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A bit of post-probe pondering

“McQuiggin?” Kim asked. “James McQuiggin?

Kim was to be my nurse for “The Procedure,” mere moments away, wherein I was to have a robotic arm inserted into a place that, as far as I’m concerned, should never, ever be probed.

“Jim, yep, that’s me” I respond, assuming she is verifying that it’s indeed me and not some other twisted soul who has sneaked into my bed, put on my gown and is deviously impersonating me so he can, for his own odd reasons, enjoy the probe.

“So, you’re going to write about this?” she asks me.

Oh. THAT Jim McQuiggin, the reason she’s asked. One of the few who actually read my column. Wondering if adventures in my posterior will be annalized for posterity.

“Of course,” I replied, on the one hand recalling that Karl had ventured into that territory (so to speak) on a number of occasions while on the other hand promising myself that no puns would be abused in the making of the chronicle of my colon.

Given that I was painfully aware that Kim was about to be intimately introduced to portions of me that had never (as far as I can attest) been exposed to any company, polite or otherwise, I felt it was my duty to not only put my best face forward (considering she’d mostly be seeing another side of me, soon enough) but to confirm that, yes, she’d be reading about my experience the next week.

Prior to Kim popping into the room, I’d been prepped by Roger, an extremely competent and affable young man who made sure I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink prior to coming in, asked me several pointed questions about my last few bowel movements — I can’t recall the last time I’d had that conversation — and then attached me to the IV bag that would help administer my knockout drops.

Roger (literally) hooked me up with an IV gizmo that had been pushed the day before by a medical supply sales person, explaining that I was the first as he fiddled with knobs and figured out the mechanics. With a slight pinch and a cold infusion of liquid flowing through my veins, I realized that Roger knew his business, even if it involved mastering a new stint.

While the saline solution rehydrated me, I overheard Roger telling the other nurses that he wasn’t much impressed with the new gizmo. What followed was a nurse’s variation on the If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It dialog.

I wasn’t particularly worried while I eavesdropped but it was disturbing to me that “I’ll Stand By You,” by the Pretenders would possibly be the last song ever stuck in my head — a terrifying notion.

All I have to say is, if the Pagosa Springs Medical Center decides to adopt the new gizmo, they need to call it, “The McQuiggin.”

As Kim collected all she needed in preparation for the main event, Larry, my anesthetist nurse, introduced himself, also asking all kinds of questions, cracking all kinds of jokes. Considering that he was the guy with the figurative hookup (i.e. the good drugs), his presence in the prep room was a welcome addition.

This was going to be, apparently, a gang probe.

DVD on sale in the lobby.

Not really familiar with hospital protocol, I gathered that there is a gradual system of introductions. The last person to enter my curtained prep space was Dave, the doctor who would be performing “The Procedure” and, I assume, directing the cinematic masterpiece.

I’d met Dave before, soon after I wrote a column about the sorry state of healthcare in our country. Like Kim, he’s apparently one of the few people hereabouts that doesn’t flip past “Random Shuffle” since he e-mailed me a day or so after that column ran, inviting me to tour the hospital, view the facilities, and discuss financial options for the uninsured.

At that time, Dave assured me that there were options and that a man of my advanced age and baldness could not afford to miss an appointment for “The Procedure.”

I left the hospital after my meeting with Dave with papers that would ostensibly qualify me for a low-cost option.

Those papers wound their way to a bottom of a stack of other “important” papers and, as those things go, didn’t see any ink.

Fortunately, I received a call about a month later from another Kim (not my nurse) who had been informed that I might be a likely candidate for a free colonoscopy, one offered through a federal grant to the hospital focused on preventative care for rural, low-income patients.

Kismet. A probe was in my future. A visit for sorting through my financials, one to educate me on “The Procedure” and I soon found myself awaiting the magic drip.

I’ll spare you the nasty details (Karl has done much better work of that in previous columns) other than to say that the day before is the worst of it: The fasting required is interminable and the purge (facilitated by a gallon of Colyte) is the absolute worst.

“The Procedure” is, relatively speaking, a cake walk. I barely remember the anesthesia hitting and, the next thing I knew, I was in recovery.

Again, Karl has covered this on a number of occasions, in much more detail and to much more comedic effect, so I’ll forgo the scatological details.

See, I was fortunate. Fortunate that I was treated well by a friendly, professional staff, treated with care and respect. Fortunate that I was able to secure some essential preventative care (for my age) and not have to wait for care after cancer took hold.

But I was also fortunate in that, I have a relatively large bully pulpit where I could announce that I lack the insurance or the means to get that care. That megaphone brought me to the attention of some caring people who recognized my need and found a solution.

For every one 50-year-old like me who manages to finagle an affordable treatment, there are thousands — tens of thousands, most likely — who neither have the insurance nor the financial means to get screened for colon cancer.

That’s shameful given the fact that, too often, the taxpayers could be footing the bill for preventative care rather than end-of-life care.

Unfortunately, the way our healthcare system is set up, government benefits don’t kick in until it’s curtains. The idiocy of that is, we end up spending much, much more mitigating something that could have been preventable rather than paying for the much cheaper option of prevention.

Small wonder our country devotes around 16 percent of its total GDP on health care rather than the 5-7 percent spent by other nations.

The argument used by opponents of a nationalized health care or single payer system is that out system is so much superior to say, Canada’s or Israel’s (single-payer for the former, nationalized for the latter) and that their citizens are clamoring to come to the U.S. for treatment.

That’s partially true: It’s only those citizens wealthy enough to afford care in our country and then, it’s usually because they want private doctors, boutique care and special privileges.

My argument has always been: If the care in those countries is so lousy, why don’t the citizens vote to change it back to a system like ours? I mean, they are democracies after all, they have the power of the vote.

The reason why they don’t vote to return to a system like we have in the U.S. is that they WON’T vote their systems away — they like it too much and they realize that it is, despite some annoyances and gripes, a far more equitable and financially sound system than what we pay for in this country.

In the meantime, our broken system creates a 30-percent overhead for an essentially useless “leech class” — the insurance companies — that does nothing but extract their vig and, too often, fails to provide the coverage that was paid for in the first place.

It’s not that the citizens of other countries are smarter than us: It’s that we have been far too stupid in our fealty to free enterprise (Adam Smith must be rolling in his grave), while propping up an industry that serves absolutely no useful purpose than to drive up the costs of what we spend on health care in this country.

More and more, the fortunate few are those who can afford insurance (many who have those benefits offered by their companies cannot afford the premiums) or have the resources to pay out of pocket.

More and more, the unfortunate many have gone into bankruptcy or foreclosure because their medical bills have overburdened their finances. Not because they were foolish with money or made poor choices but because they had the misfortune to become ill and then, get gouged by an industry that has gotten out of control with its costs.

The thing is, it’s not a matter of if our country will accept some form of nationalized health care, but when. The calculus is undeniable — our country cannot afford to continue down this path of denying preventative care to 60 million Americans then picking up the tab after those citizens become terminally ill.

Peggy, the nurse who attended to me as I came down from the effects of the drugs provided a ray of sunshine in the recovery room, asking me if I needed anything, staying with me as my head cleared and I regained my bearings. I asked for a cup of coffee — the first thing to pass my lips in almost 12 hours — and she obliged.

When Peggy was certain that I had shaken enough fuzz from my brain, she allowed me to get dressed and head out for a big breakfast.

Yes, I was fortunate, just one polyp and a single instance of diverticulitis (not unusual for a man my age, Dave said). Fortunate that the local staff in Pagosa Springs was so professional and so caring. Fortunate that I was able to be checked well before I ran into real danger.

We should all be so fortunate. I know we will — it’s not a question of if, but when.

jim@pagosasun.com

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