A friend of mine is suffering terrible pain in a hospital nearby today. In fact the hospital is inflicting this pain on her, though the medical personnel certainly bear her no ill will. You see, she's one of a class of people that the U.S. healthcare "system" routinely fails.
Oddly enough, her problem is not a simple matter of lack of access. She gets to doctors and into hospitals when she needs to -- but what happens then sometimes only makes her suffering worse.
Ten years ago, she was in a terrible auto accident; in addition to being thrown head first through a windshield, she broke multiple bones. After months in hospitals, she emerged with greatly reduced mobility and chronic pain. Other ailments followed in a downward spiral. And the pain never went away.
Naturally she lost all ability to earn a living and found herself on federal and state disability. She is very good at being poor, at finding what services exist, at cutting through bureaucracies, at making friends who will help and at demanding that she get whatever she can from medical providers. She works very hard at being poor.
She currently has an infection that won't heal. She tried calling her primary care doctor. She couldn't get a response. She got herself to an outpatient clinic. The prescription offered didn't work. Finally, after weeks, she dragged herself to a university medical center's emergency room. The ER took her in, recognized the severity of her infection and admitted her.
But, although she has a case record with this medical facility that is literally 2 feet high when printed out, the doctors are treating the infection but not the pain. They refuse to believe that she might, habitually, under her personal doctor's orders, take such high doses of pain medicine that any of the rest of us would drop dead if we ingested it. But she does. And she needs it. That medicine is what keeps her on a moderately even keel.
Today my friend is suffering, needlessly, in one of the best medical facilities in San Francisco. The doctors -- all new to her case of course -- will not allow her to have her normal dosage of pain medicine. She says this "cure" is worse than the infection that sent her to the hospital in the first place.
Apparently this kind of doctor and hospital inflicted pain is not uncommon. Jane Brody, the fitness and health editor of the New York Times had a similar problem after knee surgery. She suffered horrible on-going pain -- and her doctors hadn't a clue what to do for her. Some tidbits from her story (my emphasis):
Good advice and I sure hope I can take it if I need it. But what good is that advice to a poor, severely disabled woman caught in the impersonal wringer of a medical center that neither respects nor believes her?