New Millenium, Old Style Medicine

If you ever watch old movies about the Civil War, or read old books about the period, one of the standard cliches of the genre is the Army medical tent where the surgeon, in blood-spattered apron, saws off arms and legs as the wounded flood in. And the anesthesia given to the wounded before the cutting starts is... whiskey. Lots of whiskey, sometimes from a tin cup, sometimes poured straight from bottle to mouth.

I got called out on a Good Samaritan run the other night, to drive a drunken young man home.

This young man, who doesn't like the taste of most liquor, and who rarely drinks at all, had -- in a short period of time -- drunk six ounces of Jack Daniels and a shot of vodka. He was, in a word, stinkin'.

He had, earlier in the night, managed to dislocate his shoulder, and efforts to reseat it had not availed.

If this had been my own situation, my next step would have been to go to an emergency room. At the ER, I would have been given a shot of muscle relaxant and some pain-killers, then had the shoulder reseated by the doctor. There would probably have been some x-rays somewhere in there, too.

But I could have gone that route because 1) I have a good job, with decent pay and good medical insurance, and 2) I have money in savings that would have enabled me to cover out-of-pocket expenses.

This particular young man is one of the Working Poor. But not poor enough, or in desperate enough straits, to qualify for welfare. He's been working dead-end jobs for years, living from paycheck to paycheck, and watching any savings he's managed to scrape together get wiped out repeatedly by unexpected expenses. And he'd already, in the last few months, been to the ER once.

When you're one of the Working Poor, even if you have some medical insurance, you can only afford so much medical care. You can afford (barely) to go to the ER. Once.

You can't afford to go twice.

So you make yourself get snockered, plastered, smashed, drunker than you've ever been in your life. And when you're drunk enough that your legs won't hold you up anymore, your girlfriend (with some telephone guidance from a friend with first-aid training) is finally able to twist your arm back into its shoulder socket.

Here we are, in the 21st Century, and people are still practicing -- have to practice -- 19th Century medicine on themselves.

It makes me mad. It makes me furious.

It makes me ashamed of my country.

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