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Looking For A Cure

America's Medical And Legal Systems Are Crashed

 

By James Donahue

 

     "Our country is for sale. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we

      breathe is for sale to the highest bidder. Our safety, our children, our

      lives are likewise for sale. You don't get health care -- you buy health

      care. You don't get justice -- you buy justice, and you sure don't get

      freedom -- you fight for it."

( Freedom calling, by Marc Ashe,

                                                 TruthOut|Opinion, Monday, 28 Oct., 02      


 

In 1998 a 19-year-old youth in the community where I worked as a news reporter fell into a four-foot deep pit and broke his left leg.

 

He was taken to the local hospital where the doctor on duty spent over eight hours installing a metal plate with screws on the boy's left thigh bone. The bone was not shattered, but was severed in one clean break.

 

When he woke up after the surgery, the young man, who I will identify only as James, complained of severe pain in his right leg. He also said his foot was numb, but extremely sensitive when touched. It was soon discovered that James also was suffering from renal failure.

 

While covering a malpractice lawsuit that resulted from this case, I learned that there is a complication from extensive hours of surgery called compartment syndrome. In layman's terms, when a patient remains in one position for too many hours, the tiny blood vessels in the flesh near the skin are blocked and the skin and muscle tissue can start to die. When compartment syndrome occurs, the problem compounds itself through a swelling that starts causing other blood vessels to shut off. Toxins in the blood quickly cause the kidneys to malfunction.

 

Doctors say compartment syndrome is comparable to a hot dog that cooks until it bursts. The standard treatment is to cut into the tissue and relieve the pressure so that muscles can heal and restore themselves.

 

James had a very smart lawyer who brought forth testimony from the doctors in a larger hospital, located about 60 miles away, who treated him after the local doctor had him transferred.

 

They indicated that James was nearly killed because of an incompetent doctor who spent too much time attempting to set his broken leg, and then failing to treat the complications that resulted from his mistake.

 

 Believe it or not, James lost his suit against the doctor and the hospital. The jury was obviously overwhelmed by the high-priced lawyer provided by the malpractice insurance company. That jury of three men and three women liked the appearance of the lawyer and doctor, both wearing expensive tailored suits, was charmed by the smell of their money, and ruled against the plaintiff.

 

All James wanted was some financial relief from $160,000 in medical bills that he could not pay. Instead of relief, he ended up losing his case so faced a big legal bill in addition to his overwhelming medical bill.

 

I could stop here and say this was an example of justice in contemporary America. But the issue goes much deeper. It also seems to be an example of the current condition in contemporary medicine. Both the legal and medical professions are suffering from an inability to treat the cause of the ailment at the root.

 

The court case also presents an example of a social illness that threatens to destroy us all if we don't get it under control.

 

The irony is that we watch medicine and law at its very best being practiced live on our big screen television sets. But these are high profile cases where the very best examples of both professions are featured.

 

At the grass roots level the lawyers are not as smooth. The doctors, so burdened by the high cost of malpractice insurance they don't dare diagnose without a battery of tests to back them up, are slow to treat. And the clients are poor, overworked and underpaid laborers that cannot afford the cost of either of them. Thus they get less than the best.

 

The situation only promises to get worse as medical insurance companies, struggling to reclaim their losses from rising costs of pharmaceuticals, pass these costs on to customers who cannot pay. There is a chain reaction going on in the heartland of America. Employers are either cutting medical insurance costs or laying off workers. Unemployed or underpaid and uninsured workers are denying themselves the medical treatment they need but can no longer pay for.

 

The Obama health care plan was supposed to deal with the medical issues. A bill was debated in the House and Senate for over a year before it finally passed. By then, it was so watered down it offered little help at all. Most benefits, if they ever go into effect, don’t start until 2014. And they require that every American provides his or her own health insurance. This is being challenged in the courts. A lower court has already ruled that the requirement is unconstitutional.

 

A chaotic epidemic of the dying poor looms. It is a deadly trap brought on by greed, corruption and incompetence.

 

Can it be fixed? Yes, but not in a capitalistic system. We all must stop worshipping money before this mess can ever be made right.