The Great Australian Medical System is Not Working for this Expat

I've been thinking about this blog for a while, but not writing it. I'm sorry. I hate to be such a whiner.

And it's changed from what I originally wanted to write. Originally, it was just my experience in the Nambour hospital with a broken hip, but it's become more a story about how, as an expat, I don't feel like I am being taken care of medically in Australia.

I try not to be negative about this beautiful country where I am a guest. I think Australia is a great place. If a young person, including my son, really wanted to make a home here, I'd encourage them. In many ways, it's a bubble of sanity compared to what's happening back home.

But, for me, an American just over here for a few years, this medical thing is NOT working.

Actually, so far, Nambour Hospital worked pretty well. We didn't even have to sign anything to get out of there. They will send the bill to BUPA, our private insurance. Then we will see what happens next.

My surgery happened quickly because it was emergency surgery. When you break the bone I broke, and the bones are still in place,  a quick surgery and  the insertion of some pins and a plate can enable the bones to grow back. If the bones had not been in place or I'd been older, they'd have done a complete hip replacement. They hope I live long enough to outlast a hip replacement with this surgery. Anyway, I broke my bone on Sunday and my surgery was on Monday. So far, so good.

I've already blogged about how they tried to get me to take more drugs than I wanted. They were almost indignant about just WHY I had gas and stomach issues, when I asked for some anti-acids. When I did my research, I found that they are typical side effects of the surgery I had. Did no one tell them?

They scolded me for my blood pressure and my blood sugar being high. Actually, I was surprised myself since the only doctor I've visited over here didn't seem interested in the least in my general health.

Their physical therapists were very helpful and got me up a walking on Tuesday, the day after my surgery. They taught me to get up out of a chair and go up and down stairs, but I do have an issue with them.

I asked several times for exercises to do to get back on my feet and they always said, "Later, later," and "Later" turned into "Never." On Thursday before Easter, when I finally escaped, they were very good in teaching my husband how to help me go up and down stairs. And I will not go up and down stairs without him right there at this point. That was very important and useful, but everyone was so impatient to get going for the big four-day Easter weekend that the exercises never happened. 

And now I'm reading online that I should have started exercises in bed the day after surgery and should be doing them now. But when I look up what exercises I should be doing, every place says I need to have a physical therapist show me what to do.

Evidently, I need to be increasing my range of motion and my leg strength. I just don't want to make anything worse. At the hospital, I was told that if I put weight on that foot before six weeks, I could pop the ball of the hip off. I DO NOT want to do that!

Also, Nambour isn't in the same medical network as Brisbane, so I had to visit my GP to get a referral to an orthopedic doctor to treat me. I had not been happy with the treatment I'd had from the one doctor I'd visited here, so I went to my husband's doctor. He recommended me to a buddy and when we got home we found out I can't see him until May 8th, almost a month away. My husband's doctor did not look at the incision. We think my bandages should probably be changed but no one has mentioned it. Should I have my stitches out before May 8th? We don't know.

I tried to go back to work on the Tuesday after Easter. That was one week and one day after my surgery. For some unexplained reason, I almost fainted when I got up on my crutches to go to the bathroom. I did get back to my desk.  Then it hit me again. And again. And again. So I called my husband to come get me.  I ate my sandwich and felt better by the time he got there.

Back to the emergency room. That doctor checked out my heart, declared it fine and me free from blood clots, speculated that high blood sugar and blood loss from the surgery were my problem and told me to stay home one more week. She was also shocked when I told her the one doctor I've visited did not seem at all interested in my day to day health or keeping up my annual exams. But he didn't. 

During that week, we visited Dan's doctor and got the referral for May 8. He didn't seem very interested my my general health either.

So today I'm back at work and doing fine.  But, what exercises should I be doing? Does my dressing need changed? When should stitches come out? We have no earthly idea. 

Actually, I looked it up and they need to be out NOW. So who do I have take them out? I'm going to use the online feature at my Doctor's office to try to contact him and tell him that I can't see the doctor he recommended until May 8th and that what I'm seeing says the stitches need out. If he doesn't do anything, we may see if we can make an appointment back in Nambour and each take a day off from work and drive up there to see someone .  

Then I can see what I need to be doing to get well. I'm starting to think I may have to go back to the U.S. to get any health care.  Not at all what I expected....

But I'd like to know others' experiences. Back home, my doctor would have contacted an orthopedic clinic and that clinic would have contacted me for an appointment. My doctor's office would have coordinated my whole care. Does it not work that way here? 

I really do feel like I'm out on my own. If you're in the system here, do doctors keep records of what annual exams you need or are you expected to do all of that? Do you have to ask them to do basic health checks? 

I am looking forward to Obama care and have always been in favor of socialized medicine. So I want to know if what I'm experiencing is just Australia, Australian expats, or what. What's in like in Canada? England?  Now I'm curious.... and in the meantime, I have to figure out how to take care of a broken hip on my own, I guess.

Beautiful Australia

I'm working hard on a blog post that is evolving and that is rather emotional for me. I am not ready to post yet, so I'm going to share some of the Australian pictures I've processed and posted to my gallery on Fine Art America for now. Australia is a beautiful place.

Glass Mountains - Extinct Volcanos

Glass Mountains

Lone Fisherman - Noosa Heads

Queensland Windmill

Sheep To Be Sheared

Misty Gold Coast Beach

Wind Surfing Surfer's Paradise

Pain Killers on the Sunshine Coast

You've probably heard that prescription drugs kill more people than illegal drugs do. I guess we all know people who abuse them to some degree. I probably know some. But you don't really worry about it because the pills are ..... legal. Those people's doctors give them the drugs and say it's OK for them to take them.

I don't think about that problem much, but it was smeared in my face this last week. As you probably know, I broke my hip and had to have surgery and stay in the Nambour Hospital on the Sunshine coast of Queensland for four days. The only hospitals I've been in previously were in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so comparing those religiously run private hospitals with a public hospital in a tropical paradise on the other side of the world is comparing apples and mangoes.

And I had a painful surgery and injury. But still. They tried to shove drugs down my throat all the time I was there and freaked when I refused them. I'm sure one guy on my ward was playing the staff for everything he could get. He was quite proud of himself. I think he may have even been doing a little distribution across the curtain from me.  

I started refusing the strong drugs because they made me nauseous and dizzy. I needed to get home and I could only do that if I could get up on my feet and prove I'd be OK when I left. I needed to be able to balance and navigate on crutches. And who wants to be nauseous? 

When the little Swedish girl across from me fainted in x-ray, everyone was asking, "What do you think caused it?" I was lying there thinking, "It's the drugs you stuck down her throat, idiots."  

When you are in pain and a nurse gives you meds, it's easy to take them. I heard one nurse comment that if all GPs gave to patients was Panadol, they'd all go out of business quickly. I also heard staff discussing the price of Oxycodone in the streets. 

They passed that stuff around like candy in there. Once a nurse gave me some when I hadn't requested it and I spit it out when I realized it, which really pissed her off. 

When I left, I didn't want any drugs but they sent some....not a script, but a box of drugs....home with me. They said they just wouldn't feel right not doing so. Sheesh!

Well, I'll admit that I took one. One day, everything just hurt and I got tired of it and took one pill and it felt great to feel the pain just washing out of my body. But that was it. I need to get up and move around and I need to go to work tomorrow. That will be a story!

Sacrifice to the Creative Gods: A Broken Hip.

I broke my hip. Can you believe it? I'm 62 and I broke my hip last Sunday. I was taking pictures at Mooloolaba Beach in Queensland, Australia, and I stepped in an indentation in the rocks in which moss was growing and DOWN! I went.

So, I spent the last week 200 km from my Brisbane home, in Nambour Hospital on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia. That's where the giant pineapple is located, just in case you're interested.

I was a strange duck in the hospital: I was likely the only American there. I was firmly informed that for sure, I was the only person there with the name of Vineyard!

I'll have a lot to say about my experience in an Australian public hospital and my experience with a broken hip in the next few weeks. 

But for now: I am OK and I will be OK. I am pretty strong and the break wasn't too bad, everything considered. Here's what happened....

Sunday we decided to see some place new, so we decided to look at the beaches north of Bribie Island, a place we really love to go. My husband has a sore toe (That's a started out over a year ago when he dropped a frozen turkey on it, back in Tulsa), so we were taking it easy.

We parked by a marina near Mooloolaba Beach and after admiring the boats, we meandered up the hill and across the road down to the beach. The beach was beautiful. A bunch of dogs and their owners were having the time of their lives. The water was so blue and the waves were crashing in. 

I took pictures and videos, and then offered to walk back to the car, because of Dan's toe. Then, the gallant gentleman that he is, he offered to walk a bit up or down the beach first. The direction was my choice. And that's when I made my fateful decision.

"Are those rocks up there? Let's go that direction."

So we did. And as we got closer, the rocks grew larger. They jutted way out into the Pacific Ocean at the point. Sailboats glided past and out of sight, and if you looked further out, cargo and container ships waited their turns to enter Brisbane down the coast.

The potential photographs and videos were unlimited and I was carried away. The waves crashed onto the rocks, exploding into the air or rushing and foaming up the crevices. I was in heaven. Then I was in hell.

I stepped into a small indentation in the rock lined with extremely slippery moss and went down in slow motion. I did somewhat catch myself with my elbow and probably saved myself from worse harm. 

 I was pretty sure I was hurt. A fantastic woman, out with her children, stopped to help. She and Dan got me on my feet, but I couldn't put weight on my leg. They got me to a rock where I could sit, then she called the paramedics and told them where we were.

The paramedics had to get the help of the local Life Saving Club.  Yes, that's right. I was carried off the beach by Australian life guards.

So these volunteer life-saving guys are my heroes....literally. They carried me off the rocks in a carrier, put me into their truck and hauled me back along the beach to where I could be transferred to an ambulance. Definitively my heroes.


When I got the the hospital, I found that that, yes, I'd broken my hip. I could have transferred to a private hospital, but they got me into surgery early Monday and I just stayed because I wasn't planning or being there long. 

And  I wasn't. I was up on crutches on Tuesday and came home on Thursday. I plan to be at work at least one day next week and working from home the rest of the days. I am on my way back.

The journey was interesting, and, as I said earlier, I have a lot to say about it. So follow this blog and you'll hear a few interesting stories....About how this hospital experience compares to what I've experienced before in the U.S. About my treatment for my broken butt. About my progress back to health. About pain medication and about people I met. 

I know more about Australia than I did a week ago. It's been quite a week. and because of a stupid mistake, I've ensured that the future will be just a little bit harder, but it will still be interesting. Want to come along for the ride?

Worth the Wait

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