“The Doctor Will Mug You Now”

U.S. healthcare. Because the subject irks me, I should say at the outset that this will perhaps be my most serious post ever. I will try to be as funny as possible in light of that fact, mostly because I too loathe those that drone on about social issues without a shred of humor.

I will not stand on my soapbox. It’s a funny thing, that saying. An adult who stands on their soapbox is merely voicing their opinion yet, as a child, the contents of that box are often shoved into their mouths as punishment for doing just that.

Oh, the irony of having dirty shoes while standing on a soapbox. Photo Credit: http://www.adweek.com/fishbowldc/files/2011/07/soap-box.jpg?red=dc

I am not one to stand on my soapbox. Not because I don’t want to come across as a boorish boob, but mostly because the memory of having my mouth washed out with soap as a kid for speaking my mind has, figuratively and literally, left a bad taste in my mouth. Like sugar mixed into coffee, humor blended into a serious topic makes it much more palatable. This does not work with soap, however; nothing makes that stuff taste any better.

Soap Lollipop
Soap in the shape of a lollipop? That’s just mean.

It’s been said that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. This was once true in the U.S. but, in today’s age of for-profit healthcare and its skyrocketing costs, it would now be more accurate to say that if you do have your health, you probably have nothing. Everyone at some point has some malady that requires medical assistance, but if you aren’t wealthy going into it, even with insurance, you are very likely to come out of it flat broke.

For example, I had a hernia surgery in the States around six years ago. The bill, after insurance, came to over $10,000 dollars. I wondered why the hell I even had insurance. The hospital – and its doctors – offered payment plans which is a good thing, I suppose. Otherwise I would have just told them to take a kidney while they were in there and call it even. I can honestly see why Walter White turned to manufacturing and selling drugs to pay for his cancer treatments. Unfortunately for me, not only do I not have a criminal mind, I also failed high school chemistry.

To be fair, American medicine is perhaps the best in the world. To be cynical, however, it is in the interest of American doctors to be the best so that they can cure you as the deceased rarely pay their medical bills.

On a lighter note, healthcare in Germany is wonderful. It’s affordable, the doctors are on par with those in the States, and they give away free unicorns with every check-up. Okay, that last one isn’t true but it may as well be, according to the universal healthcare naysayers. They believe that universal care is not only a myth, but an evil one as it promotes socialism over capitalism. Let’s break that one down and dispel their lies, shall we? The word social equates to “people” where capital, of course, means “money”. A social system puts people first, where a capitalist system puts money first. Universal healthcare, i.e.; affordable and accessible healthcare, would take money out of the pockets of those who paid large sums of money to elect the naysayers (so that those corporations can charge the rest of us even more) and into the pockets of the people who truly need it. They detract the notion of socially-run healthcare as folklore at every turn because it fuels expectations and gives strength to those who, in their opinion, deserve neither health nor strength. They see healthcare as a privilege for those that can afford it, no matter the cost, and not a right for those who cannot. This is easy for them as they have affordable healthcare, paid for by the people. Even if they didn’t, they could still afford it with their salaries, again, paid for by you. Because it threatens their power, fueled by their cronies checkbooks, they tell everyone that the legend of universal healthcare doesn’t exist,…but they are wrong. I am here to tell you that in Germany, unicorns do exist. Not only are they glorious, every person gets one. I named mine George.

George The Unicorn
George, my unicorn.

We’ll get to the differences between U.S. and German healthcare soon, but I first need to point out that even though the benefits are great, there are still many ways to injure oneself in Germany. No matter how good the care, it won’t prevent you from hurting yourself in a myriad of ways.

Loud noises are forbidden on Sundays here and so Saturdays are full of homeowners limping to the hospital after they have severed toes with their lawnmowers on the one weekend day that they are permitted to do so. For the renters (and the rich) who don’t have to toil in their yards, but who also don’t want to miss out on the fun and excitement of a triage unit, Saturdays are a prime day for sightseeing: The rest of us are battling nature and so the tourist destinations are less crowded.

Because of the also insanely lucrative legal system in the U.S. that encourages lawyers to chase ambulances like rabid suit-wearing dogs, there are warning signs and barricades there on and around literally everything that could potentially lead to injury. In contrast, there are no safety railings around attractions here in Deutschland from which one could fall, nor any signs saying “Do Not Pour Hot Coffee Onto Your Face” or “Do Not Stick Your Head in the Lions Cage”. All of these signs cost money which must be recouped somehow. I have a theory that the more warning signs a country has, the higher the cost of its healthcare. To be fair, there are no signs here telling you to not drink 86 liters of beer and fall off benches when you go to an Oktoberfest, but people seem to do it anyway. Wait. No. That’s only we Americans.

In Mergentheim, specifically, we have a “Wild Park” where bears are only a short leap away. If someone is idiotic enough to get too close and therefore falls and gets eaten, the rest of the people seem to just chalk it up to natural selection and are thankful that they are no longer muddying the collective gene pool. Otherwise, there would be the expense of the national “No Diving. Shallow Gene Pool” sign campaign which would just drive up the cost of health insurance.

Because we are used to being protected from ourselves, most of these poor sots, unfortunately, are also Americans. It reminds me of the joke about the last thing two things an American redneck says before he dies:

1). “Hold my beer”.

Which is always followed promptly by:

2). “Watch this”.

This may be the only reason why there are no wild animal exhibits at the beer-drenched fests here in Germany and why the zoos don’t sell beer. Since alcohol leads most Americans to make bad decisions, and since every redneck I’ve known has a yen for fighting when drunk, selling alcohol around huge predator animals can only lead to every guy named Bubba wrestling a tiger. Because I am a horrible person, my immediate thought was “I’d pay money to see that”. You would never see a German doing this, by the way. Not only are Germans more able to hold their liquor, the free healthca…, I mean “unicorns”, that they have protects them from such things. Now that I think of it, I haven’t been attacked once by a bear or a lion since having mine. I presume that George prowls the forests while I sleep at night and stabs them all with his horn. I love my unicorn.

Drunk American at a German zoo. Photo Credit: http://www.ideaman.net/pics/tiger.jpg

Should you escape the emergency room, you will still find yourself at a German doctor’s office at some point with a non-life threatening injury, or simply for a normal checkup. When this happens, I can tell you from experience that you should wear underwear. Placing emphasis on people over money, German healthcare is less expensive and so doesn’t have the frivolous costs that a U.S. hospital will overcharge you for. In the case of disposable hospital gowns, they don’t even have them. Unlike in America where we shy away from all things sexual like a vampire avoids the sun, doctors and patients alike in Germany are much less prudish. Trust me, your doctor knows that you have genitals, or “naughty parts”, as you might call them.

I remember once looking over my hospital bill when I was still in the States. Towards the very bottom, I came across the line item for the garment and thought, “$300 for a hospital gown?! Who made it? Vera Wang”?! To add insult to injury, they are thrown away afterward which means that you essentially rented a designer paper dress for an hour. I can rent a Porsche for less than that, and for the whole day. Perhaps the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise was really an editorial on U.S. healthcare and they were simply furious because Vin Diesel’s one doctor-administered Band-Aid cost more than the whole production’s car budget.

You have all seen the American movies where someone escapes from a hospital and is running through the streets in their gown, buttocks exposed. The reason isn’t because they are wanted by the police or anything like that. That’s just Hollywood drama. It’s really just because they decided to keep the priceless dress that they paid for – which was probably far more expensive than the clothes they arrived in – and are fleeing the nurses and doctors. This works out well for Vin Diesel as he doesn’t arrive at the hospital wearing a shirt since nothing fits his bulging physique. The ample gowns, however, provide more than enough room, so he just shoots himself whenever he needs a new outfit. Honestly, who is going to tell him that he can’t just keep it?

“It’s Versace! And it was free! Just stab yourself, Vin”! Photo Credit: http://www.slashfilm.com/wp/wp-content/images/crank-5.jpg

Back to the point, when you are at the doctor’s office, they will not give you a gown. They will instead direct you to an alcove adjacent to the examination room and tell you to remove everything except your underwear. If you are not wearing underwear, your embarrassment will force you to mention this fact to the nurse. She will, subsequently, force herself not to laugh, though not very well. I am probably the only patient they’ve ever had who wore pants during an examination and am certainly the only man in history that has been laughed at because he kept his pants on.

Being a social system, German healthcare is preventative. Not just in relation to treating symptoms once they occur, but in a larger, more general sense, by preventing them in the first place. For example, Germans work far fewer hours than we do, yet have far more vacation days. Being less stressed and less tired are two of the most important ways to combat illness. We Americans, however, aren’t used to taking it easy. We fight through pain and soreness, most likely because of our reactive and expensive Healthcare system, as we have to work all of those extra hours just to afford it. This naturally just feeds the vicious cycle since working all of those hours means that you will get sick. We do not acknowledge that something may be wrong or on the verge of breaking until it’s too late. Should one of us go to the ER for chest pain and find that it is merely indigestion and not a a massive coronary, instead of being thankful, we would probably say, “Damn it! Now I have to pay for that visit myself, and my insurance will probably go up! Why, oh WHY, couldn’t it be a REAL heart attack?! Grrrr”!

“This better be real, dammit”! Photo Credit: http://www.ishn.com/ext/resources/News/heart-attack-3-300px.jpg

Fortunately, when the pain returns due to anger-induced elevated blood pressure and we have to go back to the hospital, the previous visit will probably be covered…but only if you are in actual cardiac arrest. Otherwise, it’s another out-of-pocket expense. Maybe scarf a few donuts on your way back. I used to keep dried bacon with me at all times for just this purpose.

When you make that initial appointment at the doctor in the U.S., they typically take blood during the exam. When you make your appointment here, however, they schedule your blood work ahead of your exam so that they can share the results with you during the exam. This serves a two-fold purpose. The first is obvious in that there is no need for a follow-up visit in which the doctor can charge you the price of a small island to tell you your results. The second benefit, if you are like me and hate needles, is that the advance notice will give you enough time to travel to some isolated forest in Bulgaria and hide behind a tree. Given how my face normally looks, it is pretty easy for me to squish it up a little and look uncannily like a mushroom. Seriously, I hate needles. The first time a German nurse asked if she could take my blood, I frowned up at her and said, “Nein, Vampir! Weg! Das ist mein Blut!” (No, vampire! Away! That’s my blood!).

German Nurse
A German nurse. Photo Credit: http://im3.peldata.com/bl3/23926/17bg.jpg

An unlikely – but ingenious – example of how the German social system is tied to preventative healthcare are Gelbesäcke. Gelbesäcke are yellow plastic garbage bags engineered to be so thin that they are completely transparent. This is presumably so that when your trash is placed on the curb, your neighbors can see what you eat and drink, thereby shaming you into not buying it in the first place. This is the best case scenario, however. These yellow bags are so thin, they tear at even a threatening glance, much less stuffing them full of cookie wrappers and fast food bags. You normally have less worry of your neighbors seeing the garbage in your bags and more of it spilling out and blowing into their yard like brightly-colored cellophane tumbleweeds. Nothing quite gives away your poor diet faster than your discarded cake packaging piled against your neighbors front door like a junk-food barricade.

There is no hiding your bad diet. Mmmm, Reese’s.

As I sit here ranting, the idea of Gelbesäcke has given me an idea of how I can pay for my healthcare should I injure myself while visiting the U.S. in the future: Since they are disposable, I am going to raid those doctors offices’ trash bags for their hospital gowns and sell them. There has to be an untapped fortune in black market designer dresses. I will be my own Walter White, and Marc Jacobs will be my unwitting Jesse Pinkman. I’ll make tons of cash by selling the doctors’ own property to pay for their services. Heck, the occasional blood stain will probably even give me some street cred.

Well, this tale is done. I’ll climb down from the soapbox that I said I wouldn’t stand on. To be fair, the one good thing about a soap box is the added height it gives to the speaker. I’m pretty sure that I saw Donald Trump, one of the chief healthcare naysayers, in the crowd, or at least his hair. Either that, or it was a rabid fox eating someone’s head. Regardless, I must leave. I have a doctors appointment on Monday and need a head-start: Bulgaria is a four day unicorn ride from here. Now where in the hell is George? That country’s forests are teeming with wolves and I need to sharpen his horn.

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