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.