Testing, testing, NZ medical system

When we were expecting Naomi I thought to myself “Good.  I’ve had one baby in the USA, now I’ll try the prenatal care and birthing system in New Zealand.”  I was pleasantly surprised how well the NZ midwifery system worked.  I felt that if I had run into complications that care would have been efficiently referred to an obstetrician, but the midwives I worked with were professional, skilled, and personable.  And the post-baby support beat the US system all hollow.  I’m a NZ birthing system convert.

I recently got to test the general medical system in NZ out….not that I have much personal experience with major medical problems in the US, so probably not a fair trial.  This test was a bit more rocky than the baby test.

April 2016 I started a problem that was eventually diagnosed as disc between two vertebrae bulging out and pressing on nerves, causing leg pain.  It sounds so simple in that description, but living with the problem was misery for months last winter, and I wallowed around in the NZ medical system waiting for one appointment or another… 4 months before getting an MRI (and therefore a correct diagnosis) and 9 months before getting approval (funding approval) for a surgery to correct it.  I’ll spare you the details of the wallowing.  I might do better the second time around, but probably not.  Basically the problem wasn’t an emergency (not life threatening), so rather than your first port-of-call doctor (a general practitioner in this case….well, after physiotherapists couldn’t do any more) ordering an expensive MRI scan, they order an appointment for you to see a specialist…and 6 weeks later when your appointment comes, they order and MRI for 4 weeks later….then wait again for a follow-up appointment.  You get the picture.  Health care is slow because it is rationed.  Economics is considered.  Unlike in America.

But in January when the approval for a surgery finally came through, I was actually feeling better.  Gradually, ever so incrementally, my back had improved to the point where I could mountain bike, and after that it got better on its own, slowly but steadily.  By late summer I was back to standing straight, not to mention back to hiking and rollerblading and all the stuff I love, and feeling that perhaps the slow-and-economical health care system was ok after all.  It’s financially sustainable at least, unlike the American system.

BUT THEN, that disc bulged again.  I don’t know why.  I didn’t DO anything.  But all of a sudden I was right back to where I was a year ago, limping around, not sleeping well, unable to do anything fun.  The only difference was this time I took more pain killers, because we were booked for our big trip back to the States and I just had to cope.  And this time, I already had all the contacts in place.

While in the States I was able to organize a new MRI appointment for the day after we got home, and an appointment with the surgeon two days later.  The funding approval was still valid from January.  He didn’t really have space in his surgery list for me, but he said it was a quick job and he’d squeeze me in the next week.  I felt like you do when you’re 40-weeks pregnant, when even the process of childbirth sounds better than the prospect of staying pregnant.  Cut open my back and take out that lump of the disc?  Yes please, that sounds great!

I don’t have many photos to share of that process.  I suppose I should have taken a picture of the knitting I was working on for hours before it was my turn for surgery, looking forward to the relief of the anesthesia.  Or the cheerful OR nurse with the bright blue eye shadow who said she had had the same problem (“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” she commiserated.)  No picture can show the relief of waking up and having the squirmy-can’-t-sit-still leg pain gone.  Just gone.

Sorry, this might gross some folks out….but did you know that disc cartilage is fiberous? That is the little piece that was causing me so much grief. “Can I see that piece of disc?” I asked the recovery room nurse. “You’ve already seen it twice!” she exclaimed. Had I? At least the last time I could focus properly.

I lucked out that the operation was at St George’s hospital. It’s pretty posh, and I even had my own room. Just one overnight stay, and then I was home.

That was a week ago, and I’m back at work now.  (Not back to vacuuming yet….thanks Jeremiah.)  Moving a little slowly, but feeling tremendously much better.  The surgeon says there’s a 95% chance that that will be the end of the saga.  A few cases re-occur, but if it does, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  In six weeks from now I should be able to get back up into the mountains to backpack, maybe in time to catch the end of the snowy season.

I guess the NZ medical system did work for me this time….eventually.

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4 thoughts on “Testing, testing, NZ medical system

  1. OK, as you know, my past medical experience gives me lots of conflicted opinions on this type of situation, and mostly makes my blood pressure go up. In every other aspect of consumer life, we are used to rationing based on our budgetary concerns. I drive a Ford Focus. Need I say more? To be affordable to us masses, medicine in the US will need to be rationed. Obamacare didn’t do much of anything to the cost side of the equation, and consequently has not affected cost. I buy a high deductible plan, which means that I self ration. At the moment, I am avoiding telling my doctor about something because I don’t want to spend the money on the treatment. From a fear standpoint, the reason I can hold off informing the doctor is that I know what danger signs to watch for myself, being a doctor myself. In your situation, with your symptoms, the MRI was predictable, and didn’t need to be rationed. The wonderful results of a short surgery were predictable, and didn’t need to be rationed from a cost benefit analysis. So the rationing was an unnecessary thing, but large systems administered by rule oriented people tend to be unwieldy. I would predict no improvement in the system.

  2. Fantastic! I’m so glad to hear that the operation was a success. Sciatica is indeed miserable chronic pain and restricts one’s lifestyle enormously.

  3. Hi Molly – So happy this is done & behind you. Go easy on your back, you need it for the rest of your life. Now get out there & have some FUN again! God bless, Maria (It was SO GREAT TO SEE ALL OF YOU! – we are spending a week camping in the RV with Velcro up to Denali area. Picked 2 quarts of high bush cranberries & 2 gallons of wild taiga blueberries. So much fun!)

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