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November 24, 2013 at 10:47 PMComments: 0 Faves: 1

Thankful for Healthcare

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

When the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock and founded Jamestown colony, there were no medical centers or emergency rooms available. Saying that things were tough would be putting it mildly. During the winter of 1609-10, nearly 90% of the Jamestown residents died. This period is known by historians as "the starving time," but while some residents did starve, many more died of disease that the medical community of the time was helpless against. For the ill, there were no antibiotics, sterile techniques, or other life-saving medical treatments. When a significant illness struck, there were only the lucky, resilient ones and the dead. 

Sure, It's Not Perfect

I bring this up because, though lately, healthcare has been under the gun, you can bet those Jamestown residents would have thanked their lucky stars for the services we have available to us today. True, it's expensive, and Americans are struggling to come to terms with this. Most Americans can't pay for significant healthcare needs out of their pocket and must purchase insurance which is also quite expensive. Also true, new government mandates have proven challenging. They're disincentivizing Americans who don't purchase insurance, and the government-sponsored website set forth to help us purchase insurance is a tangled web of computer "glitches" and dead ends.

And beyond the insurance aspect, the system itself has problems. Emergency rooms are more for the non-emergent needs of the Medicaid population than for true emergencies. Doctors need "approval" from health insurance companies to order certain tests or prescribe certain medications, and prevention takes a back seat to the treatment of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, that are increasing in prevalence with each year.

But There's A Lot To Be Thankful For

Despite all this, the glitches and grumbles, we are very, very fortunate. We expect our children to live and survive childhood, far removed from the 30% infant mortality rate in colonial America. Infections are successfully treated to a high degree with antibiotic medications, not left to weigh out whether our immune system would do the job. Broken bones are X-rayed and treated to ensure proper healing. Cancer is not a death sentence. We have state of the art diagnostics and treatments easily accessed by most all Americans. Compared to the America of the past and to much of the world today, we have it good.

When I was young, my dad would tell me, "I was sad that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." Those words put things in perspective. As we prepare to give thanks for what we do have with Thanksgiving, perhaps the biggest American holiday, just around the corner, consider pushing aside the present negativity and debates about our healthcare system.  All things considered, it's not so bad!

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