On health care

I've been sick this week and haven't gotten half of the stuff done that needed doing. I'm feeling better now, but it's Friday and I really wish I could get the last couple of days back.

I haven't been able to do much of anything because I've been hopped up on Mexican penicillin. Yes, that's right. For those of us who don't have health insurance, what would otherwise be a minor, inconvenient bacterial infection can become a health crisis. Usually, if I get sick, I just go to the health center at the university. But since I'm not taking classes this summer, I was out of luck. Fortunately, Max's parents live in El Paso, aka "Juarez North", so they were able to overnight me some foreign antibiotics of questionable origin.

Did you know that penicillin and other related, commonly used antibiotics are OTC medications in Mexico? You can buy them like you buy cough syrup and ibuprofen over here. It poses some interesting questions.

On the one hand, with the outrageous administrative costs associated with American health care ("administrative costs" are estimated to account for 70% of US health care costs), wouldn't it be great if patients could treat some of the more common and familiar illnesses ourselves? It could save millions of dollars annually, and tons of time. Think about it. Let's just take bladder infections, scourge of women everywhere. Women who get bladder infections usually get them a lot. We're talking several times a year, here. Since it's a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics, treatment usually involves a trip to the doctor. This doctor's visit probably costs about $150 to $200, and is usually paid for by insurance. They go like this:

Patient: "Doc, I have a bladder infection."
Doctor: "Geez, again?!?"
Patient: "Yeah, I know. Trust me, I'm thrilled."
Doctor: "Okay, lemme fix you up."

At this point the doctor writes 2 prescriptions, one for the symptoms (which, by the way, is available OTC in the form of Uristat), and an antibiotic for gram-positive bacteria. An antibiotic, which is, in all likelihood, cheaply available and would probably cost less than your copay if you weren't forced to buy it through your insurance. The question, then, is this: Is having a doctor write that prescription worth the $200 visit, plus medication copays and costs, plus the administrative costs of scheduling the appointment, filing the insurance claims, etc.? Maybe not.

But, on the other hand, what about the issue of over-use and over-prescription of antibiotics? If we had commonly used antibiotics available OTC in the US, would we be breeding a mess of super-bacteria, which are resistant to our antibiotics and will usher in a dark age of medicine where TB and the Bubonic Plague kill millions? I guess it's possible, but I really don't think so. I may be in the minority, but I hate taking pills and I won't take antibiotics unless I really have to and I know they'll work. There is no way I'd take the "Ampicilina capsulas" I've been taking if I wasn't SURE they'd fix my problem. But I can certainly see how some people might start taking OTC antibiotics at the first sign of a sniffle, just in case.

I suppose, for us, it is a mystery that will forever remain unsolved, mostly because no one cares to look into the progress of perceived "super-bacteria" in Mexico. There's too much money to be made by keeping the system the way it is.

On a completely different note, we brought home 2 baby ferrets on Tuesday! They're the cutest things, ever. I'll post pictures of them (Grendel and Flynn) later.


Traveling Circus

We just got back from being on "vacation" for about 3 weeks. My eternal gratitude and a cash reward goes out to Christi and Ben, who dutifully came over daily to feed the menagerie (which I suspect was poorly-behaved in our absence).

The "vacation" started out as a routine trip to El Paso to visit his parents for the 4th of July, like we've done every year for as long as we've been dating (I think). We drove the bimmer down there with plans to fix a few minor things on it while we had access to Max v.2 (mechanic extrordinaire) and his extremely well-equipped personal shop. Things got off to a slow start because, unbeknownst to us, this year was also a mini family reunion, and relatives and friends decended upon the Winter household en masse. It was fine, though, and I got to meet a lot of soon-to-be relatives, and we all had a very enjoyable time, as always. Once the holiday was over and the company had left, full attention was focused on the bimmer, and it was discovered that the little transmission problem we thought we'd solved last month... well, it was actually a much larger issue than we had realized. After considerable fretting, followed by grim resignation and a steely determination to solve the problem once and for all... I witnessed a modern miracle. The Maxes completely disassembled and totally rebuilt my BMW's automatic transmission. AND THEN, they managed to put everything back so that it actually works!

Until I witnessed it (and even helped a little!), I had no idea how much of a project automatic transmission rebuilding was. Really, if you've never seen it, you just can't know. This thing was the most complicated piece of machinery I've ever laid eyes on. To put it in perspective, we couldn't find any shops in El Paso who were willing to work on it. I have pictures of the beast - I'll post them later.

But, because of the suprise transmission-rebuild project, we weren't able to leave El Paso until the 11th (we'd originally planned to leave on the 7th). So we were home for one day before we left for Galveston on the 13th to vacation with my family at the beach house. We got back yesterday (the 18th).

Gaslveston was...Galveston. Max spent the whole time body-surfing, which he thoroughly enjoys. Despite liberal sunscreen application, I got sunburned on the first day, and was forced to spend most of the rest of the vacation inside. Actually, the sunburn itself wasn't that bad, but I also got a sun-rash on the backs of my legs which was quite excruciating. I read a novel, Catch-22, which I found in the beach house. It was pretty strange. I also spent some time walking along the beach, which I enjoy, but I was deterred a few times because fishing boats nearby were causing lots of dead catfish to wash up on the shore. Seriously, on one 20-minute walk, I counted 23 dead fish on the beach, and that was just in my immediate path. Fortunately, I couldn't smell the dead fish over the pungent stench of rotting seaweed which is a Galveston staple.

That's the thing about Galveston. Yes, it's a beach, and it has beachy elements, like the ocean breeze and the sound of the waves against the shore. The problem is that the ocean breeze carries with it a repugnant stench, and the SIGHT of the waves, like chocolate milk, lapping against the muddy sand is less than inspiring. The mounds of stinking seaweed which accumulate on the shore and are bulldozed almost daily into large piles attract huge swarms of gnats which make sitting on the beach unpleasant. The air is thick with mosquitoes. I don't swim in the water there because I find I can't wash the smell of it out of my hair for days afterward. I suspect that all of the Gulf of Mexico is similar. It's just not a nice place, really. Sure, Galveston can be fun, and you can go there and have a great time, but don't believe anyone who tells you it was beautiful. It just isn't. The crab, however, is excellent.