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Alex McCord: In sickness and in health ...

If you need to have a procedure so that you won’t get sick and die, is that really elective?

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where multiple people you know and love are in the hospital or having surgery? Simon and I are there at the moment; we’ve had five people on three different continents go in for procedures or emergencies and it’s been an interesting study of people, medicine and bureaucracy.

What did we learn? If you are unconscious or vomiting, triage takes five minutes. OK, that’s a good thing. We want to feel confident that when our bodies are really going bananas, that someone will notice and help.

But is that the only time to go to the hospital? Amongst our ailing friends and relatives, the ones who were knocking on deaths door got great, fast care. The ones who did what you’re “supposed to do” and came in for pre-emptive procedures were all turned away for various reasons. Interesting.

If you need to have a procedure so that you won’t get sick and die, but you’re not dying today, is that really elective? When I think of “elective” I think of something that’s a matter of choice. Like paper or plastic, one's major in college, boxers or briefs. Whether it’s lungs, guts or a tumor, if not getting the surgery will result in your body shutting down, it’s not really a choice.

From the stories I’m hearing it seems that the doctors in question will give every reason they can think of not to operate until the patient is so sick that they can’t wait any longer. And I don’t mean normal procedure schedules being bumped for emergencies. That we can all understand.

Why the reluctance? Are they afraid of being sued? Afraid of not getting paid enough to cover expenses after the insurance company shakes everyone down like a loan shark? Sadly, these are not ridiculous questions.

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