When the &#$%@ hits the fan

I got the kind of call last Sunday that's guaranteed to wreck your day. Make that your next few days.

Where, oh where, do you buy crutches on a Sunday morning? How do you know when an injury is serious enough to warrant the trauma unit of a hospital? Where do you go if you're not a medical aid member, but not up for the blood and guts and all-day depression of a state hospital's waiting room?

It took the best part of a beautiful Cape Town Sunday, but I now know the answers to all things (and I'm saving you an awful lot of telephoning, so take note):

Crutches can be bought at almost any hospital pharmacy. The basic aluminium ones cost around R140 to R180. I don't know how they make a profit on that. If an injury involves a joint, then you're playing with fire if you wait before getting it checked out.

There's enormous variance in the prices charged by private hospitals. What you would pay at one hospital just for the facility fee and consultation, could also buy you the necessary treatment – including X-rays and crutches – at another hospital. It's surprising where you'll find value, so phone around.

Sitting around idly in a spare wheelchair while I waited for the reluctant patient, I had time to think about medical funds. In spite of the phoning around, my friend's bill is mounting. R1,200 at the trauma unit, R800 for the first and follow-up consultations with the specialist, R1,300 for an MRI, R560 for a knee brace, around R200 for anti-inflammatories and painkillers... and there's every chance surgery is unavoidable, at anything up to R25,000.

In research earlier this year commissioned by the Liberty group around the impact of the financial squeeze on our heads and hearts and lifestyles, it was found that everyone – not some, not a majority, but every person polled – had cut back on insurance. For many people, this means they've scaled down their medical cover. That's well and good as long as your life goes according to plan. But when the @#$% hits the fan, the stress of mounting bills compounds an already bad space. Before you make "savings" in that department, do think about ways to have the best of both worlds:

But mostly, look after yourself.
(Heather Parker, Health24, November 2009)

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