Ears-a-ringing: How the medical industry keeps me up at night
There are no medical centers open on Sunday in San Fransisco except the larger institutions like St. Francis Memorial Hospital - AKA the emergency room. On a sunday of last month, I shook with fever, winced from a dull pain in my ear, and miserably wiped the mucus from my reddened nose. After two days of this, I sauntered my way to St. Francis, and with a nasal passage sealed tight, I asked to see a doctor.
This is America, and I’ve had ear infections/nasal infections before. They give you an antibiotic called Amoxicillin, some cough syrup, and they send you on your merry path. If you’re insured, it costs $15 plus what the pharmacy charges for the medication.
Except on Sundays, when it might cost you your hearing, or a good night’s sleep for the rest of your life.
I spoke with a doctor at St. Francis, who took a glance at my right ear, listened to me breathe, and declared that I had a cold. She prescribed Ibuprofen and, with the confidence of her vast medical education, informed me that my ear looked inflammed, that I might want to watch it. I inquired about the possibility of an ear infection, as I was prone to them as a child. She enlightened me with a story about how she moved here from New York and she’s trying more natural remedies, and conforted me with assurance and a toothy grin that my ear doesn’t look that bad.
- Total time I spent speaking with the doctor: roughly 5 minutes.
- Total time they spent copying my insurance information, verifying my address, and solidifying their chances of collecting a shockingly expensive bill later: 1 hour.
- Total time I spent waiting idly in the waiting room: 25 minutes.
Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I had forgotten what an ear infection really felt like. Yet after two more nights of feverish chills and sweats, and copious amounts of Ibuprofen, I pondered the possibility that St. Francis might have led me astray.
It was Tuesday now, and One Medical had an opening. The doctor who saw me took a glance at my right ear, whistled, and judiciously announced that I had one of the worst ear infections she’s seen in a long time. She prescribed an antibotic called Amoxicillin, some cough syrup, and she sent me on my merry path. It cost me $15 plus what the pharmacy charged me for my medication.
- Total time I spent speaking with the doctor: 15 minutes.
- Total time I spent paying the co-pay and sitting in the waiting room: roughly 10 minutes.
It wasn’t until two days later that I knew something was wrong. My nasal cavity opened for the first time in a week, my fever was pleasantly absent, and my ear proudly heard things without complaint, but during the silent moments, I could hear a high-pitched ringing coming from my ear.
It’ll go away, I thought, but a week later, it remained. I spoke with the doctor (the One Medical doctor), who explained that it was Tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear. Then, the doctor told me that there is not much that can be done to cure it, but I won’t get too detailed in the discussion of Tinnitus relief here.
Now a month gone by, and for the most part, I can’t hear my Tinnitus. But at night, when my mind dulls and my eyelids weigh heavy, the moment I lay my head upon my pillow, it is a torrential siren piercing into my very soul. Try listening to this sound as you try to sleep - more awakening than an 11PM Red Bull. It’s been a month since I’ve sleep more than 4 hours in a night.
I received the first bill from St. Francis yesterday. It is $337.12 after my insurance deductions. My next bill from the actual physician will arrive thereafter.
I’m not blaming the doctor from St. Francis for her painfully unfortunate misjudgment, but I am questioning the accuracy of the medical system of this country. Is 5 minutes, a back story about natural remedies, and a bad call worth $337.12? Do medical doctors answer the same accountability that others do? If I, as a software engineer, were to glance at a 500 server error, claim that it’s caused by bad CSS, and then charge you $337.12, I would be fired. While we do call medical doctors practitioners, I feel there is a certain degree of competency you should be able to expect when you ask for the professional opinion of any physician in this country, small clinic or large hospital.
This industry can do much better. They can start by having a clinic open on Sundays, staffed with a physician with capabilities to recognize an ear infection.Sharing is caring -
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