A scary shock to the system

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A heavy dizziness like a black cloud engulfed me in a matter of seconds.
“Dad, are you ready?”
“Mom, he’s dead. Wait, he opened his eyes. He’s breathing again.”
A stretcher. An ambulance. The siren. Rolling through a hospital strapped to a bed. A sign that said “Triage” passed above.
Two IV tubes, one in each arm. Connected to machines measuring my heart rate, the oxygen in my blood, respiration, blood pressure (74/36). How low can that go?
An electrocardiogram. Blood being taken from both arms.
A brain scan. A chest X-ray. An abdominal X-ray.
Six hours later, another electrocardiogram. More blood tests.
Two doctors examined me. A half dozen nurses. Talking to my daughter, Sasha, in Italian.

My daughter, Sasha, is studying art history in Florence, Italy. I visited her and rented an apartment about a half mile from her apartment. (Incidentally, www.homeway.com is the most incredible website if you want to consider an apartment instead of a hotel.)
We had walked six to eight hours a day all over northern Italy and Paris for two weeks. My legs were sore. Our plan for my last day was to walk the hills around Fiesole, a famously scenic area overlooking the magnificence of this 2,000-year-old city.
With a sip of orange juice, I took an Aleve to ward off the soreness that was sure to follow. My head started itching. Then my body started itching. I glanced in the mirror. My face was flush red. My hair looked white. Sasha called at that precise moment. “Dad, are you ready?”
I knew I was dying and was out before I hit the floor. She heard my phone drop, ran down three flights of stairs, found a policeman, and called an ambulance. She was in a panic but didn’t panic. Fluent in Italian after 10 weeks, she convinced the police to break the door down.
A medic gave me a shot, and I awoke out of anaphylactic shock. Had Sasha called two minutes earlier or one minute later, instead of packing to come home that night, I would have been the baggage.

My U.S. docs are terrific, but my experience in emergency rooms has never been good. I’ve waited in pain, or in nervous uncertainty, four to eight hours to see a nurse or a doctor … or to do paperwork. In Italy, the attention was immediate.
The U.S. health-care system is the only private-insured, employer-based system in the world. We seem intent on keeping this system, though less than half of U.S. citizens are now covered by employer insurance. In fact, an increasing number of employers are dropping or reducing or shifting the cost of health care to their employees.
What nation would create a system that costs almost twice as much as every other nation on earth and expect employers to pay for it – and wonder why its companies face competitive disadvantages in world markets? And results in shorter average lifespans for its citizens? Only the United States. With average wages in the U.S. being $42,000, few employers can afford the additional $6,000 per employee, or $15,000 for an employee’s family health cost.
Luck smiled on me twice. First, my daughter was alert and decisive. Second, my medical care was incredible. When we left the hospital 10 hours later, the same woman who directed patients entering the hospital prepared my bill. She was embarrassed by how much it was — $525. Frankly, I’d rather pay cash in Italy than deal with insurance in the United States.
Twelve hours later, I boarded a plane to come home. Suddenly I started to cry. Sasha had saved my life. She was now 6,000 miles away. I needed her and couldn’t stop crying.
That was six days ago. Each time I’ve awoken since, I’m surprised.
Wow. I’m alive.
David Post lives in Salisbury. Email: DavidPostOpinion@gmail.com.