One recent morning, I arrived at the bottom of the 16-floor medical building I work in to find all four elevators were out of service. Right as my finger was about to press the “up” button, a woman’s voice, dripping with frustration and fatigue, told me the elevators were broken. Right on cue, a nearby man told me that the doors from the stairs require a key card. His heavy breathing told me this fact came right from the source. So I sat on the floor, resigned to the fact that I would be late to work. Building maintenance showed up shortly after to announce the elevators weren’t working (no shit, Sherlock), and the elevator company was on-site working as fast as they could but they didn’t know when the elevators would be restored. With an attitude of accomplishment like they had just solved world hunger, maintenance announced that a staff member would hold each door open so we may all get to our appointments. A young woman with a 3-6 month old baby asleep against her chest looked astonished that maintenance acted as if her 16 floor stair climb were a gift they gave to her. Clucks of disapproval and frustration echoed through the small crowd that had now amassed at the elevators. This irritation escalated when an elderly woman with a cane was told to climb the stairs to her appointment. “Why am I not surprised,” a disgruntled voice mumbled next to me, “It is the American health system.” My smirk of approval broke the Seattle freeze ice and we began to chat.
As it turned out, Eric* recently had a medical emergency in France requiring x-ray’s, blood tests, and an exam at an ER. Even though he wasn’t a French citizen, he was treated better than most appointments he had in the U.S. When it came time for his bill, he braced himself for the damage. The doctor, full of guilt, said she would unfortunately have to bill him $29 USD. After quite a bit of stammering and checking that he heard correctly, a relieved Eric paid his bill and left feeling bewildered.
Toward the end of Eric’s story, elevator car 3 (most creative name ever!), which had been stuck open this whole time, finally closed. I guess it collected enough flies. I’m choosing to believe the subsequent dings it uttered were saying “yum yum.” Then car 3 opened its doors and lit up its lights, signalling it was ready to resume its normal job. Perhaps this snafu had just been a lunch break? The first wave of people, myself included, were packed into the elevator like sardines. Just as my claustrophobia and elevator fear started kicking in, the doors closed. Car 3 then let out a screech like it was attempting to give birth to a baby, stopped, and after what seemed like a year, opened its doors. I shot out of the elevator, as plummeting to my death was not on the agenda.
Once I was safe on the floor of the lobby once again, I decided I should share my experience with medical care abroad with Eric. While scuba diving in Australia, I surfaced in a swarm of jellyfish and was stung at least 6 times in 30 seconds. That was the day I learned I was allergic to that kind of jellyfish venom. The total cost of my emergency treatment was $75. Eric and I agreed that universal healthcare treated people like they matter. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the elevators were getting faster, more thorough care than humans do.
After half an hour of waiting, I decided to climb the stairs to the 8th floor, despite my hip injury and asthma. I had to stop in the middle and take my inhaler. By the time I reached the 8th floor, my hip had seized up and I was limping. But I made it! I did something hard and didn’t quit. I was there to open the office and hold down the fort until everyone else made it up. I was a hero…..until my coworker stepped off the working elevator about 10 minutes after I got to the 8th floor. In retrospect, I probably wasn’t quite hero material anyway.
*Name has been changed.