I did it. I finally got a taste of that socialized medicine that everyone’s talking about. And, boy, was it… completely normal.
Seriously. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about or why so many Americans think that affordable healthcare is the harbinger of a collapsing economy, but I had a completely pleasant experience and a doctor that I felt was focused on my health rather than making money or protecting himself from possible litigation.
It was a nice change of pace from the intensely American clusterfuck that was my last run-in with our healthcare system.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll do a quick rundown of what’s wrong with my stupid body just to give everyone an accurate picture of why I needed such extensive medical treatment in America and why I needed a check up here.
Last year, I started lifting again (cuz I’m a swoll-nasty beast) and focused on shoulders for the first time in my life.
On top of my new exercises, I had an intense week at the end of last June where I had to move all my stuff out of my apartment and into my parents’ basement (thank you guys, btw), move my future mother-in-law’s stuff into her new place, paint our apartment and change the brake pads on two of our cars. A lot of shoulder work.
At the end of that week, I woke up one morning and my left arm had swollen to the size of my thigh.
I went to the hospital, and they found a blood clot in my shoulder, right next to my heart.
My anatomy is messed up. It turns out that my clavicle and my first rib have been pretending to be a pair of dull scissors and mash the shit out of the main vein leading from my heart to my arm.
Eventually, after such a prolonged period of intense crushing, my vein decided to be like, “Screw this. I’m just gonna pretend I’m super injured and form a massive clot.” Like a jerk.
So I got surgery. They shoved some tubes into my bicep and through my vein, and they shot a bunch of “clot-busting” medicine at the the thing until it was gone. Then they stuck a tiny balloon in it and reinflated the vein.
I was put on blood thinners for six months and told to get a checkup when I went off the meds. I just went off the meds.
Good. Now you’re all caught up.
The Serbian Doctor's Office
The doctor’s office was nice. It was basically the same level of quality as a Med Check in any American city: clean but dated.
The waiting room looked like a small, family-owned Greek restaurant. Or the lobby of a super-kitschy Florida condo complex that hasn't been updated since 90s.
We got there a little early, sat down on one of the modern-looking plastic chairs, and didn’t have to wait too long before being called into the ultrasound room and being examined.
The doctor’s English was good enough that he and I could converse a little bit, but he spent the bulk of his time going back and forth with Moira in Serbian.
When he did speak to me, his bedside manner was excellent. He answered all of my questions, took his time with me, and explained everything that I was seeing on the ultrasound.
(It’s weird seeing an ultrasound screen in a non-pregnancy situation by the way. I made a joke about being relieved that I wasn’t having twins when he showed me my vein. I’m not sure if he got it or not. But he did laugh. So who knows.)
The Big Difference
I have two chief problems with the American healthcare system.
The first one is obvious: it’s too damn expensive. It’s unbelievably, ungodly, unimaginably expensive. It’s life-ruiningly expensive. Which sucks. But what can you do? Just don’t get sick I guess.
The second problem I only noticed during my last bout in the hospital: doctors are scared to give concrete statements because they're afraid of being sued. I asked my surgeon tons of questions about the range of motion that my shoulder would allow and what activities I could still do while on blood thinners, and I got the same answer over and over again, “Avoid putting your hand over your head and strenuous activity.” That’s it. Not helpful at all.
He wouldn’t say if I could mow the lawn or not. Or if I could sleep on my side. He wouldn’t say anything at all. I wanted to punch him in his stupid face. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t know if my shoulder would allow it.
Here in Serbia, both problems are solved. The check up was cheap. Without insurance of any kind, it was 5,000 dinar (a little less than $50). And the doctor told me what activities that I should avoid and offered up other preventative medical information that made me feel much more optimistic about my previous health choices.
(The American surgeon wanted to take out my first rib, but I said no. He was super disappointed. He’d nearly had a hard-on thinking about doing it. I guess he’d never done such a procedure on someone’s left side. I got weirded out when he started gently caressing my chest, telling me how much he “needed this.”)
Look, I get it. I’m not paying the taxes that allow for socialized medicine, and I saw a specialized doctor for a specific reason- it wasn’t like I went to a Belgrade ER or anything drastic.
My experience is completely anecdotal. But it was enjoyable. It was efficient. I felt taken care of, and I didn’t have to break the bank.
That’s a feeling that every American deserves. Hell, that’s a feeling that every citizen of the world deserves. And there’s no reason that a country like Serbia, one with so many different political and economic problems, can make a system like this and the USA can’t.
No reason at all.