Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health care reform up close and personal

I've written a couple of posts lately about health care reform in the abstract. It's rather easy to do when it's all hypotheticals. Imagination is a wondrous thing--you can get a frisson of fear by thinking of taking up skydiving, but you don't have to go through the actual leaping out of the plane. Same with all those poor people who get sick and what do they do with their jobs and how can they afford this?

Well, I am about to find out firsthand. In the middle of August, my voice started going. That was odd. I had just spent a week at a music camp for adults, singing my lungs out in large and small groups and generally getting jazzed at being with people from all different walks of life doing one thing we loved so well--music. So at first I attributed it to vocal exhaustion.

It didn't get better. It got worse. So then I attributed it to a nasal inhalant I had been taking to relieve allergy symptoms. Stopped taking the inhalant. It got worse. I was reduced to sounding like Marge Simpson only softer.

Four weeks into this, I hauled my butt into Group Health one Sunday afternoon to be seen. The physician's assistant on call that day did a full blood workup and looked in my throat and found nothing remarkable. He suggested that I make an appointment with an ENT. So I called my AP's office the next day to see if she would do a referral. Found out I could self refer. That was a good thing. But that was it for good things.

An appointment with an ENT was made for Wednesday afternoon. Dr. H anesthetized the back of my throat and put a scope down through the nasal passage to the vocal cords. "Say 'eee,' "he said. I complied. "Say it louder." Once again I tried to increase the volume. "Your left vocal cord is paralyzed," he said. He told me that he didn't know the cause but was scheduling me for a CAT scan first to rule out cancer. "It's been 5 or 6 years since I've seen one of these cases where it was caused by cancer, but we should get that out of the way first," he assured me.

So a week later, I was back at Group Health for my first ever CAT scan, with contrast dye. When they inject you with the dye, you get a metallic taste in your mouth and it feels like your are wetting the table. You are not. They injected me twice for two different CAT scans.

Friday at 9am I returned to Group Health for the results. Well, I beat Dr. H's odds. The CAT scan picked up 3 distinct growths in the left lung--two in the lower part and one in the upper lung. It was the upper growth that was pressing on my vocal cord and causing my symptoms. It also appeared that this growth was a metastasis from another, a primary site. Dr. H inquired about family and friends who might live nearby and whether I was a member of a church. When I indicated that I was, he responded, "That's good. They will help you as you get your affairs in order."

So, here we are. On a new, completely unexpected and frankly unwelcome journey. But, because we have this raging health care debate going on in our country right now, and as I am a member of one of only two medical cooperatives in the nation, perhaps my journey can provide some insights into this highly political charged issue. I invite you to come along for the ride.

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