After mysteriously falling ill while on a tour of duty in Korea, Brad Christy was put through the ringer of medical tests. The military healthcare system couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but slapped him with a sizable medical bill anyway.
As a Soldier, there are certain things you can always count on: waking up before dawn, forfeiture of freedoms that most Americans take for granted, and the best healthcare the lowest bidder can provide.
On one particularly balmy Korean evening in the late summer of 1999, I was 22 years old and eager to try the local beer. Unimpressed, I drank late into the night. The next morning, my unit assembled for training. It was about this time that I broke into a cold sweat, went weak in the knees, and was wracked with stomach pains. According to my George Patten-esc Squad Leader, I was obviously trying to get out of inspection, until I started throwing up from the pain.
After hauling fifty-plus pounds of gear up three flights of stairs and all but crawling a half-mile to the medical facility, I pushed the door open and stumbled in, bent over in pain and sweat rolling down my pale face. I was politely asked by the front desk to, “Come back later with a sick call slip.” If you can imagine, I didn’t tip my hat and leave as directed. It does pay to know people when you’re in need, and I dropped the name of the Lieutenant who ran the facility. I was seen shortly thereafter.
A few tests later it was determined I had blood in my urine. Most people would call urinating blood a bad thing, but to a Soldier it’s proof he isn’t faking injury or illness to get out of work.
Standard procedure says, upon such findings, that the patient receives an IV and an ambulance ride to the Osan Air Base Hospital. But it was a training day, so I became a training tool for new Soldiers learning to properly insert an IV into a live patient. Two collapsed veins and three trainees later, my left arm was so bad off it had to be bandaged and immobilized at the elbow, and they still didn’t get the IV into a vein. With the non-dominant arm ruined, they turned to my right arm, which also had to be immobilized due to collapsed veins. The Lieutenant finally, painfully inserted an IV into the back of my hand.
For an hour I was restrained in the back of the ambulance racing down the poorly paved back roads to Osan Air Base. If I hadn’t been in pain before reaching the hospital, I was certainly a wreck by the time we got there.
Upon arrival, I was pulled from the ambulance with all the care luggage receives when a plane is unloaded. Ithen sat in a waiting room for the next couple of hours while the medics went back to get my forgotten medical records. I did eventually get to a phone and called home to tell my family I was in the hospital. They were concerned about my well being, but I assured them that the military would fix whatever ailed me.
It was late afternoon when I finally met my physician, if I’m not mistaken I believe his name was Doctor de Sade. He explained that my pain could be stemming from any number of problems from kidney stones to appendicitis, but he would have to run some tests to narrow it down. I cringed at the thought of an undetermined amount of mystery tests, but I assured myself that the doctor knew what he was doing.
The next morning, it was explained to me that before they could begin I would need a series of X-rays of my internal organs. For anyone who’s never had this done, the problem with taking X-rays of your internal organs is they have to clean you out first with high-powered laxatives. That alone would be uncomfortable, but I refer you back to my collapsed veins and immobilized arms. It’s a true test a person’s ingenuity when both arms are immobilized and nature is screaming in your ear every ten to fifteen minutes.
Not all of the tests I endured were as challenging as the cleansing; mostly blood work or testing of other bodily fluids, but that first one lingered on through my full, three-day hospital stay.
I will never forget the day the doctor came into my room and told me they had finally run out of tests. It felt like Christmas morning and he had a giant wrapped box with a golden bow. After three days of pain, I really didn’t care what was wrong. And with as much enthusiasm, I sat up and listened to what my doctor had to say. It turned out the box with the golden bow was empty. The doctor, with a straight face, told me that even though I had crippling abdominal pain and was urinating blood that their tests couldn’t find anything definite and therefore nothing was wrong.
I was discharged an hour later with no diagnosis. All I needed to top off the day was to have a nurse or two to point and laugh as I was tossed to the curb. There was nothing in the way of pain medication or restrictions for physical exertion given to me as I grabbed my records and hobbled out of the lobby. The only thing I actually received from my stay was disdain for military medical practices and a medical bill that I still refuse to pay.
Photo: The U.S. Army/flickr