Having Surgery in an American Hospital | Live Work Travel USA
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Having Surgery in an American Hospital

About a week ago I gave birth to this little sucker, that you see in the picture. I didn’t give him a name yet, but my co-worker drew this nice picture of it for my Get Well Card. My appendix decided to give me some trouble, so I had to have surgery in America for the very first time. And since I’ve gone through this new experience, I just go ahead and share it with you.

It all started on a Thursday night, when I felt something nagging in my right side near the appendix area. It was just a little uncomfortable and I thought I ate something bad. Next day at work it developed to a light constant pain and I already assumed it could be the appendix. However, I was waiting for that intense pain to kick in, that I thought would be normal for an inflamed appendix (=appendicitis in medical speak). The night to Saturday I woke up very early with a stronger pain at the same spot. Not too bad, but bad enough to keep me from sleeping. I started to research the symptoms for appendicitis online and did a self exam:

  • Jumping to find out if it would hurt really bad at the spot where I felt the pain
  • Pressing a few fingers on the painful spot and releasing fast. Excruciating pain would occur, if it’s appendicitis

 

Here’s the actual video that I watched about the self exam, in case you’re ever in the same situation:

I did both tests and definitely felt more pain in the exact spot, however it wasn’t the overwhelming pain that I was expecting, so I was still unsure if it really is appendicitis or not. I’ve read about people with similar symptoms and it just turned out to be gas.

Anyways, I decided to have it checked out early Saturday morning and drove myself to Urgent Care. Unfortunately they did not have the tools to do a proper exam and all they did was to check my blood pressure and take my temperature to check for fever – a symptom that often comes with an inflamed appendix along with nausea and vomiting. That’s all they could do and they told me to go to the nearest ER.

If you’re ever experiencing these symptoms and think it might be your appendix, drive straight to the ER. Urgent Care or other Minute Clinics won’t be able to help you and can’t even diagnose it. So don’t waste your time with them. If an inflamed appendix ruptures it can be life threatening.

Back on the road I drove to the ER and it took about 15 minutes until a nurse took care of me with some initial questions. She took some blood and I gave a urine sample. 30 minutes later they did a CAT scan to get confirmation about appendicitis and it was positive. Time for surgery!

I’ve never had any type of surgery in the U.S. before, but I had one as a kid back in Germany and I vaguely remember the treatment that I got there. And I have to say I am very impressed by American doctors and nurses as well as the hospital I stayed in, which was by the way the same hospital my wife gave birth to my daughter. You really get attention by a lot of people and you always have the feeling somebody is taking care of you at all times. Back in Germany I remember going to the ER with the same appendix symptoms 10 years ago and they sent me back home after a quick exam. Fortunately I turned out okay back then and it got better. In the US I had the same symptoms and the hospital staff took it very serious. I was especially grateful for getting the CAT scan done right away to find out what’s going on. I was worried they would just send me back like the German doctor did back then, but no – they did everything trying to rule out appendicitis and after it got confirmed, I was having surgery within the next hour.

One thing that can be very irritating in America whenever you have to go to any doctor is, that the different offices and hospitals are not very well connected and so you always have to fill out lots of papers with your information and complete medical history. It can be overwhelming the first time, especially when you don’t know half of the diseases and conditions mentioned on the sheets and you also might not know the English name for whatever you had in the past. I normally just describe it as good as possible and hope they’ll figure it out, but it’s getting very bothersome to do it over and over again.

Even in the same facility the doctor’s staff seem to ask you the same questions over and over again. Before my surgery I had to give my complete medical history to 2 or 3 different people, and at my follow-up appointment, which was at a different office, I had to do the same thing again. Why can’t they just put it into a system that doctors have access to nationwide? I don’t know the answer to that. Even though America is the technologically most advanced country in the world, they really like to do some things the old-fashioned way, especially medical paperwork and paper checks.

Back to the appendix: Before the surgery I met the doctor who was going to perform the surgery on me and he explained what is going on with my appendix and why it has to be removed. He also shared some details about the laparoscopic appendectomy procedure with me, which means he’s going to make three tiny incisions instead of one long incision like in the old days. This helps with the healing process after the surgery.

Long story short, he took out my appendix while I was under anesthesia and I woke up a couple hours later in my room. What I really like about American hospitals is, that I didn’t have to share a room with anybody else. In Germany I would have had 2-3 roommates. My room also had a TV and DVD player. TVs were basically all over the hospital, which was funny while I was waiting for different people in different rooms before the surgery. There was always a TV to stare at. Americans just can’t live without their TVs. It was once again very obvious.

With all the extra good care and the top-notch room that I stayed in one night, I was being sent home the very next day. I guess that’s the drawback of all these amenities. The hospital stays are usually shorter than in German hospitals, because they have to accommodate the next patients. That was fine by me, because I like it better at home anyways and nobody comes in to check my blood pressure all through the night.

You see, besides the bureaucracy, American hospitals are nothing to be afraid of and if you’re ever in need of surgery, you’ll most likely be in excellent care – if you have insurance. I’m still waiting for the hospital bill and will update this article once I get it. Fortunately my health insurance will cover the cost 100%, so I won’t lose any sleep over it.

UPDATE: The hospital bill came in today. It’s a whopping $32,000 for the surgery! I’m glad I don’t have one of these 80% plans, where I would have to pay 20% of every medical bill.
UPDATE 2/22/2014: My health insurance BCBS (BlueCross BlueShield) negotiated to only pay $13,500 of the $32,000 that the hospital billed. That’s what health insurances always do. They have negotiated rates on all medical bills. Thought you might be interested in hearing how the numbers work behind the scenes. However, even though my insurance got a “great deal”, I still have to pay my deductible of $3,000 to my insurance. If I wouldn’t have any insurance, I would have to pay the full $32,000 to the hospital directly. That’s how people get broke by medical bills when they don’t have health insurance in the U.S.

What is your experience with the American doctors and hospitals? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

3 Responses to “Having Surgery in an American Hospital”

  1. Christian says:

    Hi, I really like your blog and I have been reading some of your posts…I would like your opinion on the American healthcare system now that you’ve had a shockingly expensive experience with it…You mentioned on your blog that you are enjoying an “even better lifestyle here in America” and I was just curious about if you still feel the same way now after seeing how expensive healthcare can be in the U.S.? I also know that in Germany, people are required to buy health insurance and I was curious if you could compare the German healthcare system to the U.S. healthcare system in terms of cost to the individual? Meaning, if you had your surgery in Germany, would your German healthcare provider force you to pay the $3,000 deductible and they would only pay $13,500 of a $32,000 surgery? Of course this all depends on the insurance company you sign up with but I’m curious to know if this is something you could see happening in Germany or would the cost be subsidized by the German government or if the insurance companies of Germany are required by law to pay for the entire healthcare costs? Danke!

    -Christian

    P.S. Sorry you got such a “great deal”, that is rediculously expensive…My father sells health insurance and he told me that Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of the worst health insurance companies and BusinessInsider.com ranked Blue Cross Blue Shield as the 17th most hated company in America:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/most-hated-companies-in-america-2011-12?op=1

    My father suggested switching insurance companies…I found an article by U.S. news on the best healthcare plans in the state of North Carolina and they are ranked best to worst based upon government data:
    http://health.usnews.com/health-insurance/north-carolina/plans

    So hopefully this helps a little for future healthcare for you and your family…good luck! :)

    • Dan says:

      Hi Christian, thanks for your very nice comment!
      Yes, health care in the U.S. can be very expensive depending on how often you need it. Healthy people with lots of luck to never have to see a doctor or hospital are way better off in America than in Germany. In Germany you currently pay about 15.5% of your paycheck each month for health care. You can opt-out of the statutory health insurance, but then have to insure yourself privately. But in Germany the prescriptions are a lot cheaper, if not free, due to the insurance premium that we pay each month. Hospitals seem to be much better equipped in the USA. But they also make a lot more money than the German hospitals. You’ll also get a room to yourself in America while in Germany you would have to share it with 2-3 other patients most of the time. But the luxury of a single room also means that American hospitals kick you out after only a few days, while in Germany you would be able to stay a lot longer.
      Overall it’s a give and take. You can save a lot of money in the U.S. if you’re healthy and go broke if you’re sick a lot without proper insurance. In Germany you have to pay a lot upfront, but in return don’t have to worry about hospital bills, because everything is covered. Well, at least basic care. If you select to see a certain heart specialist for example, you would have to pay out of pocket.

  2. Charlotte says:

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