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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Canadian health care makes me feel lucky

Installing my Medtronic Carelink Monitor.

Americans are very down on government involvement in health care. Many, especially Republicans, worry the government will tell them what health care they can or cannot have. Instead, they willingly give that control to insurance companies.

I am not convinced insurance companies can manage my health care needs as well as my government, and I'm not saying my government is perfect. Stories of government foul-ups when it comes to our health care are a common staple in the media.

But, and I think this is important to remember, insurance foul-ups in the health care industry are a long time staple of the U.S. media as well. Neither system is perfect.

All of which brings me to the subject of today's post. This morning I took delivery of my Medtronic Carelink monitor. I was really surprised when I was offered one of these high tech units. The Canadian health care system has really done itself proud with the handling of my heath problems.

It was the summer of 2010 when my heart first malfunctioned bigtime. The doctors in emerg in Sonoma, California, said my heart was hitting 300 bpm (beats per minute). If I hadn't come to emerg, they told my wife, I'd have been dead within ten minutes.

They jolted me with 200 joules of electricity using a couple of electrified paddles. This, shall we say, rebooted my heart. With my heart beat back to normal I was rushed to Marin General near the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a fine hospital with a great staff. They kept me overnight and ran a small battery of tests. Finding no reason for my heart racing incident, they put me on a beta blocker and told me to drive home. Driving home meant driving from California to London, Ontario, behind the wheel of an old Morgan roadster.

My wife and I stopped in Winnipeg, Manitoba, half way home. There the heart surgeon, who had performed the robotic mitral valve repair of my heart a few years earlier, was now the head of the cardiac department. He checked me out, modified my drug regimen, and after checking out my car as well as me, sent me off home. Both the Morgan and I seemed to be fine.

The Morgan I could understand. But, me? That's another question. If I was in such good shape, why did my heart go on a life-threatening tear?

The doctors in London were great. Absolutely great. They started with the obvious and worked to the rare and weird. Using a T3 MRI unit, a rare and powerful beast, they took a look at my heart and discovered the problem;  The right side of my heart was slowly converting from muscle to fat and scar tissue. The heart was losing strength and the right side had expanded, stretching the valve out of shape on my heart's right side. The expansion had played havoc with my heart's electrical system, leaving it seriously impaired.

My meds were changed and an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) installed in a pocket in may chest. (I didn't have a pocket in my chest and it took the London heart surgeon a morning to make the pocket, install the device and run a wire down a vein to my heart where it was firmly attached to some healthy heart muscle.)

My ICD is the latest and greatest generation of these devices from Medtronic in the States. I tip my hat to their expertise. If my heart rate dips below 40 bpm, my ICD acts as a pacemaker and brings the rate up. If my heart rate should take off again, my ICD tries to gain control of the heart and drag the rate down. If this fails, it shocks my heart, much as the emerg doctors in Sonoma did. This reboots my heart, returning the bpm to my normal range.

Today I took delivery of my Medtronic Carelink Monitor sent to me by University Hospital here in London. My ICD runs a self test every day at midnight. If it should discover a problem, such as the wire to my heart has broken or come loose, it will wirelessly transmit this information to my Carelink Monitor which will automatically transmit this info to the hospital via a telephone modem.

Carelink sends info from my ICD to the local hospital.
If I should ever feel that my heart is acting oddly --- too slow, too fast, or whatever --- I have a mouse like device that I hold over my ICD and all info in the unit is downloaded from my device into the Carelink monitor and promptly  transmitted to the hospital.

Until now, I have had to visit the hospital every three months to have my ICD unit checked. Now, I may be able to go a year between visits. This is more efficient for the hospital and easier on me.

I'm not saying everyone in Canada gets such good treatment. They don't. It depends to a certain extent on where one lives. But, uneven health care is the rule --- both in Canada and the United States.

When I drove through Nevada a year and a half ago, I stayed in a small town surrounded by desert. The town was almost a ghost town. The lady at the place I stayed told me when she and her husband needed a doctor they drove to Salt Lake City in Utah. This was a drive of a few hours.

Today I know more about my heart problem. I suffer from Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC). This is a genetic disorder causing the right side of the heart to breakdown. Half of those with this condition die before their fortieth birthday. I feel lucky.

I feel very lucky. Lucky to live in London, Ontario, lucky to have the wonderful, caring medical staff near at hand that I do, lucky to live in Canada.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that as Canadians, our Health Care system gives us peace of mind. Having lived in the US for over 10 years, I'm fully aware of the cost and level of attention within the Health Care System.

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