I have really good insurance and live in a country (the USA) where medical care is top notch for those in the middle class. I can go to the same surgeons who work on major league baseball pitchers with salaries 100X what mine is. Pretty cool that I have access to the same surgeons that someone earning 10 million a year does! Am I happy with our medical system? No! In some ways its fantastic, I got amazing care – no expense was spared. But it was still expensive, about $13,000 of which I had to pay about $3,000. I am fortunate enough that I can afford that $3000 but many folks cant. Not only that but the insurance system makes some ridiculous choices, they pay for the $13000 surgery but wont pay a penny for my physical therapy! In my view the physical therapy is as important or more important than the surgery itself! Here’s the kicker, the surgery did not fix my problem! I spent $3000 and and am no better off. Am I unhappy? No, I’m very happy!
Many people have unreasonable expectations of doctors and the medical system. A human body is not like a Toyota Prius, you can’t connect it up to the diagnostic computer and have it tell you what part needs replacing. Medicine is a not an exact science. Doctors use diagnostic tests to assist them in determining what is wrong but the tests are not perfect nor are they decisive, they still require substantial interpretation. Its tough for folks to admit this but often there is no substitute for cutting the body open and taking a peek to see whats wrong and in that case, this is exactly what happened.
On my first appointment, the doctor ordered a MRI ($2500) to help see what was wrong with my shoulder. It was clear that I had massive inflammation and it appeared that it was caused by impingement from bone spurs. A cortisone shot to the inflamed area immediately caused relief and assured us that the inflammation was the cause of the problem. The relief was short lived so the next step was to remove the (suspected) cause of the inflammation, the bone spurs. I took the MRI to another doctor at another facility without telling him what the first doctor said and got exactly the same recommendation – remove the bone spurs.
Well, once the surgeon got the scope in there an looked around, it was clear to him that there was nothing mechanically wrong with my shoulder. In fact, he said I have the shoulders of a teenager – perfect rotator cuff, bursa, and bone surfaces. My problem is massive inflammation of unknown cause. Fortunately I had an experienced surgeon who didnt feel a need to “give me my money’s worth” and needlessly grind bone away when it was clear that it wouldnt help. A really skilled surgeon isnt afraid to do nothing.
So am I upset that I wasted $3000 and still didnt get my shoulder fixed? No! I’m happy my surgeon was such a pro that he knew that the right thing to do was to snap a few pictures and go home rather than needlessly grinding away bone! The scope allowed my doctor to look inside my shoulder with minimal impact and now we have valuable information that can help treat my problem. What I have learned is that its very easy to “worship” fancy, expensive tests like the MRI but they can be wrong and lead you astray like any other test can.
OK, funny surger story. Here I am right after I regained consciousness from surgery, I have very little recollection of this photo because I am drugged out of my mind but turns out it was quite funny. 24hrs after this photo was taken I got a follow up call from my ER nurse asking how things were going – any pain, any infection, etc. After she was sure I was OK, she asked if I got my puppy – I paused then bust up laughing! It all came back to me in a flash. About 5min before this photo was taken and I had just awakened from surgery. Nurse Ann, a very proper British nurse, asked me if I wanted anything expecting I might ask for a blanket to keep warm, a pillow to prop me up, or a sip of water. Turns out that my response made the entire recovery room bust up laughing – I said that I wanted a puppy! Guess those heavy narcotics got the truth out of me as I really do want a dog. We lost our dear cat about 4 months ago and I have a serious case of dog-on-the-brain :) I was so caught off guard that I forgot to ask nurse Ann what kind of puppy I asked for.