A Sick System

Miah Simone relates a tale from the profit-driven U.S. health care system

Meant to make money, not save lives

Twelve-million Americans get misdiagnosed in a hospital each year. In 2011 a study reported that 440,000 people die of treatable diseases in the hospital each year. Such sad news comes to light in this story where a disease that effects two out of ten people under the age of thirty each year. The American healthcare system is crying out for help and this true encounter is only the tip of the iceberg. I was lucky to have my fully conscious partner (who is a Certified Nursing Assistant) at my side for this whole ordeal. Otherwise I could not be able to say even half of my story.

I started running a little fever. Nothing unusual, I grew up in a home daycare populated by the children of those who could not afford a day off. The unusual was that I had mononucleosis. I started to get progressively weaker and the fever grew until we could no longer ignore it. My partner drove me to the emergency room. The doctor on staff said I had the flu. We went home.

That night my fever hit 102.9 and I became severely dehydrated, delusional and despondent. We called an ambulance and I was rushed to a different hospital (thank god). Shortly after arriving they deduced that I had the Epstein-Barr Virus, popularly known as the kissing disease. It took nine liters of fluid to rehydrate me and they kept me for a day to make sure I was alright. They sent me home.

I slept that day away and then received a call. They thought I had a bacterial infection. See they messed up and ordered two sets of blood tests. In the process of the second one they collapsed one of only two easily accessible veins in my arms and scraped some of my skin into the blood sample. After arriving I was asked every five minutes if I was an intravenous (IV) drug user. I was homeless at the time and homeless people do have a higher chance but being insulted was the least of the slights against me.

I was in the hospital for several days. I had saline being pumped into me pretty regularly as I had difficulty swallowing anything besides very tiny sips of water and frozen yogurt (I have yet figure that one out). They kept telling me that they were going to do a swallow test: a test where they make you swallow thickened milk of magnesia, strap you to a table laying down and take CAT scans. Something of an impossibility given my current state (a fact pointed out by my partner.) The staff kept lying to me about when it was to happen. Between that and the hunger my patience could only hold for a couple of days. My partner and I decided we would check out.

Out of the woods I was not. I spent the next six weeks mostly asleep, without much consciousness or memory of that time. As mentioned before my partner is a CNA. They took care of me, waking up every thirty minutes to take my temperature, helped me maintain basic hygiene and cooked whenever I had enough strength to attempt eating until I was better. Though I still have fatigue episodes.

We discovered a few months later that everyone in my house, except one person, came down with the exact same sickness that landed us all in the exact same hospital. It is from the partner of the original victim that we learned it was a mutated strain of the virus that nearly killed me. The poor soul who first came down with had it for at least six months, gave it to us by using our toothbrushes, treated it with vodka and cold showers because they were trans, without insurance and afraid of the medical system. Not without reason: we lived in the South where trans people are occasionally hunted down and killed for sport.

At numerous points this story could have ended happily or, at least, without nearly as much as drama.

My story is not unique: it happens every day all across the United States and, likely, the world. Our medical system is deeply flawed. Private property and the profit motive have turned its purpose into dollar signs. A rational society would make health available to all freely. The good news is that we can have a rational society but only if we learn to think, learn to organize and overturn capitalism. From each according to ability, to each according to need is a principle that can make a better world for all.