Being Sick While Far From Home: A Kind of Anthropological Experiment

Because of a death in the family, I have spent much of the past month hundreds of miles from my caretaking partner and my healthcare team. My body has cooperated with this change of plans impressively well. Four days ago, though, I choked on one of these bad boys:

banana chips

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Fortunately, I was able to stop choking. Less fortunately, I only stopped choking because the banana chip broke, and I inhaled most of the jagged chip right into my windpipe. And because my body is nothing if not a drama queen, it has responded to this insult by giving me bronchitis, an asthma flare, and some strong chest pain. So, a word to the wise: don’t breathe in your food.

I spent Halloween evening alone in urgent care, in a state which isn’t my home, and which I know very little about. I’m sure I’ll have energy to share some of my findings at some point, but for now suffice it to say:

-During much travel outside of my home city, I have found people elsewhere treat my disabilities/ physical limitations better than I am used to: by and large, they give compassion, understanding, patience, desirable assistance, and gracious acceptance of “no thank you, I can do that for myself.” In and out of healthcare facilities, strangers seem less likely to kick my cane out from under me, or to mutter impatiently, or to question whether I really need the accommodations I find the nerve to ask for.

-American healthcare almost invariably suffers from a lack of care coordination. In my past 20 urgent care visits (regardless of which state they’ve happened in), I don’t think I have once been told my diagnosis. Last night after I left Urgent Care, I called my partner and informed him that the Urgent Care Center hadn’t found anything extensively wrong beyond my asthma flare, for which they had given me an extra inhaler. Then I got home, only to find the clinic had sent me home with an extensive writeup about the viral bronchitis they’d diagnosed me with. I think this is unacceptable. No one who sits through tests, wait times, and exams, and has a professional choose a diagnosis and treatment for them, should be sent home before hearing that diagnosis and treatment. When healthcare providers choose a treatment plan, they should share the risks and benefits associated with the treatment plan, versus the risk of not treating, and get patient buy-in before considering their job done. Ideally, no patient should go home from these encounters without first demonstrating that they’ve understood their diagnosis and agree with their treatment. We are a long way from that ideal.

I hope everyone is having a nice November so far.

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