Places in the colon
A Colonoscopy to Remember

In terms of entertainment value, today's hospital has to be at the bottom of the list. At $1,200 an hour it's just too much money for too little fun. Sure, I got a delightful sedative and some refreshing oxygen, but I could have gotten both on a street corner for a lot less.

In fact, I could have flown cross country, round trip, to see a Broadway show, stayed the night in a suite of a five star hotel, and it still would have cost less than three hours in my local outpatient ward!

Now, I know hospitals are expensive to run—but $20 a minute? I understand doctors spend a lot of years in school. I think nurses are woefully underpaid for the difficult work they do. But this bill didn't even include the doctor's fee, and I only encountered two nurses, one of whom I shared with eight other people, so this small fortune can't be going into a nurses' white pockets.

The envelope containing my heart-stopping bill had the words, "Community based, not-for-profit" printed on the flap. Good thing they told me, otherwise I would have thought someone was out yachting at my expense. Reminds me of an ear/nose/throat specialist I once had in L.A., who saw eight patients at a time, each in a shower-stall sized room—I later saw him on TV talking about his "yachts"—plural—and everything fell into place.

I can't help but think that hospitals are doing something wrong if they can't make a profit at $1,200 an hour. They could make a profit from the nurses alone if they created a web cam site for guys who like gals in uniform.

And I simply have to stop thinking about what I could have done with the $3,600 those three hours cost. How many months of mortgage I could have paid, how many hungry people I could have fed, how many weeks I could have been on a cruise ship, or how much money I could have donated to my favorite presidential candidate? By the way, Howard Dean, www.DeanForAmerica.com instituted public health insurance for all kids in his state!

Lest you think I am complaining about some elective procedure like liposuction, or a J.Lo derriere implant, think again. This was a necessary colonoscopy that everyone over 50 (or in my case younger but with a family history) should take for early cancer detection. Colon cancer is easily treatable and survivable in the early stages, but to know it's there you have to take a test, either a colonoscopy or a virtual colonoscopy (a Star-Trek scanner-type thing).

In my case virtual wouldn't cut it. I used to be able to joke about having a tube the length of a limo driven up my you-know. But on my most recent colon adventure I learned the tube is really only seven feet long—not even as long as a Hyundai. Now it doesn't even make for a good story! Plus they knock you out, you don't feel a thing, it's all too easy—at least until a week or so later when the bill arrives.

In case you're wondering, I passed this test with flying colors, so I shouldn't complain, but it's hard not to notice they charged me $368 an hour to sleep in a room with eight other people. It gets better—they charged in 15 minute increments. A whopping $96 dollars every fifteen minutes! What could they possibly have been doing to me, while I was asleep, that could warrant such an expense? I made my wife promise next time she'll drag me outside and let me sleep off the sedative in the parking lot.

The sticker shock was compounded by the fact that it came as a total surprise. A few days before the procedure, the hospital called to say I needed to be able to pay $2,088 before they'd let me into the building (and certainly before I got to wear one of those chic backless designer gowns). I wasn't happy, but I wasn't mortified (though I'm always mortified at how patients are paraded around the halls in those backless gowns—there's no other place on earth where ordinary people would think about walking around in front of strangers with their backsides exposed, yet here they act like it's totally normal).

I paid and was handed an aforementioned designer gown, paraded backless through the halls, then given temporary amnesia though anesthesia. Right before I went under the drugs, I had the presence of mind to say to the doctor, "I'd like some wallet size pictures of the inside of my colon for my web site" and then I was out like a light.

The procedure itself couldn't have been easier because I don't remember any of it. I was so heavily sedated they could have put my backside on a web cam and I wouldn't have cared. As it was, three women to whom I'm not married all got to enjoy the view, if I can actually use either the word "enjoy" or "view" in that context. "Suffered" and "frightening visage" are probably more accurate.

So the actual hospital visit was fine. The horror part of the story started a week later, at home. Since I don't have insurance coverage for this it all comes out of my pocket, or in this case, because I'm not in the habit of carrying thousands of dollars, my life savings.

The breakdown of prices would have been funny if it wasn't so shocking. For example, use of the sterile forceps cost $140. My wife said that for that price we should have been able to bring the forceps home and use them on the BBQ.

The snapshots turned out to be the bargain of the year at only $17.50 if I ignore all the other charges, which I will probably have to do to avoid needing psychiatric help I can no longer afford.

I tried to charm my way into paying what insurance companies do (less than individuals—yeah, that makes sense) but in the end my charm was only worth 15% off. I'll have to remember to use that charm when I compare home insurance, that must be due soon.

So, I got 8 very expensive wallet sized pictures—and I'm unrecognizable in every single one. At a combined total of $587.50 for each picture I could probably have hired Annie Leibovitz to shoot my colon. I'm sure the lighting would be better. And maybe I'd have gotten into Vanity Fair.

If nothing else, I've learned an expensive lesson. I'm having my next outpatient procedure done in the Ritz- Carlton Presidential suite. It's got to cost less there.

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One Final Word

My colon photos are hidden on my site—do you dare look for them? Find them and send me the URL and you'll win a prize (don't worry, it won't be a set of prints!)




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