I emigrated to the United States of America in March of 1971. Like almost all young people, thoughts of death and disease were the furthest thing from my mind. Nevertheless, having spent my first twenty-one years in England, where health care is provided to all for free, or at little cost, I gave no thought to the need for personal health insurance in the U.S.A. I understood that I now had to pay for visits to a doctor or a dentist, but that was routine and affordable, anyway.

Despite my apparent health and vigor, in the summer of 1975 I became concerned when a lump appeared on the left side of my neck. My doctor gave me a prescription for something or other, and had me return to him after two weeks. The lump had enlarged and was beginning to ache. He became suspicious and suggested that I might have a problem with my lymphatic system. He wanted me to have a biopsy of what he was now referring to as a node. He called a surgeon, and made an appointment for me for a few days later.

 

It was to be a simple out-patient procedure lasting no longer than an hour, but I had never had surgery before, and the thought of it made my hands clammy. After I had completed a standard pre-op questionnaire at the surgeon’s office, the receptionist realized that I had no insurance. She asked me about this, and I said that I had brought along my checkbook. With the form in hand, she left the room, presumably to speak to the surgeon.

She returned to say that the doctor would not see me. I was stunned as she bluntly told me to leave the office. As I walked back to my apartment, my anxiety over the surgery seemed ironic. Now my overriding fear was that I wouldn’t get any surgery at all. This is how it can be in a country that does not offer public health care to its citizens.

My doctor was incensed when I told him about the surgeon's dismissal.

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