You know how the US health care system is allegedly dead? Mangled beyond recognition? Well — don’t you believe it. There are places here where the true wonder of good health care is visible in abundance. The best of them, in my opinion, is the Cleveland Clinic. I need to tell you why.
When someone you love – and live with – is sick, it’s scary. When they’ve been through open-heart surgery, a shattered shoulder repair and a lengthy illness, it’s very scary. That’s where I am right now. Scared.
My husband’s heart surgery was in 2002. Five years later, he began to feel sick. Many of the symptoms were similar to those from his initial illness, congestive heart failure caused by a faulty aortic valve. The fear: that his valve was again failing — that the repair had not held. So we went one more time to Cleveland to the remarkable institution where he’d had the surgery, to find out what was wrong.
After many tests, all perfectly scheduled and wonderfully administered, we learned that his heart is in good shape – at least the part that had been repaired. The trouble was that the arrhythmia – irregular heart beat — sometimes very fast — that had also been dealt with in the surgery, had returned. Now he’ll take a medication that, at least initially, is like being kicked by a horse. If medication can get his heart back into rhythm, he can avoid the thing that scares me most. It’s a surgical procedure, far less invasive than heart surgery, but still with some risk. And it’s not fair. He’s had enough to deal with – and frankly – so have I. But apparently, higher powers have declared that not altogether true and this is our next mission. So we’re on it.
The thing I try to remember and I want to tell you though, is how blessed we are to have access to the best that health care can deliver – and how remarkably common-sense a lot of it is. This hospital is declared number one in cardiology every year because it is excellent. The staff standards are high — and the hospital is headed by one of its top surgeons ( who operated on my husband.) His standards are demanding and every surgeon who is hired "from Hopkins or Harvard or anyone else" still is vetted in action by the Director. In addition, the nurses are empowered to make decisions and raise issues with physicians, the morale is positive and energetic and there’s not a nasty or impatient person behind any desk or lab coat.
All of these truths add up to a single truth: there’s no mystery. To get good health care we need a nimble, well-educated, trained and motivated staff and leadership to keep it that way. Of course the equipment and endowment matter too. But somehow in the insurance mess, the malpractice mess, the escalating cost mess – all provoking defensive driving by doctors and hospitals, we’ve weakened quality control and management in service to these other issues. It’s a tragedy — one made far more real to me by our experience with the best – something that used to be true of our health care system altogether and sure isn’t anymore.
I’m desperately grateful for what we are able to do to keep Rick healthy but every time I walk into the Clinic I remember again what’s going on in so many other health care sites and seeing what could makes it all even more tragic.