May 28 , 2007
It has been an interesting Spring to say the least and I hope to bring you up to date. I realize it has been a long time since I last wrote a journal entry.
Jo and I do our best to take care of ourselves. We both exercise regularly. We try to eat what is good for us. We are vegetarians, but not vegans. We believe in doing preventive maintenance.
So it was with great surprise when Jo came to me one morning with some startling news. She said that she found a lump on her right breast. She made an appointment with a local hospital’s breast center to have it checked out. By the time she had a mammogram done, the lump/pain had subsided a bit and it was found to be a benign cyst that was going away on its own. (I think that the cyst may have been caused by a VERY stressful time she was having at work. Emotional strain can cause health issues and it wouldn’t have surprised me if this was the culprit although the doctor thought it might be hormonal.)
Then we got the not-so-good news. Her left breast had a cluster of cells that looked suspicious (micro calcifications) and the doctor wanted to do a biopsy to find out if it could be cancerous. He said that in most cases it is usually benign, but he wanted to get to the bottom of what they saw on the mammogram.
The biopsy went as scheduled and two days later Jo was back on the phone with the doctor. A team of specialists had looked at the cells taken from the biopsy and the condition of the mass of cells was labeled “Focal Atypical Ductal Hyperplatia”
It was the opinion of the experts that they should perform surgery and remove the rest of the suspect cells. So a few week’s later the day-surgery procedure was done. It went without a hitch and after a few tense days, it was determined that the mass of cells was not cancerous, but were precancerous. The doctor has suggested that Jo have mammograms done every six months to make sure we stay on top of things.
While all of this was going on, Jo’s blood pressure was high. The anesthesiologist had noted to Jo that her blood pressure didn’t drop much while they had put her under for the surgery and suggested that she have this checked out.
And to add to the list, Jo's right thumb starting giving her problems. She couldn’t bend it all the way and when she tried, it was quite painful. Because of this, she went to a general practitioner to have her thumb looked at and to have her blood pressure checked out.
The doctor confirmed the high blood pressure (it runs in her family) and also suggested to Jo to not use the thumb for a few weeks to see if it might return to normal. The tendon appeared to be inflamed. He also said that if the thumb didn’t get any better, she should go see a specialist.
A few weeks passed and her thumb wasn’t getting any better so Jo went to see a specialist. It was his expert opinion that the tendon was rubbing inside of the duct that holds the tendon and that a cortisone injection might help, but he felt more confident with doing surgery on her thumb. But, before he would do surgery he wanted Jo to take a physical exam.
(We found this a bit interesting, since she already had breast surgery without requiring a physical.)
With this order, Jo went back to the general practitioner for a physical. Her EKG test was found to be abnormal and the doctor scheduled her for a stress test at the hospital. We asked the doctor for the test results and on the EKG, it stated: “SINUS BRADYCARDIA. POSSIBLE LEFT ARTRIAL ENLARGEMENT” This sounded serious. The doctor told Jo that running was out of the question until they got to the bottom of her heart problem.
If Jo’s breast biopsy incident hadn’t been scary enough, now we were wondering about her heart.
After about a week of anxiety over this, Jo went in for her stress test at the hospital. The stress test went well…almost too well. The specialists kept asking Jo if she was getting tired. Being an avid runner, Jo’s stamina was quite high and it took a while before she started feeling “tired”. One of the specialists then asked Jo, “Why are you here?” He told Jo that her EKG looked normal!
A few days later, Jo’s regular doctor informed her that the stress test went well and everything was fine. (Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?)
Now with a “clean bill of health” Jo had the green light for her surgery. The day-surgery went well and she is slowly regaining use of her thumb. Her stitches are due to be removed this coming Wednesday.
How Much Did All This Cost?
Jo has been following this closely (she’s the spreadsheet queen at work) and here’s a summary of the bills so far:
Breast mammograms, biopsy and out-patient surgery (This includes all doctor visits, hospital visits, tests, etc.): $17,000
Visits to general practitioner, blood pressure regulation, EKG and stress test at hospital: $6,000
Visits to orthopedic surgeon, out-patient surgery: $3,600 (We haven’t gotten all the bills yet.)
So far we have had to pay approximately $1,700 of the total bill of over $26,000. (We are certainly not complaining, but it does raise a few suspicions.)
My Own Two Cents
It has been an eye-opening experience to say the least. Although I had experience with the world of internal medicine when my mother was ill, this is the first time that Jo and I have had to deal with this ourselves.
Now that we finally are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, I have some questions regarding our health care system:
- What procedures are really necessary? Which ones are not?
- Are doctors being overly cautious due to concerns over malpractice lawsuits?
- Are doctors/hospitals taking unnecessary steps for their own profit?
- Are doctors prescribing unnecessary drug prescriptions?
- If we didn’t have medical insurance how would have this altered the procedures that were performed?
- How does our own fear play into decisions involving medical procedures?
I have found it quite fascinating is that when you mention to friends and relatives that Jo required this or that procedure, you realize how many others have gone through similar procedures. Breast biopsies are commonplace as well as heart stress tests.
Here's the question that has me most concerned: How does a medical system continue to cover these ever-increasing costs? Will we have a system at all (here in the U.S.) in the coming years? Health insurance rates continue to rise, baby boomers are about to retire and corporations continue to cut benefits.
Will we eventually end up with a health system for only the elite?
A Red-Eyed Vireo makes a brief appearance from the deep woods .