The Mind of James Donahue

Buying Justice

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America's Medical
And Legal Professions
Are Crashed
     "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 October, 2002)

In 1998 a 19-year-old youth in my community fell into a four-foot deep pit and broke his left leg.
He was taken to the local hospital where the doctor on duty that night spent over eight hours installing a metal plate with screws on the boy's left thigh bone. The bone was not shattered, but rather 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 major hospital, located about 60 miles away, who treated him after the local doctor gave up and 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 that was 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 and now he also faces a big legal bill.
I could stop here and say this is an example of justice in contemporary America. But it goes much deeper. I believe it also is an example of contemporary medicine. Both the legal and medical professions are suffering from an inability to treat the cause of the ailment at the root.
And it is 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.
A chaotic epidemic of the dying poor looms on the horizon. 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 the proper repairs can be made.


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