Monday, 3 November 2008

To your health

One winter night when my daughter was two, I checked her while she was sleeping. I found that she wasn't breathing properly. She was gasping for air, her little lips turning blue. It was a moment of terror like I never want to have again. I bundled her up, and my partner and I ran with her to the car. Instead of buckling her into her carseat, I held her to me in the back of the car. I thought she might die - and if she did, I half-reasoned in my panicked state, I wanted her to be in my arms.

The journey to the Emergency Department took only eight minutes, but they were amongst the longest minutes of my life. When we arrived, we went through triage immediately. My daughter was given medication and a ventilation mask to aid her breathing, and a machine monitored the level of oxygen in her blood. The staff explained what was happening to my partner and I, and gave our daughter ice cream when her breathing was stabilised (a treat she still recalls fondly five years later). She was admitted into the children's ward. The staff set up another bed beside hers so I could stay the night with her; but she insisted I jump into her bed, meaning I spent an awkward night pushed to the edge of the mattress, unable to pull the blankets over my cold bum. But with my live and well daughter in my arms, the cold bum didn't matter a great deal.

As we found out, our daughter had had a bout of croup - a common childhood illness, but a potentially serious one. (My father told me that, when he was a child, children died of croup. It regularly hospitalises kiwi kids today.)

My dealings with the health system haven't been uniformly good. But that day, when the shit hit the fan, the health system was there for me. I think most of us who enjoy good health live with this unconscious assumption: if there's an emergency, if the shit hits the fan, the health system will be there for us, regardless of who we are or how much we earn. Without that security, the world would seem a very different place.

With the possibility of a National government looming, I can't help but cast my mind back to the 90s, when Bill English presided over the disastrous and universally unpopular health reforms. I could go on about the competitive model of health introduced by National and its utter unsuitability to the health system. I'd rather just make the observation that, probably for the first time in decades, it became clear that New Zealanders simply couldn't rely on the health system any more. People died on waiting lists. While the newly centralised 111 system mishandled calls, people died waiting for ambulances. A 42 year old Southland man, father of three young children, died while he waited for heart surgery.

When all this stuff went down, I was horrified by it, but I didn't really get it. It wasn't until I had an emergency caeserean, another birth which required rapid intervention to prevent my baby suffering brain damage, the terrible incident I've described with my daughter, that I really understood what it would mean to live without the safety net of an adequate health system. When these things happened, I understood what it meant to be completely vulnerable and desperate and reliant on others. The whole life or death situation thing wasn't abstract any more.

I just hope Bill English has drawn the same lessons from the 90s health reforms as I have.


Julie said...

I've had a lot of interaction with our public health system this year too, and I've also come to the conclusion that the system we have is a lot better than the system we had.

Yes it could improve, but the people working in it are amazing individuals who perform daily miracles. And when they don't win, as happened in my family earlier this year, it's not for lack of care (in several senses of the word).

Like you Anna I'm a bit scared of what a National-Act Government might mean. Actually I'm very scared. The implications for my family are particularly worrisome - my partner and I both work for unions in jobs that might disappear, our child is highly likely to have asthma (70% chance someone told me the other day) and without pretty decent paying jobs we would struggle to afford health insurance or quality ECE for him, my mum is now on the Widow's benefit and will go on Super in a year, other members of my family have chronic health conditions, or work in the public sector, or are in apprenticeships, or drive to and fro from time to time on roads that might be tolled in future.

Next week could be very gloomy indeed.

The ex-expat said...

I've had a lot of interaction with the public health system in the last 18 months albeit for non-urgent care. Some of my experience has been awesome and some of it bloody terrible. But the admin part has driven me insane.

Azlemed said...

my experiences have been mixed, my maternity care last year was not great for the first 20 weeks, then I moved and got the most awesome maternity care ever, all in Oamaru.

the neonates care for our two girls was great, and our gp is brilliant, I will not be able to afford to take the kids to the drs for everything if user pays for under 6 comes in, at $30 a visit or more it would become a choice as to how sick they were etc....

the idea of a national act govt gives me the creeps and makes me worry for the future of our three children