As Americans consider a president who wants to deliver free health care, I wonder if you can imagine what it is like to have it.
Those who oppose President Obama’s plans cite various flaws in the British National Health Service as evidence. It certainly has many of the failings you’d expect of a vast organization. But I know it from the sharp end where my husband is alive today because no expense was spared to save his life.
Just over two years ago, we went to see a consultant following tests for what we thought was a digestive disorder. We were told they had found a sizeable cancerous tumour and that he might have two years or, if he was very lucky, up to ten years to live.
The tumour was attached to a vital artery so it was unlikely they could operate. But they didn’t give up. He was seen by oncologists, radiologists, and highly trained technicians and nurses. He had CT scans, MRI scans and many other tests. You could have bought a house with the cost of his care.
For six months his fate hung in the balance till it finally rested on major surgery which would remove the tumour if it could be done without damaging the artery. Two years and a successful surgery later, he remains in remission, restored to life with his wife and teenage daughter.
Anyone who has experienced major health issues will be able to imagine the strain of those months of uncertainty on the family. But throughout that very stressful time, several things gave us strength. One was the prayers of so many friends. Another was the certainty that my husband was getting the very best of professional care.
At no time was our income a factor on the quality of care my husband was given. To be free from that fear at such a critical time and know that everything that was possible was being done for him, was a great source of reassurance that helped see us through those months of waiting.
My grandparents knew no such certainty in the years before the National Health Service. When my grandfather was away one week looking for work, my grandmother fell ill but wouldn’t allow my then 14-year-old mother to call the doctor because the last bill hadn’t been paid.
By the time a concerned neighbor sent for the doctor, it was too late and my grandmother died of pneumonia, aged just 40. Throughout her life, my mother lived with the question “What if…?”
Today, we do not have to hesitate before calling the doctor and wonder what might have been. I would wish that freedom from fear for everyone facing health issues.