Monday, January 29, 2007

The downfalls of socialized medicine

My dad had to go to the emergency room over the weekend, back home in England. He had developed an ear infection so bad that the pain had moved into his head, his neck, his arm and was affecting his speech. Having had inner-ear problems when I was a kid, I can tell you that ear infections are no joke. Like tooth-aches, there's just no escaping a sharp pain in your head.

My dad has had poor hearing ever since I can remember, as a result of a neglected childhood ear infection. We've pretty much always considered him functionally deaf in his left ear and with poor hearing in his right as a result of tinitis. In the last few years, however, it seems to have got progressively worse. There's pretty much no way to have a conversation with him that doesn't involve you repeating what you said at least twice. As a result, my mum finally nagged him enough to get him to try a hearing aid, with the hope that some kind of functional hearing could be restored.

He finally got his hearing aids about two weeks ago and the miraculous, unthinkable happened - the ear that we thought was completely deaf actually regained some hearing! The specialist even said that it would have been even better if it wasn't for a big ball of wax lodged in his inner ear. She suggested that he go to the doctor to get it syringed. Which is what he did, last Thursday. Of course, this was too menial a task for my parents' Iraqi (yes, oh the irony) doctor and so he met with the nurse.

Let's just establish here that this doctor's office doesn't have a very good track record:

  • This is the office that had my dad down as insulin dependent in his file when he wasn't and told him that he had liver damage and needed to stop drinking, when he doesn't.

  • This is the doctor who broke the news to my mother than she has arthritis in her hands and legs and when asked, what type, told her just "regular arthritis", then when questioned further (rheumatoid? osteo?) he told her that he knew she would be a "difficult patient".

  • Let's also not foget that he prescribed Vioxx for her and then continued to be willing to renew the prescription long after the FDA pulled the pills from the shelf (thankfully I listen to NPR and forwarded the radio broadcast the day the story broke). The doctor also continues to mis-prescribe my dad's diabetes and blood-thinning pills, writing the wrong dosage and/or quantities down.

  • This is also the office that forces you to make separate appointments for separate ailments. Got a sore thumb on your left hand and an ingrown nail on your right? Make two separate appointments, and don't even think of trying to slip your unrelated symptom into the first consultation.

I'm sure you can already see where this is going, but I'll continue...

So, the nurse tries to syringing-out the offending ball of wax, but it's a bit stubborn. Three painful tries later, she gives up and tells my dad to go home and put drops of olive-oil in his ear for a week, to try and soften up the wax.

The next day my dad wakes up with an earache... and the rest you know. Except, this is what the emergency nurse told him:

  1. The doctor's nurse should never have tried to syringe his ear without FIRST having him soften the wax with a week's worth of HOT (missing detail there) olive-oil treatment.

  2. In doing so, the nurse had certainly caused the inner-ear infection my dad now had AND had possibly damaged his ear-drum in the process - she would have been able to know for sure, but the swelling in his ear was so severe she couldn't see down his ear canal.

So, my dad is now home with anti-biotics, holding his head, unable to sleep and fearing that he had again lost any hope of hearing in his left ear. If that incompetent nurse has destroyed his chances of restoring hearing to that ear, my parents should definitely sue! But honestly, it probably won't happen. The sad thing about the NHS (National Health System) is that you get "assigned" a doctor based upon where you live, and if you make a complaint about him or her, you get blacklisted and no other doctor will take you on their books.

Fear-not, I have not lost my belief in socialized medicine completely but there are two ends of the spectrum - England is on one end and the U.S. is on the other. Neither work and the only people that suffer is the patient.

This is my wonderful Dad. I'll let you know how his eardrum is....


Joy said...

Boy...bullets in your blog...what are you, my boss or something?!

e said...

Sadly, incomptence is not limited to socialized medicine. Unfortunately, we often don't realize our doctor is useless until the damage is done. But the antibiotics will set you dad right, his eardrum will be ok, and all will be well. Tell him hello.

mala said...

OMG! Please tell Barry I am praying for a speedy recovery. Those stupid doctors...

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