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Emergency Room Blues: My Own Private Public Option


About eight or nine years ago a colleague at the Weekly mentioned that she went to see a doctor at her HMO because of a headache. She left hours later after being given an MRI and a thorough examination for what was basically a cold. That, she said, was why health-care costs were so high. At the time, health-care insurance was just entering the policy debate radar as a national crisis. Last Friday I got a first-hand lesson on why medical costs continue to go through the roof -- or actually, the stratosphere.

I'd had X-rays taken after I'd sprained an ankle while trying to negotiate some barricades surrounding downtown's federal courthouse during a bomb scare. The next day my doctor called to say I had a fracture and had to report to the emergency room for a cast. Which I did, resigned to not having any fun for the next six weeks. My examine went smoothly and quickly. Except the ER doctor said I wouldn't actually get the cast that night -- they'd only put a plaster splint on and 12 hours later Orthopedics would take off the splint and put on the real cast.

I then waited an hour for an ortho tech to put on my splint. When he arrived, I persuaded my doctor into letting me leave without the splint. Why not? I was going straight home to dinner and bed -- I had no plans to play soccer or practice running for a marathon. I was exercising my own private public option.

Before I left, though, I was given a pair of crutches and a supportive boot. When I showed up Saturday morning the ortho doc told me I

didn't need a cast and could just go home -- I didn't even need the

boot I'd been given, let alone the splint I'd talked myself out of

getting. I offered to return the boot and crutches but was told to hold

onto them -- for a rainy day, essentially.

I have no idea how much my hardware and fancy footwear cost, but I

probably ran up a pretty big bill, factoring in the time of the two

doctors, nurses and ortho tech. I have a great HMO and doctors, and I

know everyone was only looking out for me. Still, I'm sure this kind of

thing goes on a thousand times a day across the country, feeding the health-care crisis. At least I didn't have to get an MRI.