My husband David and I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland 2007-2010. Since his mom is 100% Scottish (though she resides in America but not in this photo because she came to visit us when we lived in Scotland),
her family still lived there and we were therefore able to spend time with them.
One time we stayed with my husband’s grandma who lived in Brechin, a small town northeast of Edinburgh, and I remember how she complained about the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland, which was the public sector health care provider.
She shook her head in frustration while she explained how the government was raising the prices of her prescription medication and now she had to pay (to my American ears) “nothing,” which was five pounds more than what she was paying before.
I was just really glad his grandma didn’t live in America. But so was she.
Our Edinburgh friends (who were predominately Irish, South Korean, French, Chinese, Eurasian, English, South African, Singaporean, Canadian or Indian and not Scottish) (and we became more aware of how we had all these not-Scottish friends when our small group of Scottish friends came to my surprise 28th birthday party from Fife and looked around at the small group who had gathered and said it was like hanging out with the UN) were appalled at the fact that a person had to pay a lot of money to go to the emergency room in America.
And they could not even comprehend that an ambulance would cost money.
Their eyes would get bigger and bigger with every little horrific detail that every American knows as these were the reasons many of us couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t go to the doctor.
Our Scottish/not Scottish friends had always lived in a world where every medication was purchased at a set price of about fifteen bucks. In America, my neurological medication which kept my epileptic self alive cost me seventy-five dollars in the States, with insurance, and, in Scotland, the same med had the same cost as prescription Tylenol.
It didn’t matter what it was, all medication cost around fifteen bucks.
Of course, that was twelve years ago. Now my seizure control medication Briviact costs $1,400 without insurance.
That wasn’t how it was/is in Scotland. Of course, you had to pay “council tax” which covers prescriptions etal. but my husband and I pay taxes here in America because he is a freelance artist and we don’t know where that money goes.
At least in Scotland you knew that money covered schools, rubbish collection, street lighting, water, sewage, roads maintenance, libraries, preventing homelessness, caring for elderly, infirm people, emergency and routine healthcare and the BBC.
Well, the taxes we pay here in America are also supposed to go to road maintenance but…
Also, if life as you know it was threatened in Scotland, you could just go to the hospital. And the hospital people would even come and pick you up for free.
As if it was a human right.
A self-evident human right it seemed, as I looked around at the incredulous faces of the non-Americans. As in, “Well, of course the ambulance is free!”
As in, they were offended that someone would even ask if there was a cost.
I told them that, in the States, if you’re average and poor, you basically just learn to live with whatever deformity you have and accept it because you often didn’t have insurance and/or thousands of dollars available to pay off the hospital bills that you’d receive even if you did have insurance.
I’d witnessed friends accidentally cut something off or break something or get some weird infection and just wait it out until death seemed imminent so that they didn’t have to go in and accumulate medical debt.
For a period of time in my twenties, I had not been able to afford my anti-seizure medication. My medication at that time cost hundreds of dollars and, since my epilepsy had been a preexisting condition, it was not covered by the basic insurance offered by my employers. Thus, because I was twenty-three-years-old and felt more durable, I just let nature take its course.
As a result, I was unconscious a lot in public.
Since I was being picked up off the sidewalk by EMTs at a rather regular rate my ethical neurologist then worked to enroll me in an experimental test group which would offer the medication for free if I agreed to provide feedback on how it was working for me.
However, until the free experimental plan was offered, I would thrash around and continued to be unconscious a lot.
And the ambulance would come and I’d usually wake up as they boosted me up into the back of the ambulance on a stretcher and they’d ask me questions that I knew the answers to, but couldn’t yet find because my short-term memory was temporarily offline.
And later I would be wheeled into a room and left alone to sort out my current address or what I had been doing at the time of the attack. The information would come back, but I just needed a few minutes to collect and re-present it.
However, I could have recollected myself somewhere else.
Somewhere where it didn’t cost money to sit and remember.
It’s not as if I’d forgotten how to walk or survive. I just usually had a bad headache, a stuttering memory and a broken nose.
Besides, it’s not like any of the emergency room doctors, in most cases, did anything. They would poke at me, sometimes give a sympathetic look, and send me on my way. I’d often hear: “I don’t know why they brought you here.”
Me neither. I was unconscious. I just woke up here and realized I was going to owe even more money to a hospital for nothing.
This was not an uncommon scenario, often emergency room doctors would just come in, look me up and down, and I’d walk out with nothing more than I came in with. Except a feeling of “I should have just stayed home” and “I wonder how much that is going to cost me.”
My Scottish/not Scottish friends would cling to every word with eyes wide, as if I was telling a gruesome horror story.
I continued. “This is if someone actually comes and acknowledges you. I can’t count the number of times I just walked out of an emergency room, because no one had acknowledged me. I just laid on my little cot and pondered the people behind the other curtains and the fact that they were all just lying there too, waiting for treatment, and the whole situation just weirded me out. I would grab my things off the metal trays and/or rolling carts and leave.”
But they would always find me.
To bill me.
I could have moved to New Zealand and the hospital I had cruised through in my half-conscious way would have found me. No one may have even talked to me, much less treated me, much less helped me, but I would owe them something.
It felt like a bad relationship.
All I would get from these visits was farther away from where I was before the ambulance had picked my unconscious body up.
And I would never call anyone to come pick me up from the emergency room. Mostly because I temporarily couldn’t remember any phone numbers (this was before mobile/cell phones were physically part of one’s body and I didn’t have one so I couldn’t just press the button and tell Siri to “Call someone I love” and see who s/he came up with).
So I would just walk home, or I would walk a mile or so in some direction before I could firmly remember where home was and then assess whether I had been walking in the right direction.
Sometimes someone would be waiting for me in the hospital waiting area, but that depended on whether I had been electrified into unconsciousness in good company. I would sneak out of the area in back and my brain would flicker in recognition at the concerned face which was attached to the body which rose to greet me in the waiting area.
And then my short-term memory would fire up and puzzle pieces would start to place themselves in their correct position.
But it’s all a bit mental.
“Welfare” is defined as the health, happiness and fortune of a person or group or, in America, a “financial system associated with socialism.”
The moral of the story is that, if I had lived in Scotland my whole life, I would be much better put together. The scars I wouldn’t have, the brain cells I may have saved in a fever, the teeth I’d have kept.
Knowing all this, I made a list of all the public resources available in Edinburgh while we lived there and utilized every available service, so that I could finally get some help and nurture my body for a change.
But my Edinburgh friends complained that you had to wait forever to get in to see someone, especially a specialist, when it came to regular appointments, but I told them that was also pretty true in the States. Most people I knew went to Urgent Care because that’s what had been substituted for efficient general care. Many Americans can’t afford general preventative maintenance. And God help you if it’s something serious. You have to start a Go Fund Me page to pay for those bills.
I did concede that Scotland’s NHS had lost my blood a couple of times.
One of my two Canadian friends and I had both experienced that call:
“Hi, we can’t seem to find your blood. Would you mind coming in again so we can get another sample?”
Of course, she had lived in Canada so she had a right to look down her nose at the NHS. I didn’t but, I mean, come on. They lost my blood. That wouldn’t probably happen in America. Your personal information will likely be sold but your blood sample will likely stay right where it belongs or, more accurately, if it did go missing, they certainly wouldn’t call to tell you or admit any kind of wrongdoing ever.
In any case, what really mattered was, if you’re lying in a pool of blood in the streets of Scotland after experiencing a violent seizure, you could confidently ask someone to get you help. In the States, on top of your worry for whatever harm has happened to your body while unconscious (which is a worry in most human societies when you’re unconscious), epileptics and skateboarders also had to worry about how to hide our broken selves or the broken bodies of our friends so that people wouldn’t go and get help.
We couldn’t afford the ambulance or the treatment.
So we would sit there, bleeding, and yell, “No! No ambulance! I’ll/They’ll be fine! Look, look – it’s fine!”
Friends in the States had encouraged me to Sharpie “Don’t call the ambulance” on a white t-shirt as I had been really accumulating some massive hospital debt from all my unconscious trips to the ER after experiencing a public seizure
but I didn’t want to wear the same thing every day.
Another friend wanted me to front a band and have seizures on stage like Ian Curtis.
But I wasn’t that outgoing and I used to be a private person.
In any case, if I were a conspiracy theorist or someone who paid half-conscious attention, I guess I would just believe that the American drug and insurance corporate culture had developed a systematic master plan to kill off certain populations, certain segments, so they didn’t have to spend any of their excessive wealth on anyone but themselves. I mean, they had earned their wealth from tax loopholes, lobbyist contributions, political corruption, trust funds, the deaths of their wealthy parents and screwing over other people. Why should they have to share any of it?
It’s always good to leave your country to see how other countries do things.
After living in Scotland for a few years, I now have a deeper appreciation for America or, rather, its philosophical goals, and a hefty feeling of disgust for America’s normalization of so many unethical, immoral and illogical realities.
But most Americans lack the financial resources and tolerance for bureaucracy to leave and live abroad briefly so that they could gain perspective.
The most efficient way to see other countries is being forcibly enslaved in an international sex trafficking ring.
It’s surreal and depressing that becoming enslaved in a sex trafficking ring isn’t that statistically unlikely.
Eventually, my Scottish/not Scottish friends and I would grow quiet, crushed by the potential hopelessness of fixing all that’s wrong in our human world.
Thus, we then would focus on the looming apocalypse in order to cheer ourselves. “Wait until the aliens or the Horses come. Or our dying planet submits to the chemo we’ve continuously administered and finally kills us off. Providing ethical health care and eradicating racial and socioeconomic boundaries which remain somehow invisible and hidden and which also dictate quality of care and living standards are not going to seem like priorities much longer.”
Meanwhile, the way my epilepsy was behaving at that time, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to see the Horses.
It was taking longer than I had hoped to schedule an appointment with a neurologist and get back on the medication that worked. And the seizures were really starting to add up in our first couple years in Scotland.
For a couple days I had set up shop in the tiny carpeted bathroom of our flat with the castle-view because my brain wouldn’t allow me to rise to my feet. I eventually got really hungry and desperately wanted the generic Cheerios which were in the kitchen and felt I could handle that task without death so I slowly rose to my feet and crept into the kitchen, careful not to wake the electric beast within as its vision was based on FUCKALL, and I succeeded in pouring the cereal into a bowl.
But then a surge of electricity rushed through me and I froze, stuck in place, rigid, terrified to make any movement because epilepsy was stirring.
But, since no additional surge of electricity followed, I carefully carried my bowl of generic Cheerios into our small living room which had a very thick shag rug and, upon entering the room, I experienced a giant electrified TWITCH!
And my arms flew up into the air and the cereal in the bowl flew everywhere and I fell to the floor in terror.
And stayed that way for an hour.
Eventually, I started to pick out the generic Cheerio bits out of the thick shag rug in my immediate area because I couldn’t stand the mess around me
and I’d continue to do that until I experienced another surge of electricity which rushed through my blood:
⚡️ TWITCH ⚡️
And then I’d again have to flatten myself against the floor and, stubbornly, once again slowly resume my task of picking generic Cheerio bits out of the shag rug.
Over the course of a couple hours I had succeeded in picking all the cereal out of the shag rug from a very close distance to the cereal and the rug and, since I was experiencing a blissful respite from the electrification felt I could get to the kitchen to get the vacuum which had come with the flat furnishings so I could clean up the cereal bits from the thick shag rug which I felt was my life’s purpose right then
and so I crawled into the kitchen, still too fearful to rise to my feet, and pulled the vacuum behind as I crawled back into the living room.
And I vacuumed that shag rug.
And then probably pulled the bottle of red wine that I had stashed behind the couch for such emergencies (depressants like wine calmed my epilepsy… it’s like I could get epilepsy drunk and it would then forget about its sadistic ways and just fell asleep instead) and drank wine and laid on the shag rug, recovering from an eventful/not eventful 48 hours.
Eventually, I did get in to see neurologists and they did their tests and even brought in my husband for an interview as he had witnessed my seizures and the time he found me in the cupboard of our box room in Gorgie
and it all felt very comprehensive and wonderfully complete.
And, at the end of the testing, a young neurologist sat down with me and said they had no idea why I had epilepsy.
I didn’t realize they were still trying to find a cause.
I was more concerned with the reality of the situation and also the present where my mind was actively trying to electrocute itself and the rest of me to death.
My neurology team did switch me back to the medication that had been working for me until a Milwaukee neurologist with an agenda had taken me off that medication to put me back on a medication that had stopped working because she felt the medication that worked “may affect a fetus” and I was all… I’m not pregnant, I have an IUD and I’m moving to Scotland to do my doctorate in three years.
I’m not getting pregnant.
I need to not die in a seizure, however.
In response, she didn’t listen and put me back on the medication that didn’t work and so I had quite a few seizures at home when we first lived in our new country.
So the Scottish neurologists couldn’t explain why I had epilepsy, but they put me back on the medication that prevented seizures which was nice.
But that wasn’t all… in fact, the young neurologist who was assigned the task of sharing with me the summary of the results suggested I may be an alien.
While I understood the young neurologist was just making a joke, his suggestion is something that I’ve long considered.
After all, the resemblance is uncanny.
2 thoughts on ““Is the American Health System That Bad?” Asked my Scottish/Not Scottish Friends. “Well, It Depends Who You Are.””
You would think we would demand, in return for giving our government the privilege of existing, some basic things that would lead to the greater good of society. Either we are unable to do so, or have been tricked into thinking worse is better.
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