This is a cautionary tale called “don’t let your kids get bitten by bugs in New York City”.
When the bite doesn’t heal, but spreads in a randomly circular fashion over your child’s leg and you hope that it will heal and five days later it still looks a bit angry, then you probably should follow that urge to take her to the doctors. And when you’ve waited in the waiting room for 40 minutes, then been seen by a nurse who then makes you wait another 20 minutes for the doctor, don’t despair if your toddler runs amok. You must think happy thoughts, that it is Friday and that it will, it must end soon.
And when the doctor appears, looking not so much like a doctor, more like your glamorous grandma, keep the faith, listen and hope that you can escape soon. And when she confirms that yes, that leg is horribly infected, you did the right thing and here’s a prescription (written out twice, as the first one was illegible, even for a doctor) you know you can now escape into Friday night, now feral children in tow (they need their tea). And then you can deal with your despair because she said you have to come back Monday!
Go back to the doctor on Monday, better prepared this time. Children fed beforehand, entertainments in bag and an acceptance of having to wait forever – confirmed by the receptionist who rolls her eyes when you ask how far the doctor is behind. And there you have it: a miracle, you are called within 10 minutes, see a nurse for 5 minutes, wait 2 minutes for the doctor, spend 5 minutes with the doctor (this time in Pucci inspired grandma wear) and congratulate yourself on being a good mother who spotted that it wasn’t right. Then thank the doctor for her perception and her kindness. And don’t be insulted when she says she doesn’t want to see you there again.
And the cost for all this: that’ll be $295 for the two doctor visits and just under $200 for the antibiotics. Gumph. NHS anyone?
I am in shock. I have just paid the bill for J’s 1 year check and MMR. It is huge. So huge, I cannot bring myself to type the number. In the UK I would have taken J to the rather run down health centre and waited in a bland room filled with plastic chairs, peeling paintwork and been reluctant to touch anything. But it was free. Every part of J’s medical life had been free, my prenatal care and his birth at one of the best teaching hospitals in central London, the checks by the health visitor and all his immunisations. If I wanted to weigh him, all I had to do was turn up at the clinic and do it myself. If was concerned about his health, I just made an appointment with the GP who may or may not have been that interested, but I hoped would know more than me and send me away reassured.
The contrast with New York couldn’t be greater. J doesn’t see a GP in a normal surgery, he has a paediatrician in a paediatric practice (trouble spelling that one). Every step of the 40 minute 1 year check is itemised on the bill. It still has plastic chairs and I’m still reluctant to touch anything or let J crawl anywhere, so no difference there. I speak to a French lady with twins and a 9 month old in the waiting room. She sees me looking wide eyed at my bill and offers her own experience. Her twins were in hospital for 4 weeks after they were born early and for this the hospital presented her with a bill for $350,000 for EACH child. Unsurprisingly her health insurer was reluctant to pay but she said they did, in the end.
I find myself reaching for my political history, reminding myself about Nye Bevan, socialist and youngest Minister in Attlee’s ground breaking Labour administration in 1945. It was Bevan, as Minister of Health, who took the National Health Service Bill through Parliament and is known as the founder of the NHS. I know it’s changed a lot and I don’t pretend to be any expert on what’s happening with it under the current Government and I know it’s paid for through tax and National Insurance. There is something quite comforting about knowing you don’t have to worry about the cost before you access the NHS but now that I know how bankrupting it can be, perhaps the peeling paintwork and dreary waiting rooms in the UK aren’t so bad after all.