A new series on healthcare costs and healthcare consumerism…Healthcare According To Ernie – Chapter 1

Recently I had an occasion to go to the local emergency room while I was on vacation in Florida.  I had been experiencing some moderate discomfort in and around my kidney region for a couple weeks but it had begun to escalate to a point where the pain was pretty debilitating.

Since joining the healthcare industry I have become very familiar with the inner workings of many facets of our care system.  Taking that into account and understanding that my expectations of how things work were already very low I was then and continue to be completely astounded at how utterly unworkable our current system is – so much so that I have decided to start publishing my observations.

In this first installment of the new series Healthcare According To Ernie – oh wait, I just looked at my new title and noticed that the acronym for this series is HATE.  Well I don’t HATE our healthcare system but I am currently vexed by it…regardless, we’ll press on – as I was saying, in this first installment of HATE we follow the hero of our story – me – into the emergency room.



I was on vacation visiting family in Florida.  This is of course everyone’s worst fear – you have some critical incident while away from home and you need to go to the hospital.  As mentioned earlier, this crazy pain just got to be too much so I did venture to the local ER at Bayfront Medical Center in St Petersburg.  The staff at the ER was really nice.  I had an initial work-up and was asked repeatedly what my pain level was on a scale of 1 to 10.  It would spike to 10 I said, but for the most part it’s a constant 5 or 6.

Now I knew that with my Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts PPO Saver health plan and it’s $2,900 deductible, I was going to probably spend all $2,900 this night.  Fortunately I also have a Health Savings Account with a nice balance in it for just such an occasion so I wasn’t too worried about it. That being said, I was keen on observing all aspects of how this care event went down.

After a couple hours I was given a bed in the ER and a technician came, drew some blood, put an IV in me and hung a bag of fluids.  Shortly after that an ER doctor came by, asked me about my pain levels, reviewed what the admitting nurse had noted and performed an exam.  No one at this point really had much of an idea other than the obvious, kidney stones.  I was sleepy – it was about 2am by this time so I was laying back with my eyes closed and then I felt someone standing next to me.  I opened my eyes to see the ER doctor with my IV line in his hand.  A syringe had been inserted into the port and he was depressing the plunger while he said to me, “I’m giving you a shot of morphine with some nausea medication to help with the pain.”

Now I thought to myself, I haven’t been injured on the battlefield so I’m not sure I need morphine but hey, if it make me feel better why not?

A little later on I was taken up to radiology for two tests, one CT scan and one sonogram. The CT was to check for stones and anything else in that region and the sonogram was to inspect my leg – I had had a blood clot the prior year and they wanted to rule out any potential complications.

By 7am the ER had exhausted all their battery of tests and they decided to admit me to the hospital.  I was in a bed by 9am and that is when I met a GI doctor.  I won’t name him in my blog, not because he wasn’t good – quite the contrary, he was really nice.  I just prefer to not name individuals unless there’s a particular reason to.  In any event, the GI doctor examined me and then went away for several hours.  He came back with a rather odd diagnosis – sclerosing mesenteritis.  Now this is a condition that is not really well known nor understood and apparently has no specific treatment protocol AND is typically only seen in people much older than I.  He admitted he was grasping at straws and we mutually agreed that he would try to prescribe some kind of medication to control the pain and then I would seek care when I was home in Phoenix.

He prescribed me some Oxy and some Prednisone and discharged me.

I’m not a big fan of medication in general and pain meds in particular so I filled the Oxy in the event I had some unbearable pain and of course the Prednisone too. I’ve been taking the Prednisone for about 6 weeks now and have started with a naturopathic doctor to attempt to first diagnose and then treat whatever ails me.

This concludes the background of the story – in the next installment we’ll talk about how the hospital managed my medical records, the insurance information and the payment for services.

For those of you that read this – I would very much like to start a conversation so if you have comments, please don’t be shy – post them.  Also, if you like this idea, please re-post this series to your network(s) so others can follow along as well.  Thanks!