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Words

I try to pinpoint words that when strung together, like beads in a necklace, express something with texture and richness; I hope for the occasional sparkle of a well placed gem. I frequently fail miserably. But on a good day, as with a candid photo, I unexpectedly capture a heartbeat, and it feels as if I've successfully seized fog with my hands.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Catching A Cold, French Style

French germs. They got me. And now I have un petit cold. Rhume. With a little French cough on the side.

Jocelyne, my host, had it first. She was newly sick when I got here. I resisted a week but then apparently needed to join her for a complete French experience. We’ve spent the last day and a half inside. Raining outdoors. Hacking in.

Joce made vegetable soup to cure us and brought home an assortment of over-the-counter drugs for us both. Prescription drugs for herself. She’s sicker than I and more prone to infection in her lungs. She has zee leetle French habit. She smokes.

My first gigs involved healthcare. There I stayed for 16 years. Though I’ve been away from the profession for quite a while, and it progresses in dog years, I still have a basic grasp on things. Whether right or wrong, I’ve come away from the art of medicine with a healthy (no pun intended) respect and admiration for it, and – a less is more attitude. I try not to need it by practicing rigorous handwashing, especially during flu season (a long distance friend once mentioned that when she misses me she looks for  "Monk" on television), and when I may indeed need a physician or medication, I’m fairly prudent about it. As I mentioned, not saying I'm right or wrong. It’s just me.

Given this is my point of view I did a double-take when I saw as many syrups, sprays, pills, and capsules as I did when Joce came back from her doctor. I think my drugs of choice for a cold are water and juice, chased with a box of Kleenex. If extreme measures are required, there’s ibuprofen and Neosynephrine (she had those, too).

There’s a national healthcare program here. It’s a cooperative that includes government and employer, and I’m the first to say I don’t understand exactly how it works. It includes a baseline of coverage that is very broad. Joce has a bit juicier policy that she and her employer pay for, in case, let’s say, she wanted a private hospital room rather than a shared one.

Last year when she had her hip replaced, her surgery was covered, as was her salary while rehabilitating. Then she was eased back into her job by working half-time, during which she was paid for full-time.

We can argue the economic feasibility of this and the heavy taxes the French pay for it and other social programs. Indeed the French lost their AAA bond rating today because of debt and turmoil in their budget. But the U.S. lost its as well and we don’t have a comprehensive healthcare plan to show for it. Well, supposedly we do but it’s not in effect yet and it isn’t a root cause for our financial crisis.

We can debate whether the attitude toward medication is more casual here because it’s "free"; we’d no doubt score points on both sides. And all the physicians I’ve known could expound on why the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world, which is probably true, and how it might be affected adversely by universal coverage.

One thing is clear however. When Joce gets sick, she need only concentrate on getting well. She need never concern herself with whether she has enough money to pay for her medicine. She doesn’t worry about financial ruin in case of a catastrophic health event. She doesn’t push herself to go back to work so quickly that she suffers a setback or infects all her colleagues. Well, she does go back too soon, but it’s not about the money. It’s because she doesn’t want to let anyone down. She did it yesterday and they sent her home.

It’s obvious to me (and practically everyone else) that neither mainstream America nor American business like Obamacare. To add to that, some of our unemployment woes are related to uncertainty about associated future healthcare costs.

I’m wondering why two of the central parties affected by the healthcare dilemma weren’t at the table helping to figure out what the new world order would be. Business owners and their employees. Insurance companies and Congress were front and center helping the President fulfill an election promise -- within a timetable. All three of those players, in my not so humble opinion, represent special interest groups.

I don’t want healthcare punted around as part of a political game. Dems win Republicans lose, or vice-versa. I don’t want a deal done, any deal, so the President can say he kept his word. I want it handled as though my life depends on it.

Maybe I needed to hang out in France for a while to become fully conscious to my own worries about U.S. healthcare access. I had to see what it looks like not to worry to understand the grinding burden of constant concern. I’m thinking about how much illness may exist or be exacerbated because of this millstone.

I don’t see a comprehensive healthcare plan changing the way I consume medical care. I’d be heavier on well-care, hesitant with intervention (sometimes resistant), and I’d want the best I could find in time of great need. That’s how I do it now. That won’t change. But I sure would like to remove the stress about whether I can afford what I might need if I need it, even in the restrained way I utilize it. Don’t we all deserve that?

Well, I’m exhausted from the climb up on my soapbox. It’s time to get my juice and water, and go back to bed. In case you were wondering, a-a-a-tchoooo sounds exactly the same in French.

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