January 30, 2011

Just a Little Bike Crash

Today, I had my first ever ambulance ride and some opportunity to experience and reflect on New Zealand's healthcare system and ACC system (Accident Compensation Corportion).

The reason was a little bicycle crash.

I was zooming down George Street (Dunedin's main drag) just before 10:00 on a Sunday morning. With hardly any traffic on the road, I noticed the smell of wood fires in the air. It's been stupidly cold and wet lately - summer, I don't think so!  But I was thinking that I'm looking forward to winter - shorter, slower days sound good after two summers in a row of long, manic ones - when, Wha-bam, someone in a parked car openned her door at the exact moment I was flying by.  It's hard for me to say, really, but judging from the size of the bruise on my leg, I think my shin and handle bars collided with her door and I flew off my bike diagonally, tumbled down the street a couple of times and ended up on my back in a bit of an awkward, twisted position. 

To make a long story short, I thought it best not to move and bystanders called for help.  The police and ambulance showed up as I laid there on George Street!  At the time, I didn't care.  Now I think, how embarrassing!  With just about 5 minutes of stillness, I was able to stand up and hobble into the ambulance under my own power. I was ok except for a very sore hip and shin but they took me into the hospital anyway.  They filled out my ACC paperwork right away, ensuring I would be cared for under this part of the system for free, and issuing me a claim number on the spot.  Things then slowed down and after waiting around a young, extremely quiet doctor checked me out and ordered some xrays, just to be sure nothing was broken. Those were completed within an hour.  I peed in a cup so they could check my kidneys.  They gave me some acetomiinophen and ibuprofen and watched me loosely for a little while until I basically asked if I could just go home, now that it was obvious I was just a bit banged up.  Once the lead doctor signed things off, I was headed home three hours later.

Not once did I have to think if I should call my insurance or how much this was all going to cost.

When I got home, the phone rang.  A woman's voice said, "Hello, I'm the lady that knocked you off your bike and I just wanted to see how you are doing."  I was so glad she called because I could tell, as I was laying on the street, that she felt so utterly horrible and was probably going to beat herself up.  I reassured her that I was fine, nothing was broken.  I told her I've had close calls before and it was just an accident. She said her mind was somewhere else and she just didn't look before openning her door.  I told her not to worry herself too much and we both agreed we'd be more careful next time. 

I hung up thinking the police must have given her my phone number and I couldn't help but say to James, "That would never happen in America."  The police would never have given her my number in America, I don't think. Partly due to different ideas of privacy but, also, she'd more likely be advised not to contact me but to contact a lawyer.  In case I'd sue. 

But when medical care is free or very reasonably priced, even with if a few follow up physical therapy appointments, "sueing" isn't part of the culture here. And when people are allowed to talk to each other, most of them are very reasonable.  It's a bit of a shame that we've lost touch with that in the States.

The health care systems of NZ and the USA are a common topic of conversation when you get a group of citizens from both countries together.  I've heard horror stories about NZ care and I've heard its praises sung too.  It's not a perfect system, no doubt, but my care today was good and having been mostly uninsured in America in my adult life, I can tell you it is wonderful to concentrate on elevating my leg and rescheduling tomorrow's meeting instead of wondering if my life savings will be gone when the bill arrives.


  1. Mo, Kate here. Sorry to hear about your tumble. I'm glad your injuries weren't any worse. The boys would be very jealous you got to ride in an ambulance!

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your bike crash - that's awful! There have been some real problems with that up in Auckland lately. A young nurse was killed when a driver opened his car door and she swerved to miss it (right into the path of truck).

    I'm glad that your experience with NZ healthcare was a good one. It's really interesting for me to hear different perspectives, since I work in an ER but also worked in an ER in the States. I agree that there is no perfect system and that both have their high and low points. I think that I would be a little creeped out that the lady had my phone number, but it was nice that she called and was concerned :-)

  3. I know that there are problems with the NZ health care system, but I am so proud to live in a little country that has a single-payer system. And it is simply amazing that even visitors to NZ are covered in accidents under our ACC plan. xx

  4. That sure is one painful way to experience NZ’s health care system. But I do hope that it would be your last. Being involved in an accident like that can be a pain, physically and emotionally. Aside from the physiological pain, you have to deal with the trauma afterwards. Some patients have a hard time dealing with what happened, while some get out of it in a snap. I just hope that you are on the latter. Keep safe!