complain of back pain. The pain increased in severity over the next couple of weeks and by the 4th of July holiday he couldn’t get out of bed.

I contacted the head coach and trainer for the team, both agreed he needed to be seen by a doctor immediately. They got me an appointment on July 5th with our city’s prominent Sports Medicine center. We thought we were looking for a bulging disc, a pinched nerve, or maybe worst case scenario of a stress fracture in his spine. The x ray was clear but the doc sent him for an immediate MRI on-site. The report came back surprising: yes, there was a mildly bulging disc but of greater concern, there seemed to be some abnormality in his vein structure and some of his organs looked funny.

The doctor referred us back to his primary care doctor for a CT scan of his abdomen. I pushed for a quick turnaround because we were about to leave on a summer vacation. The following afternoon he had the scan.

My son and I were pulling in the garage after the test when my phone rang. After confirming with me that he had some swelling and discoloration in his right leg, she instructed us to go to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital immediately.

After a few truly terrifying hours of uncertainty and obviously concerned doctors, he was admitted to the hospital. My son had a sizeable Deep Vein Thrombosis at the top of his leg that was severely restricting the flow of used blood from his leg. He was started on a drip of anti-coagulants immediately and the plan was that if he didn’t respond, he would need surgery to break up the clot.

In the quest to figure out how this could happen to a healthy and very active 15-year-old, we learned that the MRI was correct – there are some abnormalities in the anatomical structure of his veins. The human body, being the amazing thing that it is, had grown a unique structure of veins to compensate, but one must have been injured when he hurt his back, kicking off this clotting situation.

I could bore you with a million more details, but I won’t (right now). I will tell you that the medication worked and he avoided surgery. He spent a couple of days in the hospital and a full recovery will take about three months. He is progressing every day and learning to adjust to this new reality which, at least for right now, precludes soccer or any other contact sports.

This was an acute medical crisis, meaning it necessitated immediate treatment. The bills are rolling in now, but we are fortunate to have some of the best pediatric health care available. That comes at a price and I’m guessing that this acute event will clock in close to six figures. We have employer-sponsored health insurance so we won’t be crushed by the full financial responsibility of this.

But underlying this acute crisis is a chronic condition, my son’s anatomical reality that will be with him his whole life.

In other words, a preexisting condition. He will rely on health insurance to manage it. Forever.

High risk pools, you say? I’ve posted this link before, but please read about the reality of such programs. Many of them had exclusions for 6-12 months, meaning a person would have to pay the higher premium based on this condition but nothing would be covered related to it for excluded time frame.

I’m far less concerned with the high brow and low brow rhetoric that surrounds the health care debate. I’m concerned for my children, that when they grow up they will be able to care for themselves the way we’ve cared for them. Their health conditions weren’t brought on by poor choices or moral failings.

If you have never been affected by a health crisis, I think it’s time you realize how big of a role luck has played in that.

Sorry to break it to you, but you’re one phone call, one test result away from the collapse of the privilege good health has afforded you.

Don’t assume Congress will do the right thing here. Two examples above show politicians who say one thing but vote in the exact opposite way. Call, email, go to their offices and talk to them.