I fell down and went boom: my experience with the Australian health care system

Well yesterday did NOT go as planned…

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I just spent a good six hours in the emergency room and my travel plans for the next month or so may be royally screwed up (or at the very least some rescheduling may be required).

So, yesterday in Australia was a national holiday called “Australia Day,” which commemorated the landing of the first boatload of convicts on the shores of what is now Sydney; it is Australia’s equivalent of American’s 4th of July & Columbus Day combined, only it would be like our celebrating the landing at Jamestown, which we don’t do.

My friend that I’m currently traveling with is a first generation Australian, and he wanted to start the day attending an event in support of the Aboriginals. which began with a rally, followed by a march, which ended at a park across the street from some government building (where families with grievances presented them to the powers that be). In the park there were actives, performances, political speeches, and myriad of booths selling or advocating things that would be of interest to the folks who participated in the rally and march.

It was a very hot day, we had gotten up unusually, and in-spite of wearing a hat, and having done a fairly decent job of staying hydrated, I was tired. After, as we were walking around the park, we stopped at this one booth that was selling T-shirts with pro-aboriginal/political “stuff” on them, and at one point I took a step backwards; too late I realized I had just unwittingly stepped backwards off of a lawn and over a curb to a slightly sunken street … backwards… so that right away I was put off balance; and THEN … just to put a cherry on an already bad situation, I spotted the baby carriage that had hooked itself under RIGHT under my foot JUST as I had stepped back to ensure that I would have NO chance to catch myself. My friend described it as a slow motion “arse over tits” moment; he saw what was about to happen but couldn’t stop it…

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About three weeks later my friend spotted this safety advertisement and said, “I’m afraid this poster gives me flashbacks to your accident a couple of weeks ago. The moment when you were in pretty much this position was frozen into my memory. And I felt as helpless as the guy on the escalator.”, it’s so perfect that I’m adding it to this post.

Apparently he was not alone in this, he said that a bunch of people were like, “oh shit”… while my body was airborne, and before my head hit the ground/pavement with an incredible THUNK (before my body had finished the trip — see above).

Don’t be horrified for the baby, it was fine; the pram was of the sort where the wheels jet out in front of the carriage, so tipped over them without upsetting the baby… it wasn’t hurt. In fact I have been calling then incident a “hit and run by a baby carriage” because the mother didn’t stick around more than the amount of time it took her to make sure her baby was fine. According to my friend she stayed around only for a few minutes after that and then she took off … probably afraid of being blamed.

That said… I lay there for all of a moment in shock, and then began to cry out and curled into the fetal position; my head began to throb and I checked the back of my head for blood (there was a HUGE lump from a acute subdural hematoma, but the skin had not broken, so no blood gushing out of me… but as soon as I turned my head a little to get access to the lump the world began to spin sickeningly. My benign positional vertigo, which had for the most part left me alone these past two year was back with a WILL. Before I was aware of much, a woman was by my side proclaiming herself to be a professional nurse and folks were yelling for help; and not too long after that the emergency staff for the event joined her, took over, checked me, declared no blood, and that they were happy that I hadn’t passed out. (Turns out I’d fallen only a few steps away from their tent, and they’d just been complaining about how bored they were because no one had needed them).

The medical personnel in the course of checking my condition asked me to open my mouth and close it… and right away there was a massive CLICK sound; the force of the impact had essentially “sprained” the tendons that hold the jaw to the rest of the head, and my jaw was dislocating when I opened it. Not good!  Then they asked me a series of questions about my preexisting conditions which I rattled off as best I could (I was having a bit of trouble answering them)…  then after a bit I remembered to tell them that I have a history of herniated disks in my neck which I have had extensive physical therapy for (in my car I even carry around a Saunders Cervical HomeTrac Traction Device, just in case). As such, they weren’t taking any chances, and put me in a head brace and then told me to straighten my legs and not move.

[My friend, who (and I did not know this before the trip) has been an active member of the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) ever since he was in high school (and continues to be, checking in with them whenever he’s in the country) … was absolutely great! He held my hand to sooth me when he could and knew when to stay out of the professionals’ way when he couldn’t (all of which makes him doubly useful as a travel companion). That said, at a certain point he began to feel useless and a bit helpless … but remembering how I like to document everything, he started taking pictures to show me later. This made me very happy.]

So… from my perspective the next thing I knew was they were crossing my arms and rolling me on my side in order to put something hard under me (my world began to spin sickeningly) … and then lifted me on to some sort of conveyance, at which point they moved me, telling folks to get out of the way.

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To quote my friend, I got the fancy police escort through the event to where the ambulance was parked, at which point they transferred me off the jeep, and then essentially tipped me off of the hard plastic orange stretcher and onto the ambulance’s white wheeled one. If you look closely at my face you’ll see I a was NOT enjoying myself… the whole world was spinning sickeningly and at various speeds depending on if they had just tipped me or not, not to mention that my head hurt.

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Then they took me to the hospital for a CT scan again tipping me to transfer me between beds… It was NOT a happy time. (Having my friend there with me the whole time, holding my hands and making sure none of my stuff got lost in the fray — he held on to my hat, my cell phone, etc., was all a huge help and a major stress reducer.) … Once they’d finished testing me the good news was no visible brain bleeds and they released me … the bad news was that my positional vertigo was back with a will… really horrible spinning that actually had me dry barfing into a bag just from being repositioned from reclining to sitting (again my friend seeing my distress grabbed me and held me till the spinning stopped, which was a mercy)… They had kept me for 6 hours in a neck restraint; I was not even allowed to bend my knees to try to get comfortable, and let me just say that peeing while laying down is a bitch.

Once we finally home, in order to keep me in a elevated position as I slept, my friend (on my instruction) put a couch cushion on the bed, and I used his travel pillow to support my head … putting the pillows that would normally be under my head under my knees. I know from pervious experience that I’ll be needing to sleep like this for the next few days (it keeps the head steady, because the spinning that would happen as the head normally moves around during sleep could result in my barfing while still asleep — VERY Dangerous — and even if you don’t barf it keeps you from sleep well, which slows down the healing.

As of today the dizzy was so bad I can barely walk… so as to my trip, we’ll see what happens… but we may need to completely redo our plans if my brain doesn’t adjust to the new normal quickly enough ….

That said, the ER visitbecause I’m not an Australian citizen and do not qualify for their national insurance policy, has so far only cost me $138 AU (112.07 US) out of pocket (Jaw drop… ) for having seen the doctor, and while they haven’t charged my card yet, they said because of the CT scan and two other tests, there would be 3 more charges of that amount… so $552 AUD total (or … $432.23 USD!!!)

Seriously, this is the information they handed me about the fees I would have to pay:

From the Hospital’s Medicare ineligible patient fees list (Basically everyone from an overseas country that does not have socialized medicine and a reciprocal agreement with Australia):

Everyone pays a consultation fee of $138.00 AUD  (or 108.06 USD!!!)

Then, for tests:
Pathology test, $138AUD
ECG $138AUD
X-ray $138AUD
etc., (I was assured my CT was the same amount)
Inpatient accommodation for one day (had I needed it would have been): $2,214 AUD
ICU accommodation for one day: $5,616 AUD

Now, let’s keep in mind that in the USA the average cost of an ER visit is about $1,233 USD ($1,574.41 AUD)
… that’s JUST the visit, and maybe a blood test or something…
Then you have to add the AVERAGE cost of a C.T. scan, which is around another $1,200… so about $2,500 for my visit if I’m lucky …. and while based on Obamacare my insurance would have had to pay for it, because of the size of my deductible… which is a whopping 7K — I’d still be paying out of packet … so… other than that amount being applied to my maximum out of pocket, which is also 7k (seriously)… if I were healthy the rest of the year my insurance would essentially pay nothing.

The big unanswered question is how much the the ambulance will cost me. According to my friends THAT is the really expensive charge in Australia, but according to the hospital staffer, he thought it might be only another $200 over that because of how close we were to the hospital, and the fact that I fell down at an insured event (they would according to him pay the lions share of the charge).

but those bills to my card have yet to process — but if what they said holds true my out of pocket in the US WITH insurance covering parts would still run me a heck of a lot more than this will have … and if it that’s the case I’m not even going to bother dealing with the international travel insurance for reimbursement … going to save it for when I need something a hell of beans more expensive.

 

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