Healthier Living: American Style

This Frugal Fam core value is my number one worry about moving back to the USA for several reasons. The first and biggest is NHS. I know that media and people are constantly berating the quality of NHS. But having had HMO’s and Medi-Cal in the past, I can’t say enough how wonderful I have the National Health Service to be.

Within our first week of arriving in the UK, my husband took me and Emily to the local clinic. This is the same doctors’ surgery that delivered my husband and care for him all his life. With a bill and our passports, we were registered in minutes. A couple of days later we saw a nurse for a general check-up. But what has won my eternal praise is the empathetic and quality care that I received during my gall bladder surgery.

Now I had had painful episodes for about five years or more. When I had an HMO in California, they never ran a single test, but said it was most likely ulcers. They simply gave me strong pain killers and sent me away. But on my first flare-up in the UK, they diagnosed it as gall stones. They sent a referral for me to have an ultra-sound and see a specialist for consultation. My condition though deteriorated quickly and within a couple of days they had me go to the A&E (ER to my American readers). In less than eighteen hours, I was in surgery.

But it is more than the speed and quality of care that impressed me. Despite having had three caesarean births, this was the first time since I had my tonsils out at age six that I would be put under general anaesthesia. I was more than a tad frightened. Despite it being a relatively simple surgery, I was petrified that I would not wake up. I am certain that in the USA the doctors would have demeaned my fears are silly and mocked me, but in the UK the doctors took the time to listen and empathise with my concerns. It is the old-fashioned medicine that big business and bigger insurance companies and HMO’s have robbed from Americans. Most amazing of all, my family doctor called my husband at home to check how the surgery went. Can you imagine such a thing happening in the USA?

Even when I might disagree with the decisions, I still appreciate the NHS process. On Monday before we flew to the USA, Emily had her second seizure/fit. Now the doctors are convinced that it is simple febrile fits (caused by fevers), but what bothers me is that she is not sick before the fit. The fever appears after the seizure. As a parent, my biggest concern is that there is something more serious wrong: a lesion or tumour on the brain is my worst fear. I would really like them to do a CAT scan or MRI to rule this out. So when I mentioned this to the paediatrician on Monday, she explained that the two seizures alone did not indicate something significant enough to warrant those types of tests. Mind you, logically I agree, but with my mother’s heart I protest. At the end of the talk, the doctor actually looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I can tell you are not satisfied with what we have discussed. What more could we do?’ I was floored at her empathy and compassion.

Not that all American doctors are horrible. My son had a wonderful paediatrician that I adored. But he was older and I could tell that despite his prestige the HMO for which he worked had concerns about the amount of time he spent with each of his patients. For instance, he would often spend thirty minutes or more on each on my son’s check-ups, but after the first fifteen his nurse would drop by every five minutes to gently remind him of the time.

But it is not just the health care that concerns me. One thing that I noticed when we moved to the UK, within three months each of us began to lose weight…between ten and twenty pounds. Although I cannot scientifically prove it, I am convinced that the growth hormones that the US uses in its animals are a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. The meat, cheese, eggs and milk that in the UK are free of hormones and genetic modifications will be considered organic in the US…and more expensive. But I question the quality of US organic products as well. In the UK, we already purchase organic milk, but as I said the normal milk is already comparable to the US organic standards in that it is anti-biotic and hormone free. So does the US offer anything approaching the quality of UK organic products?  Then of course, the fact that in the UK you are more likely to walk or bike to school or the store means that each day we are more likely to get more exercise.

So while I am certain that I can maintain the same Frugal Fam standards in terms of environmentally friendly in the US, even if it is more challenging, I am concerned that the healthier living core value will be compromised simply because the health care and food markets make it virtually impossible to find the same quality products and services. Hubby says that if we get sick then we can always hop a plane and go back to the UK for care, but I know that this is unrealistic in terms of things like my daughter’s seizures or even gall stones. So I am left crossing my fingers that the changes proposed by President Obama will go far enough…but I fear they do not.

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