What in the Hell does Health Care Have to do With the Olympic Opening Ceremonies?

Along with many millions of others we watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics with our family last night.

I was struck to the point of near shock that among all the dancing and music and fun, the creators chose to showcase the NHS, of the UK as part of the Olympic celebrations.

It was at that moment, as the nurses danced around, I distinctly remembered one of my many hospital stays here in California. I was in horrible pain from my SLE and RA and the inflammation was running rampant throughout my body. The nurse has been buzzed to get me 2ml of dilaudid. A very powerful narcotic and usually my last resort when it feels my body just can’t take anymore.

Pikachu & #allhailhala had a pokeball accident this morning. Poor thing now has a sling

Another woman had walked in just before the nurse. She identified herself as someone with the hospital. A patient advocate and specialist in accounting, or some odd name she gave herself. She had explained to me our insurance company was in a fight with the hospital and they weren’t sure if they were going to need to transfer me or if they would have to keep me because the closest hospital not arguing with my insurance company did not have a bed for me.

Regardless, she needed money because of this fight, because who knows when they might get paid by my insurance carrier.

I was hurting so bad. I didn’t care. All I wanted was my nurse with the drugs. I just wanted relief. And I wanted this woman with the clipboard to get the hell out.

The nurse finally came in, drugs in hand, and saw the hospital administrator at my bedside. She began to retreat.

No. No. Please… it’s ok. Come in. Please. I need my pain medication. 

The nurse looked a the woman with the clipboard. Looked back at me. Looked back at the woman with the clipboard. I was begging her with my eyes to put the medication in the IV NOW and she could tell. She kindly, mercifully, walked to my port and began her work.

So did Cruella de Vil.

Mrs. Vest I can reach your purse for you if you’d like to write us a check.

Sweet relief kicks in almost instantaneously as the drugs make their way through my veins.

Mrs. Vest I’ve put your purse on your bed. Will this be check or card? 

I’m trying to think. I can’t think. I shouldn’t pay her now. While I’m high. I need to think.

Maybe you should come back? I really don’t want to switch hospitals, my children are only a mile away from here. They aren’t allowed at the other hospital and it’s so far away. 

And I begin to doze.

Mrs. Vest. I said will that be check or charge? 

Hmmm.. .oh. Check. I guess. Check? I’m writing a check?

Yes. Here is a pen.

I can stamp the hospital name on it so you don’t’ have to write that part out. 

And then I woke up. Hours later. It seems I had the presence of mind to tweet my experience while it was happening knowing it was wrong and horrible and I had a twitter stream full of people replying to me with things like ‘DO NOT GIVE THEM A CHECK ERIN’ and ‘DO NOT PAY THEM RIGHT NOW.’

But I did. I gave them a ton of money while drugged out of my mind.

In contrast, there was Great Britain, celebrating their safety net. Celebrating that no woman would ever badger a drugged patient for money while she moans in pain in one of their hospitals. Celebrating that no matter how poor, how disadvantaged, a sick person is never turned away.

Is it a perfect system? Heavens no. But it is common sense and decency and something they SHOULD be proud of across the pond. They SHOULD celebrate they are not out for profit when saving lives. They are simply out to save lives. To keep their citizens more healthy. Alive.

All the American system has done is take my money. At my weakest, it’s only wanted my checkbook. It has only leant a helping hand when forced via the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare. That has been the ONLY change getting us closer to a realm of decency the British have already figured out.

There is a huge lesson to be taken away from the opening ceremonies:

Pride should be felt by a nation when they offer a healing hand to the sick. Shame should be felt by Americans who also seem to offer their hand, but only the palm-face up, waiting for it to be filled before they even consider the sick woman reaching up.


  1. Excellent, thank you.

  2. My husband and I were so struck by that part of the ceremonies as well… in a very sad way. I’m so sorry our fucked up healthcare system makes it so hard for you and so many others to fight for their health.
    I’ll be sharing this, thank you.

  3. The NHS, for all it’s flaws, really works rather well. After a year in the US, I still cannot quite believe how wasteful the healthcare system is here.

    Service is impeccable, hospitals are spotless, but I neither want nor need a “gold-plated rolls-royce” service. I want basic, functional, effective healthcare. I am willing to pay for it, but the US system gives you no choice: gold plating or nothing.

    At least in the UK, consumers have a choice: public healthcare for everybody, private healthcare if you want to pay extra. (And even IF you opt for private healthcare, you are probably still, in the UK, paying less in total (including taxes for the NHS) than you would for private healthcare in the US).

  4. Betty M says:

    I was one of the volunteer dancers in the NHS segment last night. I also have lupus. I owe my rapid diagnosis and treatment to the NHS so was proud to be able to celebrate it last night and also lucky that my lupus is controlled so that dancing is an option. Our current government seems to be doing their best to bring in as many of the bad points of the US system at the moment so last nights segment I hope was a reminder to them of how important universal health care free at the point of delivery is to all peoples not only the British.

  5. I have to question the veracity of this story. I have been admitted to a hospital without insurance in the USA and during a three day stay I was never once questioned about my ability to pay nor were there any attempts to extract money from me. Granted, maybe your circumstances were different and I acknowledge that our (I am American) health care system is in drastic need of reform; however, I don’t want people from other countries stumbling onto this article and thinking the situation is quite this dire.

    Now I did have almost $20,000 USD in bills waiting for me when I got out, but I never once felt like I was not getting the best of care.

  6. NIck- I was never once questioned about my “ability” to pay, as stated I did have insurance. The amount asked for the “out of network” hospital copay they were wanting. I also never felt as though I was not getting the best of care as my doctors were visiting every morning, my pain management doctor in particular, making sure I was as comfortable as possible.

    Perhaps, if they knew I did NOT have insurance they would have just billed the entire thing to my home later. Who knows.

    I was admitted to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and it was as they were negotiating their contract with Aetna, my insurance carrier.

    What I find most interesting about your comment is that you say we are in need of drastic reform. And you say you had 20-thousand dollars in bills waiting for you when you got home. I find that much more damning than the story I told of being asked for money while laying in bed having just received comforting medication.

  7. Betty- I’m inspired your Lupus is under control enough to dance and be involved in months of rehearsal and simply participate in such a taxing experience. I hope to one day be in remission and as far along, physically as you. And I hope our nation will be just as far along in our national health care. And yours NOT regressing.

    Thank you for providing us such wonderful entertainment – will you be performing in the closing ceremonies as well?

  8. Christina says:

    Nick – you’re comment and the tone of it is rather shocking!! As a Canadian, it is often taken for granted that I do not need to bring my cheque book with me when visiting the doctors office, or the hospital in an emergency.

    But a $20K bill waiting for you at home?! WTF?! For myself – as a single mom with two daughters – I’m a full time broker and that is still more than half what I gross in a year!! And that was just for ONE visit?! It really saddens me that there are far too many news items of people losing their houses over the medical bills!!!

    I couldn’t even begin to imagine having to pay out of pocket for these services!! Much like the NHS, our system isn’t perfect, and our current government is attempting to dismantle it piece by piece….. but I, like many many others, are thankful for the higher taxes we pay to get these types of services!!!!

    Good luck to us all!!

  9. SHE DID WHAT?!?!

    I’m sorry, but that is utterly ridiculous- how on earth could they essentially enter you into a contract while you were under medication that would render you unable to think clearly?

    Next time do credit and dispute the charges. Either that or hand her the card of your publicist and tell her to call her for the answer.

    You know, after I read your post on the Obama blog, when I got back to twitter, I find someone promoting their friend’s fundraiser page. She needs $ for her COBRA payment for one month while she gets treatment for EYE CANCER. If she loses that coverage for the month, she’ll lose everything. I need to leave a comment there about her situation because that’s exactly the person who needs a stronger obamacare! I want one that focuses even more on health CARE and less so on insurance.

    A person who is sick should only have to think about getting better.

    I’m just utterly blown away at the general lack of compassion by so many in government. What is your job if not to help serve the people and do things that improve their well being? That’s the whole reason our ancient ancestors bothered living in bigger groups- so we could work together to make it easier for one another! So we could share in the work & food & clothing & shelter & care & laughter & help our offspring thrive?!?!

    I have this itty bitty glimmer of hope in my heart that when Obama is reelected, congress is weighted more squarely in his corner (or somehow they are able to break free of this kool-aid induced lock step of nonsense in the house esp.) and we get a Medicaid for all option on the table. It’s a tiny hope, but I’m not letting go.

  10. Max Howell says:

    I moved from the UK to the US. Healthcare in the UK is falling apart and overburdened. It’s a safety net, and that is reassuring, but I feel that I am much more likely to get a good service here. Both systems suck, pick your poison.

  11. I’m appalled at the unprofessional behavior of the hospital’s representative. I hope you will continue to publicize and link to this post until someone at this hospital reads it and (deservedly) weeps.

  12. This might interest you, Queen of Spain. (And it might interest Nick, above, who doesn’t believe this happens.)

    Accretive Health, a hospital bill collector for several Minnesota hospitals, was sued by the Minnesota attorney general for, among many other things, tactics very much like what you describe. They have settled out of court, agreed to set up a restorations fund, and agreed not to do business in Minnesota for six years.


  13. What a horrific experience. Thanks for sharing. Clearly our system is in drastic need of reform.

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