05 March 2007

Waiting lists in the U.S.

I fell on an icy sidewalk last Friday and broke my ankle. I heard the pop, pop, felt my ankle collapse under me, and I knew it was bad.

The last time I had a major break I also heard it. I was skiing in Park City, Utah, and idiotically had insisted to Paul that I was fine on the black diamond slope. First run of the season and on rented skis. Right. No problem. We were supposed to meet someone, and he went off to ski under a chairlift — not a real slope — to see if he could find them. I would ski down the slope and meet him at the lift line. Except I never made it. I negotiated two, maybe three moguls and went down — pretty softly, really. But twist, pop! went my knee, and one of the rented skis shot down the steep, white mountain, catapulting itself into the air and skittering to a stop 100 feet down.

It didn't hurt. I figured I could stand and slide down to that ski — except I couldn't The knee wouldn't hold me up. And it was so steep that getting to the ski on my butt was hard. If only I could get to it, I thought, I'd slide the rest of the way down, then ski on my right ski and carry my left on the flat.

I got halfway down the slope before Paul showed up, feeling terrible — as if it were his fault.
Paul, me and Curtis — the Hannum siblings

I'd shattered my tibial plateau, and it needed surgery.

I stayed in bed for the rest of the Sundance Film Festival and flew back to Portland for pins and a metal plate.

This time there was no question of getting up and skiing anywhere. It hurt, and my foot had slid to the side as I moved it out from under my butt. It moved to the side again when we tried to put my lower leg on a board to stabilize it in order to get me onto the wheelchair and inside. I don't think Christopher has ever heard me as panicky as when I called him a minute or so after falling. He was supposed to have presented to a conference that morning but he passed off his powerpoints and notes to someone and rushed over to where I was sitting on the sidewalk, snow falling on me and the group around. After he got there I could feel the world settling back into place. And yet I still couldn't even get up into a wheelchair. When the paramedics came, I pleaded with them to keep my foot from again sliding sideways off the axis of my leg.

The paramedics were wonderful: I was grateful for pain medication and competent, experienced touch, and relaxed as we drove — watching Christopher pace us through the ambulance's back window.

In the emergency room, however, it was a good thing Christopher was there advocating for me — going out three times at one point to get a nurse in to give me some more painkiller through the IV. There just didn't seem to be much urgency or concern. The nurses were friendly enough, but I felt as though I were in an episode of ER where the staff's interpersonal relationships are the main plot point, not the patient.

They couldn't get me into surgery that day. The only opening was at 5 p.m., and there would surely be a case that would have priority over my ankle, which wasn't life threatening.

I'm OK with that. It would be better if they could have gotten me in, but that's life, right? It turns out that it's also standard. Yesterday, a nurse in Boulder mentioned in an email that she had a patient who also fell and broke his ankle last week, and that she hadn't been able to get him in for surgery until Tuesday as well. Today someone else told me that he'd broken his ankle earlier this winter and that he'd waited a week for surgery.

Fine. Maybe that's the way it has to be. Character-building, no doubt. I just don't think I'm going to be as friendly next time someone tells me that they've heard that the waiting times in Canada are terrible.

After all, I've got two broken bones here (my tibia and fibula), torn ligaments, miserable pain that is only controlled by a dizzying amount of percocet (me and Rush, old buddy), a foot that doesn't remember that it's supposed to be at the end of my leg — not an inch or so to the right — and although Christopher's able to work from home, unlike many people, but he's not as productive because he's taking care of me.

So give it a break about Canadian knee surgery. Insured people in the U.S. may wait marginally less for elective surgery than people do in Canada. But we do wait. And if you're an uninsured American, you can schedule your elective surgery to coincide with Britney earning that PhD. You can wait until Cheney grows a heart or til George grows a brain. It's not going to happen.

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