Mind Over Miller: It's not perfect, but it's the best we can do


Mind Over Miller: It's not perfect, but it's the best we can do

Oct 01, 2004

It is inevitable that the United States will eventually have socialized medicine, as many other industrialized capitalist nations already have. We have partially socialized medicine now, and the inadequacies of the medical insurance industry, the faulty HMO services, the large uninsured population, and the frequent failings of the medical profession all encourage the voting populace to presume that a socialized system would be better.

Alas, that is not true. I am opposed to socialized medicine, and my opposition is based on personal experience. I am not talking about the time I lay sick and feverish with dysentery in a U.S. Army hospital when a nurse entered the ward and ordered, "Everybody up and mop the floors!"

Nor am I talking about the time I was a student in Colorado, and a school physician injected my shoulder bursa with ACTH. "They told us in pharmacology that the action of ACTH is systemic," I meekly offered, "and that corticosteroids should be used for localized lesions like a bursitis."

The physician glared and said, "Nonsense. I use ACTH in bursitis all the time!"

It didn't matter because I didn't have bursitis. I had a torn rotator cuff.

No, what turned me against socialized medicine was personal experience in England, surely one of the most civilized nations, and one that I as a confirmed Anglophile have always admired. British courage, humanitarianism, and civility are unmatched, but my experience with its medical system has made me keenly aware that a private-enterprise system is a more powerful motivating force.

My first experience with socialized medicine in England occurred when my son was 16 and I was a scheduled speaker at the British Veterinary Congress. It was two weeks before the congress, and we were driving around England. (We had just visited with James Herriot in Yorkshire.) As we explored the lovely English countryside, we would spend the nights at bed and breakfasts along the way. Usually energetic, my son kept complaining that he was "so sleepy" and "so tired." In retrospect, he was probably going through a teenage growth spurt. But at the time, I was worried about things such as leukemia, and I knew I'd feel better if he had a complete blood count. At breakfast one morning, I expressed my concern about my son to our hostess, who was a young mother with three children.

"Oh yes," she empathized. "I can call my pediatrician, if you wish, and explain that you are a foreign tourist, and, perhaps, he'd work you in. Or you can go to the local hospital, and your son can be seen there."

Not wanting to disturb a busy practitioner's schedule, I decided to try the hospital.

"However," said our hostess, "all laboratory work is sent to Manchester, and it takes four days to get the results."

"A CBC is just a blood count," I explained. "It only takes a few minutes to run one, so we can wait for the results."

"No," she insisted, "all lab work goes to Manchester and takes four days."

"You see," I patiently explained, "I'm a veterinarian. We run a CBC while the patient is on the examination table. It's a quick test, and I'm sure it won't need to go to Manchester."

"And I'm a registered nurse," she retorted, "and I'm telling you that a CBC goes to Manchester, and it takes four days!"

She was correct, of course, and this was my first glimpse of socialized medicine's shortcomings.

Years later, when I was in England for another congress in Harrogate, I picked up a London newspaper and looked at the front-page headline. It read, "Breast cancer patients will no longer have to wait longer than eight weeks for surgery." What a concept!