Friday

November 24th, 2017

Insight

Patient thoughts

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Feb. 6, 2015

Report from the waiting room: Down the hall in this great maze of a modern medical center there is another clinic, one advertised with a big sign pointing the direction there and saying something about beauty. It apparently specializes in cosmetic surgery. It's wearing enough to be here arranging for necessary if not urgent surgery. Why would anyone be here just to get a bigger bustline or have a nose straightened? It's a mystery to me.

It's one thing -- a necessary, even a life-serving thing -- for skilled physicians to employ their considerable talent and years of training to correct an all too clear deformity or defacement, but just for superficial appearance's sake? Some things will always be a mystery to simpler types. Like me.

How do they do it -- the clerks, orderlies, nurses, all the medical assistants and technicians who day after day deal with the unending line of patients bearing their appointment slips, photo IDs and insurance forms, case files and all the other bureaucratic encrustations of modern, model medicine? But to put the same questions to each of us every hour of every day ("Name? Birth date? Attending physician?") ... How do they do it without coming to hate patients, all of us different, all the same, all needing attention? Think of the crazy-making routine of it. Yet they all retain their composure, arrive and leave every day by the clock, get their job done and go home. That's another mystery to me.

An Englishman named Anthony Daniels isn't just a physician but a writer, indeed one of the best practitioners of the English essay in the Western world, ranking alongside this country's Joseph Epstein.

In the current issue of the New Criterion, Dr. Daniels contributes one of his essays to a symposium titled "Free Speech under Threat," as it always is. The good doctor's piece ("Compliance with Untruth") is about the layers of socialist newspeak that now cover his country's National Health Service. (Me, I preferred its earlier name, the National Health Scheme, which at least hinted at its array of essentially fraudulent features, which by now go under the name Service.)

Among the good doctor's observations is the culture of complaint this national health service/scheme fosters, as in the jingle it broadcasts:

Remember, where there is blame

There's a claim ...

To quote Dr. Daniels, "One might say that this is a programmed destruction of trust in both directions: patients of their doctors and doctors of their patients."

Both the English patient and the English doctor are expected to deal with a whole mountain of paperwork before they get to lay eyes on each other, including a routine evaluation that every British physician is now expected to go through at regular intervals. Among the questions on the form: "Do you have any question about your probity?"

Dr. Daniels' reaction:

"When I was first asked this question, I told the appraiser that I would answer it on the condition that he answered two questions. He agreed, and I asked the two questions.

" 'The first,' I said, 'is What kind of person would answer such a question? and the second is What kind of person would ask it?'

" 'Oh, I know,' he replied, 'but just answer No so that we can get this over with.' "

Both knew how the game was played. So much for an honest appraisal.

How long, an American must wonder, before Obamacare imposes the same kind of pretend regulation on the American medical system? Or has it already done so?

Long ago, when Russia was still the Soviet Union, a bunch of American editorial writers got to take a (very) guided tour of the workers' paradise. It was a remarkable experience. Talk about strangers in a strange not to say mystifying land. At least a dozen times a day, I found myself standing stock-still -- on a sidewalk, in a marketplace, whether a government-run store bare of goods or a farmers' market full of produce to buy -- and wondering what th' heck is going on here? Here meaning the whole Soviet economy.

So many mysteries. One sight that sticks in my mind to this day: a huge pyramid of burnt-out light bulbs for sale. What th' ...

Why would anyone buy a burnt-out bulb even if it cost next to nothing in even then worthless rubles?

Later a Russian would explain: When a Russian needed a hard-to-get light bulb at home, and everything was hard to get in the Soveconomy, he would just unscrew a good one at his government office -- and all offices were government offices in the Soviet system -- and bring it home, replacing it with a bad one that the office janitor would find and replace with a good one.

One mystery solved. But there were so many in that pretend economy ... like how its at least two-tiered medical system, private and public, inferior and superior, worked. With examples like those of the British Health "Service" and Sovmedicine to go by, you have to wonder where Obamacare is leading us.

"The doctor will see you now." The announcement always seems to come suddenly, no matter how long the patient has waited for it. And it's always welcome. Maybe not as welcome as some higher on the list like "It's a girl!" But pretty high. And you're no longer alone with your patient thoughts.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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