Sitting on a curb with a broken leg in a traffic round-a-bout in Freeport, Bahamas, I was concentrating on thinking about how lucky I was.
Tracy & I were on the last day of our mini-honeymoon and it had been a perfect, sunny, Bahamian day, and we were maybe 10 minutes from our hotel when we went down on our scooter. Can’t really say why…a bump, gravel, my unfamiliarity with the low-slung scooters, but one second we were upright and the next I was on the asphalt with my foot heading the wrong direction, Tracy behind me with the side of her thigh looking like raw hamburger.
The Bahamians were amazing in their instant response to our accident. One man in a SUV behind us stopped in mid-road to block traffic from behind, then he and another man helped us off the road, moved our scooter to the side, called the ambulance, called the scooter rental business and waited with us as we waited for the ambulance.
When I stood up, I had sort of rotated my foot back to facing front, which I thought might be a good idea, then Ambrose, one of the men who stopped, helped me to sit on the curb.
There was some pain, to be sure, but more shock I think, and I checked how Tracy was and concentrated on not thinking about the pain. Thinking instead how lucky I was that soon I would be in an ambulance, a hospital, and there would be people intent on helping. And I thought of how many people in this same micro-slice of time would be in the hands of others who were there to intentionally hurt them, and to keep them in pain day after day after day…and I was thinking I had not done nearly enough to support Amnesty International.
It was oddly quiet inside my head, though I knew the traffic was still loud, and people were talking and I could hear sirens approaching. As the EMTs loaded me up on the gurney, the second Bahamian gave me his business card and told me to call if I needed anything while writing his private cell number on the back of the card. The first man waited with the scooter to ensure its safe return to the rental store.
As I was waiting for transport Officer Nesbitt of the Royal Bahamas Police Force asked me some questions and had me sign a form titled “Notice of Intending Prosecution.” I wasn’t foggy enough not to have some concern about that. He carefully and patiently explained that in his opinion there was no cause for prosecution, that what happened was an accident, in the true sense of accident, and there was no cause for prosecution, but the form need be signed. I signed, and felt comfortable doing so.
We arrived at the hospital in short order, admitted through the emergency entrance and I was shifted to a wheel chair and Tracy went up front to get me admitted. Then I was taken to x-ray and back to an examination room.
I’m a bit foggy about this, but it seems that two doctors examined my break when the x-rays came in, and then Dr. Florendo talked to me about what needed to be done. She called in an off-duty orthopedic named Danny, as she determined the bones were as of yet misaligned and needed to be set.
While waiting for Danny, Nurse Coldbrook set to cleaning and dressing the road rash on my arm and leg. Tracy declined treatment on her more serious thigh injury, and though I protested, it seemed I was in no position to bend her will on that one. A formidable woman, that one.
However, when she was done treating me, Nurse Coldbrook turned to Tracy and said, “Now, give me your thigh.” And Tracy did. Another formidable woman, that one.
Danny arrived, examined the x-rays, examined my leg, and explained how he was going to re-align the bones, while he had a nurse begin a Demerol drip. We talked about life on the islands, his background, Tracy’s, and mine life in general, all the while waiting for the Demerol to take hold. He was there from about 9:00 p.m. until I left at around 11:30.
He told me the Demerol would take the edge off, but I’d still feel it as he manipulated my leg, and he was right. The fibula was broken on the slant, and the tibia was displaced from over the talus. Took some time, but he put it right.
Another x-ray showed he knew what he was doing and as he layered on the cast we chatted like we were old friends. Even though I knew we had pulled him in from a night off.
Then some shards of reality pierced my fogged brain.
Tracy had paid the $60 to get me admitted, but we still had to pay the balance. We talked about it some, hoping against hope we might get out of the hospital without dipping into the home equity loan we’d just gotten to buy a piece of property in Gainesville, but I wasn’t hopeful. I knew that if I were sitting in the emergency wing of a hospital in the US, we’d be looking at owing fifteen grand at minimum. We talked to a nurse practitioner from the US the next day at our hotel and she laughed when I said 15 thousand; she said it would have been closer to 30 thousand. I found that hard to believe, but I’m not in the business.
Anyhow, Tracy went up front to get the bill. She’d paid the $60, and another $35 in cash, and then there was a credit card payment of $173.
This wasn’t even socialized medicine, just the public hospital.
I didn’t even really know how to respond to that. The itemized bill included a $40 charge for copies of the x-rays to take with us, $35 for crutches, $30 for the ambulance, $3 for Motrin 500mg, $30 for the doctor.
In sun-drenched Florida, before Rick Scott became governor, he used to run Hospital Corporation of America, which charges as much as $33,000 for “trauma response fee,” an admission fee levied before any services are rendered, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
I have a friend in Colorado whose sister broke her leg skiing in Utah. The bill was over $100,000. She lost her home and her car to the bills and still owes 30 thousand. Is that good health care?
But I think I was treated professionally, with care and compassion, without losing my house and car to the bills. It’s not only possible, it already exists, just not in my own country.