My four score years of U.S. medical care

Published 8:34 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I am one of those fortunate enough to enjoy reasonably good health because I got a good start in life, people cared enough for me to train me how to eat and take care of myself, and there were always good doctors and nurses to come to my rescue when I needed them.

Nearly everyone born in Durham County for some 50 years was born in Watts Hospital, its buildings now home to the NC School of Math and Science. Since my father was a Lieutenant on the then-new NC Highway Patrol, I had good prenatal care by Dr. Norman Spikes, who supervised my birth there in 1930 and my first few years of life (Mother said that I always wet him down, as little boys are wont to do). Mother dutifully ladled Wampoles tonic and cod liver oil down my throat, along with plenty of milk, fruits and vegetables.

Then my father lost his job as the Patrol was cut back (c.1934), and we came to live on Rippy Hill near Lynn with my Moms folks. When I jumped off the back porch and broke my arm, I was whisked off to St. Lukes (big rock building south of Tryon then) and Dr. Allen Jervey. We both could look at the bones of my forearm as he used a fluoroscope (I think) to set them. I have never forgotten that sight, as it was scary to me.

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Dr. Marion C. Palmer gave me my physical for my student pilots license when I was 16. He also stopped me on the street one day and invited me up to his office to get a shot of penicillin to cure my acne. It was administered into my gluteus maximus; the only effect I was aware of was that my wallet was $5 lighter.

I used to eat most of a box of Zesta saltines each night while poring over my homework for Miss Baldwin. Remember, I worked at the Bulletin office all afternoon, walked home from Tryon (as did Mr. Vining, Sr.), milked the cow, ate supper, and only then could I start on my homework. Maybe the salt on the crackers helped to keep me awake. Anyway, I soon developed symptoms of appendicitis (Dr. Palmer had removed my brother Bills a few years earlier, so Mother was knowledgeable) and I found myself in the office of Dr. John Z. Preston (Tryons Bank of America is there now). He poked around a bit on my belly while asking about my diet. When I told him about the crackers, he advised me to stop doing that, and the pains went away when I followed his advice.

By giving blood for more than 50 years, I got a mini-physical every two months, so my tendency toward hypertension was discovered early. That is painless, of course, but must be controlled. My doctors and I are still working on that. At some point in my late 40s, I began to have what I thought was indigestion or heartburn. Since I always ate well and never had indigestion, I began to note on my calendar the times when I hurt. When it went from monthly to weekly to almost daily, I took my chart to my doctor, who was impressed with the log I kept, as he had never seen anyone do that. Surely I was not his only engineer patient! Anyway, my gall bladder came out shortly after.

Up to that point, all costs of my medical care had been paid out of pocket. My company insurance kicked in on that surgery, however, for it cost more than all my previous care for my first 50 years put together.

The next 30 years saw me go from being covered by my company, to coverage by private insurance after I retired, then enrollment in Medicare and later Part D drug coverage. We are amazed that our Medicare supplement insurance now costs more per month than we paid for full coverage in the 90s. And dont mention drug costs! Our co-pays are now more for generics than the drugs used to cost outright before Part D.

All agree that something must be done, but most of the somethings proposed so far fail to address the real problems of cost. My hope is that the folks working on this will not act in haste but will instead take time to listen to all the professionals directly involved in taking care of us.~ Remember When written by Garland Goodwin