Read on Medium
When we are getting sick, we weigh a lot of factors, consciously or not, inside our heads, on whether or not to seek healthcare — and if yes, how. We think about distance, time, urgency, and cost. For many of us, cost ends up being one of the most important deciding factors.
A little less than a year ago, I was coming down with what I thought was the flu. I felt that signature pre-illness fatigue, an itch in the back of the throat. I left work early one day and went home to rest, waking up with a high fever. I was sore all over. I couldn’t eat anything. That evening, I had an important choice to make. And that was whether or not to see a doctor.
I was a college student. I lived in Canada. Going to the doctor would be completely free. Ultimately, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have gone. I was 49% vs 51% on just staying home and taking some OTC medication and hoping for the best.
In fact, I had little more than a hunch in the moment to go on, that what I had wasn’t just the run of the mill flu. I dragged myself to the nearest emergency room, because what the hell.
As it turned out, it wasn’t the flu at all, though the symptoms were eerily similar.
It was septicemia, or sepsis. I had a 20–35% of dying. If I had delayed for a few more days, as I had debated doing and would’ve actually done had healthcare not been so accessible to me, the chance of death would have skyrocketed.
Back then, I was quickly admitted to acute care, and put on IV fluids and antibiotics. I was hospitalised for a week. The amount I paid for that stay, that probably saved my life? 0 dollars.
Had it not been for the free healthcare here, and the attitude that an accessible healthcare system creates that it’s better to be safer than sorry, I may not be alive to be writing this right now.
A lot of life threatening conditions like cancer don’t just appear out of nowhere, don’t just go from 0–100 in a day, and many of them don’t cause any pain until very far along in their development. Perfectly healthy people don’t just drop dead of a heart attack, despite what TV shows seem to imply.
A lot of fatal conditions start off as mild, almost ignorable symptoms that would not prompt anyone to see a doctor, especially if seeing one costs hundreds of dollars when you’re barely managing to pay the bills on time.
These symptoms are often caught in regular check ups, or when someone goes in for a cold and offhandedly mentions something. In America where going to the doctor for a cold may cost far more than what is seemingly at risk (why not just take Tylenol and sleep it off, right?) people simply do not go.
Inaccessible healthcare finds a lot of patients seeking care far too late. Even if many things could’ve been done much earlier on, for some people, it was never an option.
Human beings lose years off of their lifespans. Long term care that can save lives (and, if it matters to you, saving a lot of money too in the long run) — managing cardiovascular issues, early symptoms of cancer, screening for diseases — end up being only available to people who have both the time and the money at hand.
Accessible, affordable healthcare isn’t just about that one emergency room visit. It is about the long term health and wellbeing of a community and a society. In the long run, it can not only save money, but also the lives of many people who did not and do not deserve to die at the hand of a system they could not navigate.