its sunday this is getting ruined in like 24 hours so

Inside Socialist Healthcare

So I got pneumonia.

Actually, I got what I thought was the flu. My kids had had the flu, and had recovered normally, so when I got sick (on my birthday, no less), I figured it was just my turn. After all, it’s pretty rare you can end up covered in your son’s vomit and not get ill yourself. (It’s a parent thing. It happens, let me tell you. Welcome to Stockholm!)

But I didn’t get better. So five days after getting ill – a Sunday – I managed to drag myself into the private healthcare provider here in Finland, Mehiläinen, and they sent me to Helsinki’s main hospital, Haartman. I spent the next two nights there before being released Tuesday. I am still tired, but recovering.

Since US conservatives are always ranting about the evils of socialized medicine, I thought I’d offer some reactions. For that matter, progressives seem to imagine socialized medicine is some kind of utopia. I have some thoughts about that, too.

First, all the good things:

–I believe my standard of care was excellent. Against conservatives’ claims, I have no evidence I was denied access to appropriate drugs or treatment because I was in a socialized health system. I got a chest x-ray. I got loads of blood tests. They hung 3 ½ liters of fluid to rehydrate me (I had lost 7 kilos in 5 days), and once they identified my particular pneumonia they pumped me again and again with IV antibiotics. And all this in just the first 24 hours when I was in an isolation room in the ER. (Think the place you go if you have Ebola.)

–The doctors were professional and informed. The nurses were profoundly sympathetic and empathetic. (I was, it turns out, something of anomaly: I had a disease they could cure, relatively easily, and was basically able to take care of myself. This is not universally true – TBD.)

–They handed me a very nice pair of PJs to wear, not a hospital gown. And, as I am very tall, it is worth noting that they had some that fit me. This is not nothing: hospital gowns are useful, but they don’t protect one’s dignity. It seems small. It’s not.

–When they were discussing releasing me, they asked if my coughing would unduly disrupt my family, making it hard for them to sleep. The implication was clear: if it’s better for your family, stay another night. Imagine that in the US, when all the insurance company wants is you OUT. They cared about me and my family. Amazing.

–NO ONE WAS TRYING TO MAKE A PROFIT FROM ME (after Mehiläinen, anyway). It turns out my healthcare is not completely free here: Finland doesn’t just serve aliens free healthcare. My employer does provide some coverage, but its contract with Mehiläinen is M-F. I went on Sunday.

So when my first doctor suggested going to the hospital on a Sunday, my American brain fried. My American brain started imagining vast numbers on my bill. When I called Mrs. Prof she worried a bit about it too. More about me, to be fair, but some.

Now think about this a second: I was really, really ill. As ill as I have ever been. I am being referred to a hospital, and I HAVE MONEY. I am NOT going to be ruined by a hospital bill. But I still instantly worried about the money. That’s sick, and really suggestive of just how profoundly the American brain is bent by for profit/insurance healthcare.

In any case, the bills have not been all worked out, but at its worst, I’m looking at maybe 1500 euros. That’s 48 hours in a hospital, 24 in isolation in ER. All the tests, etc. And I probably won’t owe that due to a combination of employer support and alternative insurance. In fact there’s a decent chance that my employer will cover the whole thing.

That’s quite a thing. I mean, quite a thing. For no one to have to fear getting healthcare is just … amazing.

Now, a few bad things:

–It is clear the Finnish hospitals are creaking under the weight of long term care patients. When I got moved to a regular room, I was in the cardio wing (I have a mild heart issue). A doctor told me I was as close to a cardio patient as they had … and I was there for pneumonia. My roommate clearly had been there a long time, and was going nowhere: he had profoundly damaged, swollen feet, likely from diabetes. (Avoid that disease, people. Avoid it.) Most everyone on the floor was in a similar kind of state. The cardio wing was a long term care facility, whether it was intended to be or not.

–What I saw while walking into the ER isolation room was horrifying: there was just a row of mostly old people comatose on beds lined up in the hall. Their gowns and robes were askew in a patchwork of flesh and cloth and in my semi-hallucinatory state they looked like Picasso portraits, not people. It looked like the triage scene in a combat film, and all the patients had to separate one from the other was low wooden dividers. There weren’t even the curtain divided rooms like American hospitals have. It was ugly.

–Addled and broken as I was, all I wanted to eat was a light meal. I’d have killed for a bowl of fruit salad, and would have gone swimming in a watermelon. But no such options existed. One gets what everyone else gets, and since the focus is on long term care for elderly patients, that means one gets cafeteria food seasoned to the preference of elderly Finnish people. The meals were usually substantial – Finnish meals almost always are. But for both flavor and content (massive carbs) they were mostly inedible to me, and there was no way to adapt the system to my needs, rather than the needs of the collective. 

Things are still being worked out, and for all I know my pneumonia might return. But all in all, my experience of Finnish healthcare was quite positive. If I go to the hospital again, though, I’m sending Mrs. Prof to the store for some apples!