It’s time for U.S. to revisit universal healthcare

Special to The Times

HIKING along the Dove River in England, I fell hard on my left hip. It was clear that I had broken something and that the rest of my vacation would be spent in a hospital 6,000 miles from home.

Thus began my saga with national healthcare in the United Kingdom.

Met first by local volunteers, then by an ambulance team, and finally by a helicopter crew, I was airlifted in severe pain to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire. X-rays showed my left femur was dislocated and broken at the neck of the femur. A senior surgical resident named Jill described the recommended surgical procedure -- twice, because she knew I was in pain and was having trouble concentrating.

The anesthetist promised me no nausea after the surgery and no pain. He was right. Six hours after my fall, surgery had repaired my broken femur. Later, Jill would show me post-operative X-rays and explain what had been done as well as what lay ahead.

I loved to watch the nursing staff at work. Great efficiency of motion as they changed my bed linens with me in it, and as they gently moved heavy patients. Great generosity of spirit as they prepared a warm, soapy foot bath for Elsie, a very thin woman with osteoporosis. Her foot bath wasn’t ordered on the charts -- it was just a small act of kindness of the type I saw over and over. Great skill as they administered medication, brought us food and bedpans and comforted those who were disoriented.

No one mentioned money; no one ever asked me for a deposit or proof of insurance. They copied my passport and my insurance card, and when my husband offered to pay some of the costs, they said it wouldn’t be necessary.

Of the developed industrial nations in the world, we alone do not have universal healthcare. And the idea isn’t new: Germany has had national healthcare for about 125 years, England, for 60 years.

In the presence of such wonderful care at North Staffordshire, I felt ashamed.

Who are the people who would benefit most from the safety net that such healthcare would provide? They are us. Of the 46 million or so Americans without health insurance, 55% work full time and an additional 16% to 17% work part time. They are not slug-a-beds, welfare cheats or loafers.

We are a clever people. I would like to think we are also compassionate. We can figure this out. And yes, it will cost money, and yes, that may mandate a new look at our priorities and national budget.

I know England’s has its critics. And there must be delays, frustrations and shortcomings in any national health program. My healthcare was no-frills: no TV, radio or telephone in the six-bed ward. But my orthopedic surgeon here says my care was excellent.

In this election season, perhaps we can put aside our partisan wrangling long enough to work on this -- not as a campaign issue, but as a response to human need.

Susan Cornner is a retired professor of English who lives in Northridge.