Few issues generate more heat than the back and forth over universal health care. Basically, it seems that you’re either for it or you’re against it. I’m very much for it — no surprise there — for two reasons.

First, I find that careful understanding of the ways and means it will entail are very positive and not the monstrous financial budget burden that opponents claim (higher taxes). At the very least we should ask ourselves about emergency care for the uninsured and consider who actually pays for that now.

Second, I’ve already experienced a national health care system firsthand.

Here’s the story. In our one trip to Paris this year (wouldn’t you know it: those French guys again), we set out on foot to find a Japanese restaurant that we’d been told was rather special. It was quite a hike, but we did arrive eventually, only to wait in line outside in a light rain. We finally made it inside after several minutes…where I promptly passed out at the counter.

Not good. After a half-minute, Kris managed to revive me, did the usual “Are you O.K.?” routine and then informed me that the paramedics had been called. At first I asked if that was really necessary, and then almost immediately decided that it was a good idea. Within moments, in they came with a wheel-chair in tow. I climbed aboard and was wheeled out to their ambulance. The paramedics strapped me on a gurney and Kris into a chair and off we went. En route they checked my blood pressure (normal) and did a quick blood test. English was definitely spoken — which prompted tasteless me to ask what the French words for a couple of choice English four-letter words might be — and I did have need of the old barf bag a couple of times. During the trip I experienced a migraine — nothing all that unusual for me — but I was awake for the drive to the hospital.

When we pulled up to the emergency gate I was rolled into a reception area and my afternoon of French health care commenced. From beginning to end I was involved for about four hours, which included an EKG, a thorough examination of my motor skills, another physical of my overall sense of being, and a CAT scan where I was slid into a decidedly scary machine even as technicians sat behind windows in an adjoining room staring at computer screens.

At the conclusion of all that I was returned to an examination room where I waited for perhaps an hour. At length, a doctor walked in and gave me the final verdict.

“Can I leave the hospital?” was my first question.

“Yes. About now, if you prefer.”

I definitely preferred.

“So what happened? Am I O.K.?”

“Yes,” he said.  “Your heart is fine and your brain showed no sign of any problems.” (I still have a copy of the scan, which proves, among other things, that counter to some opinions, I do have a brain.)

He continued. “While the fact that you did pass out — which made it important that you be looked at — we did not find any real problems. We’re concluding that your condition was the result of the long travel hours, poor nutrition and some dehydration — a situation that we do see rather frequently. It does happen.”

“And I should…”

“Get something to eat and drink and go home (where we were staying) and get some rest.”

“That’s it? No drugs?”

“No drugs. You can check out now.”

I autographed some kind of release and Kris and I headed for the front door — where we were required to sign nothing further. My driver’s license, which they had used for my name and address, had been returned earlier in the afternoon. The receptionist had already summoned a cab that pulled up in less than five minutes. I tucked some paperwork under my arm, we boarded the cab and went back to our apartment.

Really exceptional care. Not the way I would have chosen to spend an afternoon, but the need was there and all was handled well and professionally. I never once felt that I was in the low rent district. And again, the doctors and technicians could speak passable English — my half-dozen words of French would have been no help at all.

And the cost? Well, nothing while I was there. No co-pays. Zip. Had I been a French national, of course, it’s all gratis. But I was billed three weeks later. Ready? One hundred sixty-seven euros, which converts to $218. The ambulance ride, I believe, was free.

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