my experience with socialized medicine

One thing from last week that I forgot to mention: I brought Catie’s nebulizer with us to the UK because she’s supposed to take Pulmicort twice a day during the winter months for her asthma. The asthma specialist she saw at the hospital last year recommended it, and we’ve found that it helps, so this is what we do. I have a spacer and an albuterol inhaler in case she has an asthma attack while we’re out & about (or, say, on an airplane with no electrical outlets), but she hates the spacer and freaks out every time we use it, so I try to avoid it. Since we only do the Pulmicort first thing in the morning and before bedtime, it didn’t seem like a big deal that I only had it in nebulizer form. (cue foreshadowing)

The hotel we stayed in near Heathrow had one U.S.-style outlet, so the nebulizer worked fine while we were there. Once we got to my mother-in-law’s house, though, not so much. I don’t know what’s up with the nebulizer’s voltage, but it shorted out no less than THREE different power adapters. I was starting to panic because Catie had gone a few days with no Pulmicort, and December is never a good month for her asthma, so I really didn’t want to let it go for too long. I figured that the next best option would be to get a Pulmicort inhaler; I already have the spacer, so it would just bypass the need for electricity altogether. She’d hate it, but you know, desperate times, desperate measures.

So last Tuesday, before we left for Scotland, I called a pharmacist and explained what was going on. I asked her what would be the fastest way to get an inhaler for my daughter. She said that if my mother-in-law had her own doctor, getting Catie an appointment as a temporary patient would probably be a lot quicker than going to the ER. Mags called her doctor, and got us an appointment time less than 2 hours later.

We checked in, and they didn’t take my U.S. insurance card or ask for any money. We overheard someone say that there was only one doctor working that day, so there might be a long wait. I suppressed my internal groan, thinking that we were about to experience one of these nightmarishly long waits that I had heard about the UK healthcare system.

About 20 minutes later, the doctor himself came out and called us back. I thought it was odd that it wasn’t a nurse who came to retrieve us, but it was nice. We went straight into his office, even though I had to carry Catie because she was already starting to cry (my poor girl sees way too many doctors, she’s now scared to death of them). The doctor had a fish tank in his office with a couple of clownfish in them, so that immediately diffused Catie’s fear as she started getting excited about “Nemo! Mommy, it’s TWO NEMOS!!”

I explained to the doctor about Catie’s asthma, the blown-out nebulizer, and the medication I needed in inhaler form. He wrote me a prescription on the spot. The end.

The whole appointment took less than 5 minutes, and cost NOTHING.

We wanted to hit the road for Scotland after Catie’s appointment, so we ended up getting her prescription filled in Inverness. That took another 5 minutes. And here’s the kicker: in the US, Catie’s inhaler would cost us $40 *after* our health insurance coverage kicked in. In the UK? Because Catie is under 16, all prescriptions for her are FREE. The pharmacist actually looked confused when I tried to give her my credit card. It’s funny, I expect a fair amount of culture shock when visiting a new country for the first time, but that was the first thing here that honestly made my jaw drop.

I learned that prescriptions are also free for pregnant women and senior citizens. Huh. I can think of more than a few people who might find that helpful, if not life-saving.

So, based on my experience, I have to say that if that is what one should expect from this evil “socialized medicine”? Then, hell, go ahead and sign me up as a socialist. Because that was freaking awesome.

Note: I wrote this post a few days ago, thinking that’d be the end of it. Now it looks like I’ll actually have a two-parter on socialized medicine, because Dave and I have both come down with some sort of Evil Sinus Infection of Doom That Won’t Die, and we’re both going to see my father-in-law’s doctor this afternoon. I guess we’ll see if I’m still as impressed with the UK medical system after this.