Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cancer Treatment for Opus

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Opus: Has Prostate Cancer
A friend of mine has cancer.  Odds are someone you know has cancer too.  People who know me well will quickly identify the person I'm talking about, but I'm going to call him Opus, after my favorite cartoon character, just over there to the left.

So Opus caught prostate cancer in September 2012 when a test called a PSA test detected elevated levels of some indicator.

"I talked to the surgeon on the day I got my diagnosis," says Opus.  "I didn't realize I was talking to the top surgeon in Canada at the time.  My other option was radiation and I investigated that, but when the radiologist heard the name of my doctor, he recommended the surgery."

Today from the mountaintop, we're surveying the land for decent healthcare.  I put in the mast-head (that's the picture at the top) a cut-out of a Michael Moore film, "Sicko," that itself causes medical conditions in some people.  Before we move on with Opus's journey through Canadian health-care, I want to point out to you that Moore's film is accurate.  It's assertions hold up under careful scrutiny.  The man is trying to help.  Opus is proof.

In fact, let's stop playing this idiot game of calling the Canadian system "socialized medicine."  Because it is a slur used by the conservative noise machine to denigrate a system that works better than the corporate model employed here in the U.S.  Let's just call it "Canadian health care," shall we?

Opus is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Ottawa since 1995.  He's got a family and holds down three jobs and makes $30,000 a year.  His wife makes more, but the point is these are not rich folks or, as Opus says to me, "I'm not important."

From diagnosis to surgery was four months and my friends' prognosis is good.    He had what's called a daVinci radical robotic prostatectomy.  If ya wanna see some messed up video, click the link.  I promise, though, you will not see Opus's junk.  His journey through Canadian health care from diagnosis to surgical cure at the hands of the best team in the nation was four months and it cost him... 

Wait for it...



Opus:  Junk Still Works
"This surgery in the U.S. can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000 and that doesn't even touch follow up care," says Opus.  Imagine along with me if you're holding down three part time jobs in the U.S. how good the health care system might work for you.  It could eat up your house and your life savings and leave you flat.

But.  That's America.

Opus says he's walking around now and you wouldn't be able to tell there's anything wrong with him.  He says the surgery was so successful, the doctors are confident his junk will heal and he'll be able to ... um ... you know ... again.  Has something to do with damaging a key nerve in there.

There are drawbacks to the Canadian system, according to Opus.  He says you can wait for some things if they're not life threatening.  You might wait a couple months to get an MRI.

"When I called the surgeon back on November 25 having decided to book the surgery, I didn't hear back from him until January.  But once I booked the surgery, I went in on February 13th.  So it was pretty quick, altogether.  I was only  in the hospital one day.  I went in at 6, the surgery - a six hour proceedure -  at 8:30,  I was out the following day in the evening.  On Thursday, after six hours of surgery, I walked for an hour."

Opus says his medical journey wasn't exactly free of charge.  It cost his wife up to $13 per day to park at the hospital if she was staying longer than three hours.  

"The hospital uses that money to buy wheelchairs and stuff," says Opus. 

And his PSA test, which saved his life, cost him $35.

And you don't get private rooms in Canada.  You can, but they cost more.

"I had a semi-private room," says Opus, "And they cost more.  $180 per day I would have had to pay if I didn't have some work health care to pay for it."

So you're telling me you get some form of health care plan that goes with part-time jobs in Canada too?  Jesus.  How DO they DO it?

"We do pay 13% sales tax in Ontario.  But not on groceries," says Opus.  So the poorest of people don't get hit hard for the necessities.  Cool thing though, Opus says for a chocolate bar: 13% sales tax.  But for bread and milk and other necessary groceries, the sales tax does not apply.  Jeez.  It could drive a man from drinkin'.  It could make you eat healthy.  My GOD.

"The amount of income tax is not exorbitant here," he says.  "There are some write offs but not like in the US.  For instance, you can't write off the interest on a home loan here."

Of course, that write off helped me with taxes when I was paying for my home, but the thing here in the U.S. is that the other end of that deal is that's a big way for the very, very rich to hide their wealth.  You sink it into real estate and don't pay off your house and, voi'la!  Instant tax shelter.  It is how someone like Mitt Romney has umpteen bajillion mansions around the country.

And Opus says his taxes are manageable in Canada.

"My income tax is really low.   I'm a substitute teacher.  I work three jobs and my total income is $30,000 per year.  My wife's income is a lot higher.  My income tax is probably only 15% or not quite that."

Opus also points out that you might have a shorter wait in the U.S. but that the system, the way I read his statement, seems to discourage  hypochondria.  I know how often I've gone to the hospital just because I was having a panic attack when nothing was wrong with me except that I was enduring a lot of stress.  Apparently, in Canada, I'd have got there, waited around a while, felt better and then gone home.  No charge for that.

"You might have a shorter wait in the US.  If you are waiting for something that isn't major, or isn't life threatening, you can wait a while.  You can wait months for an MRI.  If you need something addressed quickly, though, you get the treatment.  They brought out two great surgeons.  Other surgeons observing.  Quite the team in the OR.  And I'm nobody particularly important.  So for me, it's been an absolutely incredible experience."


"Well," Opus qualifies.  "The biopsy was the most painful two minutes of my entire life."

Yeah.  Catheters up yer ying-yang can have that effect.

Goddam Canadians anyway.  Well, Opus is an American mooching off the Canadians.

"Yeah, I have to get around to applying for citizenship, I guess," says Opus.  "I'm considered a landed immigrant.  It's like having a green card."

And I'm wondering if you have to sneak across the border.  Or if there are walls being built to keep Americans out.

"I drove a car," says Opus, who launches into how he was downsized at a huge Canadian telecom but that came with a year's wages, which he used to go back to school and retrain as a teacher, which he loves.

And so now a non-Frech speaking American is living happily in Ottawa holding down three jobs and having earned three degrees.

"The educational system here is wonderful.  I've got a B.A. in History and English and a B.A. in Education and another bachelorate I got while working at the big telecom that they paid for," says Opus.

"School is very cheap here."

Oh, Christ.  Here we go again.

"It amounts to about $5,000 a year."


"And while I was retraining, I stayed home with the kids and went to school at night and..."

We leave our dear friend, Opus, as he expounds on the wonderful, low-cost, educational opportunities he found in the Great White North.  While we, in the U.S., deride the quality of care he got in many realms of his life as "socialist."

Somebody needs to go throw a brick through the window at Blue Cross / Blue Shield.  'Cause congress sure isn't listening.

Wouldn't it be nice if our country provided for its citizens the way Canada does for an immigrant?  How about we provide universal single-payer health care for all Americans and stop having wars all the time?  Probably be able to balance the damn budget at the same time.

Goddam Canadians.


Canadian Commuters Ice Skate to Work on Rideau Canal.
Housekeeping:  I know my friend, Opus, enjoys The Voice of the Mountain.  So he's reading me from way up north where the chief export is cold air.  (No.  Really.  They export that shit.  And, weirdly, they don't seem to feel it.  I mean, dudes put on ice skates and they skate to work down the frozen over Rideau Canal wearing business suits and carrying briefcases.  Weirdest thing I ever saw.  And they have festivals where they celebrate ice.)

But Opus is looking on and I bet he'd be willing to discuss with you his experience of the Canadian health care system.  He lived here in the states most of his life.  Worked here.  Went to the hospital here.  So Opus has a wider view on the issue than some do here stateside.

If you choose to ask your questions, leave them in the comments below and I'll try to get Opus to chat back with you.  I think we could use his "absolutely incredible experience" to evolve our conversation in the U.S.

Until next time.

Shawn Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

1 comment:

  1. Another anecdote from an American physician: My girlfriend and I were in Washington state several months ago vacationing, where she slipped on a trail and fell, injuring her upper arm. After traveling to Vancouver Island, CA, she decided to have it looked at. Fifteen minute wait to see physician in local walk-in clinic, sent 2 blocks away for an xray which was done in 20 minutes (and showed a fractured upper arm), treated with a shoulder immobilizer. Total cost to a cash paying foreigner was $234 USD. They gave her a copy of the xrays on a CD.

    When she got home to Pittsburgh, she went to her own orthopod, who repeated the xrays, did an exam, gave her a different immobilizer (which was essentially the same), and the cost was $2100. That didnt cover the bit of physical therapy afterwards either. All ended well.

    Personally, I am baffled that the citizenry isnt screaming about the mess that is our current healthcare system. I guess it shows how effectively vested interests control the message.


Now Hear THIS!!