I had been intending to write about Korean director Chan-wook Park, but last night I watched a film by another man who makes scary movies, Michael Moore. Very little of what I saw surprised me. Not the men and women whose insurance companies allowed them to die of treatable diseases. Not the children who died because the closest hospital wasn’t covered by their health plan. Not even the taxi that dumped a dazed woman in a hospital gown in the middle of the street. The very same thing happens here in my hometown of San Diego. The practice came to light when a local homeless advocate was stabbed trying to break up a fight between two men beneath a bridge. Confused by blood loss and unable to identify himself to hospital personnel, he was given minimal treatment, stuffed into cab, and left half naked on the street, all because it was assumed he was indigent.
Sicko also shows the story of an American who receives free hospital care in England after stupidly injuring himself in the famous Abbey Road crosswalk. Moore doesn’t make this up. I too have experienced the generosity of Britain’s NHS. In the summer of 1992 I flew to London with the intention of working abroad. The day I arrived, I got caught in the rain between the Blackfriars tube station and my youth hostel and caught a cold. As I looked for work over the next week, my cold got steadily worse. After ten days I found myself shivering and hallucinating in a bottom bunk in an unlicensed boarding house in South Kensington. That morning, a naked English girl explained the National Health Service to me. She had spent the evening screwing the Frenchman in the bunk above mine, which I thought I had imagined. She gave me directions to the local clinic as she pulled her clothes out from under the sleeping Gallic Romeo. When I arrived at the clinic, the receptionist asked for my name, date of birth, passport number, and the reason for my visit. Nothing else. The doctor saw me immediately and listened while I explained my symptoms. He diagnosed me with bronchitis and prescribed me some antibiotics. He gave me directions to the nearest chemist (pharmacy), and strict instructions to eat and rest. At the chemist, I was charged nothing for the medication. Nothing at all. Remembering food, I went into the a little grocery store next door. The elderly Irishman behind the counter took one look at me and gathered up a bag of orange juice, fresh bread, and soup. The whole outing took less than an hour.
Back here in the US, I am forever fighting small battles. To get appointments and tests. To get the medication I need at a price I can afford. I drive all over town to get blood work and X-rays that I could easily get in one place, simply because my insurance requires it. My wife will work until the day she die, so that the kids and I can have insurance. She is reluctant to even look for a better job. I’m not a religious man, far from it. But God bless Michael Moore for bringing the issue of America’s corrupt health care system out into the open. And God help America, the only civilized nation on Earth that still treats health as a business. Now that’s scary.