Monday, October 26, 2009

Some Australian Afterthoughts

I'm back here in the Deep South, which is a great deal further north than I was yesterday. As it turns out, my home town sits at Latitude 34.0 degrees North, and Sydney is 34.0 degrees South. Quite a coincidence, eh? Being in the Southern Hemisphere felt no different than being any other place, I have to admit. From a scientific standpoint, everyone wanted to know which way the water swirls down the drain down there. Here is a video of the experiment, performed in my hotel in Sydney:

Now, which way does it go up here in the Northern Hemisphere?

I had some great times with my friends from Brisbane, who joined me back down in Sydney for the last 36 hours of my trip. We took a ferry to Manly Beach, rode to the top of the 300 meter Sydney Tower, and ate dinner in Sydney's small but hopping Chinatown. Have a peek at the Peking Duck (which we didn't order after this preview in the window!):

OK, sorry, but the kitchen was about 4 feet from our table, and this was the dinner show!

The 14 hour flight back to LAX was mostly boring, although there was one minor event. I had just fallen asleep in my cocoon when over the intercom comes: "We have a medical emergency. Would any physicians on board please ring the call button to identify yourselves?" Not again! There was a gastroenterologist in the seat across from me who was just stirring awake at the commotion. "C'mon," I said to him, "these things are a lot more fun with company, especially for a radiologist." We trotted back to steerage, where fortunately there were two other doctors tending to the situation. It seems that a little boy who was lactose intolerant got hold of a piece of cheese and ate it. Mom was hysterical, but the kid was fine. We shrugged and went back to our cocoons for the rest of the flight.

I got through Customs quite rapidly, but not fast enough to make my next flight, forcing a reschedule. This turned out to be fortunate, as I was bumped to Business on the subsequent leg of the trip. As luck would have it, I was seated next to a pleasant fellow who looked incredibly familiar. We chatted for a while, and then he settled in and pulled out a script to read. It turns out that my neighbor was a well-known actor. I didn't ask for his autograph, nor did I take his photo, and I won't even name him, so as to respect his privacy. He treated me like a regular guy, and I'll return the favor. I can tell you he had a TV series in the '80's and has had numerous TV and movie rolls since. That being said, he was as cordial and friendly as anyone I have ever met, with no airs or condescension about him. He didn't know me from Adam's housecat, but he spoke with me as if I were a friend from way back, at one point even calling me a "young doctor". That took great acting skill!

I'm still mulling over what I saw and heard about the Australian health care system. Frankly, it is probably the one foreign operation that has any chance at all of working here. At its most basic, it consists of a governmental safety-net for all, augmented by private insurance, which most who can afford it end up buying. Without the private part (pun intended), you go to the end of the line for anything non-emergent, but with it, you can schedule your elective cholecystectomy next Tuesday if you wish. The system is far from perfect, and complaints certainly exist. A very sad case was getting attention while I was over there:

Henry Salter, aged 11 months, was found with just minor injuries in the wreckage of a car, which had left Narromine Road, Tullamore just before 4pm AEDT on Friday. Police said the car was travelling west on Narromine Road when it left the roadway, crashed into a concrete drain and landed on its roof. Henry's parents Anita, 38, and Andrew, 30, died at the scene of the accident. Andrew Salter's father David Salter said the family would care for Henry. "We'll do everything that we can to make sure that Henry knows his mum and his dad," Mr Salter told the Seven Network.

Fairfax reported the couple were on the way to their Condobolin home from Dubbo Base Hospital, where Henry was receiving treatment for breathing troubles. "Twenty years ago this medical issue would have been treated in Condobolin," Mr Salter said. "It's cost-cutting. What is the dollar value of two people?"

The drive was 2 1/2 hours each way, and Henry's grandfather blamed the fatigue of this unnecessary journey for the accident. Heartrendering, but perhaps not so much of an indictment on the system.

Whilst Australians are fiercely independent, they are quite content with their government providing the safety net. Some visibly bristled when I voiced my conservative opinion, "If the government controls your healthcare, it controls your life." Would it be the same here? I guess we're about to find out.

But now, I must rest a bit, and try to overcome the worst jetlag I have had in a while, so I can function to some extent at work tomorrow.

Many thanks to healthinc and all my friends Down Under, old and new, for a fantastic experience. I hope to return someday and see much more of your incredible continent.

1 comment :

True North, Strong and Free said...

Your description of the Australian health care system closely matches the Quebec* system: everyone has health care available from publicly-funded hospitals and clinics. Those with private health insurance and those who can afford to pay extra can take advantage of private hospitals for quicker access to minor surgery, radiology, and a few other common procedures.

* We hear a lot of criticism (where "criticism" means "over-inflated, semi-factual, simplistic claims of alleged nearly-criminal negligence from non-experts on sensationalistic news channels") about the Canadian health care system from south of the border. In reality there is no single Canadian health care system. In Canada, universal health care is mostly a provincial responsibility. For example, Quebec is one of the few provinces to allow private health services to supplement and complement the public system.

After all, if a smaller government controls your healthcare, it controls less of your life. ;)