I've been having a problem with my neck. I think. My neck itself doesn't hurt but the neckbone is connected to the legbone -- OK, it's not, but work with me here. The neck is the spine and something's wrong in there somewhere which has caused my left shoulder to be about as productive as Eddie Guardado's. It also has left two of my fingers numb. I don't know whether they're hot or cold or what. The only thing they seem to tell me is I'm old.
Which, not surprisingly, is what a neurosurgeon told me last week. My spine is shrinking and it's compressed a nerve... or something. I really don't know because after two doctor visits, an MRI, and then a referral to a neurosurgeon, nobody has told me exactly what's wrong with me. And, because I'm a typical health care consumer in the United States, I haven't asked. I just expect them to do something. And they have; they've collected co-pay after co-pay after co-pay.
I'm stuck in co-pay hell; the criminal system that is the American health care system, referred from one person to another, always just a step away from someone who might be able to do something about it.
My MRI was three weeks ago. I never did get the results, just a phone call from the neurosurgeon's office who said I'd been referred there. Fortunately, I only had to wait 10 days for an appointment and, I presumed, relief from "old man hell." I had anticipated I'd get a shot directly into the spinal area. That's what my regular doc had predicted. That would be followed by months of physical therapy, all at $35 a pop.
When I finally got to meet the neurosurgeon on Friday, he asked me in rapid succession, "what is your name, where do you live, do you live with anybody there, what is that person's name?" I figured my diagnosis was going to be worse than I thought.
"There's a 75-percent chance you won't need surgery," he then announced, displaying an uncanny ability to gaze into the inner workings of my spine merely by my identifying the name of the woman I've lived with for 26 years.
He offered several alternatives, suggesting a priority on "the shot." "OK," I said, "let's go with that."
"Fine," he said. "The nurse will be in to set up a referral to one of our pain clinics."
The neurosurgeon's office to whom I'd been referred, apparently doesn't actually do anything but tell you pretty much what you already knew, take your $35, and whatever could be billed to the insurance companies. The original doctor, the neurosurgeon, the pain clinic, and the physical therapy center are all owned by the same health group.
How stupid do you have to be to not understand what's happening here and millions of other doctor's offices every day?
Oh, the pain clinic, I've got my appointment and I only have to put up with the pain of a shoulder coming apart for 2 1/2 weeks. I think.
An interview with Tom Berge
5 months ago