But I was nagged by a concern about the quality of my medical care. Was it too good? I was well-insured and passably affluent. I asked Jason Aldous, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s media relations manager, “What if I weren’t?” “We’re a charitable institution,” Aldous said. “No one will ever be refused care here. On the other hand, we have to keep the lights on. We do try to find any possible means of payment – government programs, private insurance, et cetera.” The hospital has a whole department devoted to that. “In about sixty percent of cases,” Aldous said, “people who think they aren’t eligible for any assistance actually are.” Then there are the people who have income but no savings, or assets but no income. Discounts are provided and payment plans worked out. Failing all else, treatment is simply given free – $63 million worth in 2007. I asked Aldous about who gets what treatment from which doctor. Do my means affect the hospital’s ways? “The doctors,” he said, “don’t know how – or if – you’re paying.” What Aldous told me seemed true from what I could see of the hospital’s patients, a cross section of Yankees, flinty and otherwise. The Norris Cotton Cancer Center was treating more than 5,000 people a year. And we were all amiable in the waiting rooms. Anytime someone new came in and sat down he or she was tacitly invited to spend about three minutes telling everyone
what was wrong. Then the conversation was expected to return to general topics. The general topic of choice during the summer of 2008 was how the Democrats were trying to destroy the private health care system that was saving our lives. Majority opinion was that when medicine was socialized we’d have to sit
in waiting rooms forever. If we lived. In my case at least, the waiting room amiability had something to do with
painkilling drugs, of which I was on plenty. There’s a lot of talk about the “Opioid Crisis.” Nobody mentions the “Opioid Blessing.” I shudder to think what being a cancer patient would have been like without them. And when I see people on opioids who lack my medical excuse for being stoned out of their gourds, I don’t shudder. In fact, I sometimes wonder if they haven’t, maybe, made an understandable choice about how to cope with the miseries of life that are more subtle than cancer. Of course, being addicted to drugs is not a good plan for the future. But not everybody has one. As it turned out, I did. Therefore I had to get rid of my opioid addiction. I claimed at the time that it was no big deal. I said to my wife, “It was no big deal. Over the course of three months I gradually reduced my pain-killer dosage...” (My wife said to me, “Over the course of three months you were a miserable, peevish jerk.”) Besides opioids, my other great cancer blessing was my old friend Greg Grip. Greg was batching it in a cottage on Mascoma Lake, 15 minutes from Dartmouth- Hitchcock. He’s divorced, and his college-age daughter was away on a summer internship.
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