A Possibly Fatal Mistake
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
New York Times
October 12, 2012
MY wife and I attended my 30-year college reunion a couple of weekends ago, but the partying was bittersweet. My freshman roommate, Scott Androes, was in a Seattle hospital bed, a victim in part of a broken health care system. Strip away the sound and fury of campaign ads and rival spinmeisters, and what’s at stake in this presidential election is, in part, lives like Scott’s.
Scott and I were both Oregon farm boys, friends through the Future Farmers of America, when Harvard sent us thick envelopes. We were exhilarated but nervous, for neither of us had ever actually visited Harvard, and we asked to room together for moral support among all those city slickers.
We were the country bumpkins of Harvard Yard. Yet if we amused our classmates more than we intended, we had our private jokes as well. We let slip (falsely) that we kept deer rifles under our beds and smiled as our friends gave them a wide berth.
Scott was there when I limped back from the Worst Date in History (quite regularly), and he and I together worked our way onto the Crimson, the student newspaper. He had an omnivorous mind: Scott may be the only champion judge of dairy cattle who enjoyed quoting Thomas Macaulay, the 19th-century British historian. Scott topped off his erudition with a crackling wit to deflate pretentiousness (which, at Harvard, kept him busy).
By nature, Scott was even-keeled, prudent and cautious, and he always looked like the mild-mannered financial consultant that he became. He never lost his temper, never drove too fast, never got drunk, never smoked marijuana.
Well, not that I remember. I don’t want to discredit his youth.
Yet for all his innate prudence, Scott now, at age 52, is suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer, in part because he didn’t have health insurance. President Obama’s health care reform came just a bit too late to help Scott, but it will protect others like him — unless Mitt Romney repeals it.
If you favor gutting “Obamacare,” please listen to Scott’s story. He is willing to recount his embarrassing tale in part so that readers can learn from it.
I’ll let Scott take over the narrative:
It all started in December 2003 when I quit my job as a pension consultant in a fit of midlife crisis. For the next year I did little besides read books I’d always wanted to read and play poker in the local card rooms.
I didn’t buy health insurance because I knew it would be really expensive in the individual policy market, because many of the people in this market are high risk. I would have bought insurance if there had been any kind of fair-risk pooling. In 2005 I started working seasonally for H&R Block doing tax returns.
As seasonal work it of course doesn’t provide health benefits, but then lots of full-time jobs don’t either. I knew I was taking a big risk without insurance, but I was foolish.
In 2011 I began having greater difficulty peeing. I didn’t go see the doctor because that would have been several hundred dollars out of pocket — just enough disincentive to get me to make a bad decision.
Early this year, I began seeing blood in my urine, and then I got scared. I Googled “blood in urine” and turned up several possible explanations. I remember sitting at my computer and thinking, “Well, I can afford the cost of an infection, but cancer would probably bust my bank and take everything in my I.R.A. So I’m just going to bet on this being an infection.”
I was extremely busy at work since it was peak tax season, so I figured I’d go after April 15. Then I developed a 102-degree fever and went to one of those urgent care clinics in a strip mall. (I didn’t have a regular physician and hadn’t been getting annual physicals.)
The doctor there gave me a diagnosis of prostate infection and prescribed antibiotics. That seemed to help, but by April 15 it seemed to be getting worse again. On May 3 I saw a urologist, and he drew blood for tests, but the results weren’t back yet that weekend when my health degenerated rapidly.
A friend took me to the Swedish Medical Center Emergency Room near my home. Doctors ran blood labs immediately. A normal P.S.A. test for prostate cancer is below 4, and mine was 1,100. They also did a CT scan, which turned up possible signs of cancerous bone lesions. Prostate cancer likes to spread to bones.
I also had a blood disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation, which is sometimes brought on by prostate cancer. It basically causes you to destroy your own blood cells, and it’s abbreviated as D.I.C. Medical students joke that it stands for “death is close.”...