Medical musings



Modern medicine confuses me, but I’m beginning to see why it’s so expensive.

Ever break a collar-bone? I did, dumping a motorcycle (foolishly, what else?) about thirty years ago. I walked home, bloody, hurting and embarrassed. Went to the local saw-bones the next day, got an x-ray, and he put me in a shoulder harness that got me into the position of “attention”. That, and take a couple aspirin. A few days later, a
USAF doc spotted me, asked what was up, said the harness wasn’t on right, put his knee between my shoulder-blades and (OUCH!) tightened that baby up. Shoulders back, chin up; my Basic Training Drill Instructor would have been proud! Drove down to San Antonio that night (from Illinois) for USAF Recruiter School, and a month later removed the harness. And burned it. Shoulder stiff, but all was well and still is. A $15 strap-harness and some aspirin. Nobody mentioned the word ‘surgery’.

Last week, someone close to me had a bicycle accident, no more foolish than me, broke his clavicle. Ambulance ride, emergency room, yada-yada. They put him in a sling to keep the weight of his arm off the fracture, and a big jug of hydro-something-additive for pain. The ortho follow-up said it looked OK, just wear the sling and take the pills, and we’ll check it in a month or so. No driving, no working etc. After a month, if it doesn’t look right, well, maybe some nice surgery to put it into place. Cost-to-date, unknown, but I’ll bet the pain pills cost more than my harness did.

A couple of observations, but first the disclaimer: no, I’m not a medical school graduate physician, far from it. Also, perhaps I was lucky, except for the motorcycle-dumping part. With that out of the way, having the same fracture 30 years ago, I wasn’t side-lined for more than a day or so. I remained pretty productive as it mended. And while I wouldn’t wish that rotten harness on my worst enemy, it worked and involved no insurance, no trip to the operating room, no billable follow-up and no prescription pain killers. Even in 1980 dollars, the cost was negligible.

Maybe that’s why they don’t do that anymore.

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July 15, 2013 5:50 pm

Not only that, but a couple of swats from whoever your caretakers were back in the day probably saved the public tens of thousands in incarceration costs. 🙂