G’day! (FYI: Aussies do not actually pronounce the “g”, “d” or “y” in that saying…it just rolls off their tongues). Firstly, after a few weeks Down Under, I am writing this with a vivid Australian accent right now, in my head, sounding out each word that I type.
Think “Crocodile Dundee” meets Hugh Jackman (in the accent department only). Picture a semi-unshaven face, a decent tan, khaki-colored clothes and a beer in one (or both) of my hands. This is the Australian change that I underwent last month, and I humbly submit my unofficial report back to you, detailing my quest to eat 1,000 meat pies throughout the great country of Australia while learning all about their healthcare delivery system and the state of patient advocacy throughout the entire continent.
I fell about 968 meat pies short of my goal, but nevertheless, I experienced living in a culture so close, yet so foreign to our own.
It was an exciting journey during the past few weeks, straddling two hemispheres, two universes, two solar systems, thanks mainly to the advancement of the jet engine airplane. And great appreciation must be extended to our friends who manufacture and sell sleep medication, muscle relaxants, and drowse-inducing Benadryl. Nothing like going to sleep on one continent, waking up five minutes later to expect to be on another continent, only to learn that the next twenty hours need to be spent with as many distractions and as little comfort as possible.
Yes, the flights were indeed the most grueling part about the trip to and from Australia, but barring no deathly fear of spiders (more on that later), it is a fantastic place filled with wonderful people and exciting opportunities to build and sustain our family. Both literally and metaphorically (and Creakily). Allow me to explain:
Recently my wife Cara and I returned from our trip back to her hometown of Sydney, Australia, where we visited with her family, refueled our batteries and shared our strength and our experiences with each other’s culture. A “joint” culture which, we boldly created through our marriage. I never claim to be smart, but I am always grateful for being so lucky. We met during my first visit to Australia, during a chance encounter at a gathering on the beach. And the rest is history – with much more history yet to be written.
Since I’m a New Yorker through and through, I was not prepared for certain parts of the trip, including the sky high cost of everything from a latte ($58) to parking ($300/hr), but I was also keen to learn about their perspective as a society, on everything from day-to-day quality of life, to the meatier subjects like healthcare delivery. Since Australia is so far removed from (everything) our country, going there feels like a portal to a parallel universe. They speak the same language (for the most part), they enjoy the same principles of gravity (despite being on the other side of the planet where things, astonishingly, don’t just fall off the planet), but the Aussies have a vastly different approach to living that we American’s aught to pay more attention to, and consider ways to adopt.
It won’t be easy, since structurally, we’re so different. Ours is a capitalist society, with a healthcare system that has evolved from businesses eager to profit from every element of our illness. And theirs, a country with socialized medicine, where the government provides as much for its people in as fair a way possible. Though that too, is not without its share of problems.
The debate about socialized medicine is one of primarily fictitious arguments, fueled by rhetoric and misleading examples or exaggerations from third hand experiences. After spending a few weeks visiting with all sorts of stakeholders who are active participants in the arthritis community – doctors, patients, organizations, hospitals, universities – every single one of them (unanimously!!) told me that, despite some flaws, their system is fantastic and compared to what we have to deal with, they feel very blessed.
We need to borrow some of their best practices! Like finding ways to remove “stress” from the healthcare equation. Every time I go to the doctor at home, or God forbid walk into the Emergency Room with a bad concussion, I get stressed out about the cost of care – the co-pays, the deductibles, the ‘usual and customary’ cost, all of the unknowns (financially) that are not in our control.
What would we trade to have a healthcare system that would alleviate this stress? I wonder how much this stress prevents us from getting healthier. Does our healthcare system actively work against us feeling better? Sometimes – especially when the mail comes – I feel like it does.
And it turns out that we have a lot in common, though the way we access care – and definitely pay for it – is completely different. Here, we’ll need to take deliberate steps to work through our differences and understand who is doing what, correctly. I don’t think that our system is perfect. It’s as far from it as possible. But we managed to understand many real issues and systemic problems that our Australian friends face as well, when dealing with a chronic condition like RA or PSA or any number of other health situations.
So where do we go from here? Instead of complaining about our healthcare system – which we’re pretty much squarely in the middle of things here in the US – I want to use this trip to Australia to inspire the changes that we need to consider making to improve outcomes and the way care is delivered.
But for those who are considering a trip to Oz, I must warn you – the spiders…they’re enormous. So if there’s a fear of spiders in your deep, dark conscience, be very, very careful!