The PJ Tatler

How Government-Run Healthcare Nearly Killed My Friend

Back in the 1990s, I was serving in the United States Air Force. I was stationed at Yokota Air Base, one of the most modern overseas bases in the Air Force. It was the headquarters for US forces in Japan.

A good friend of mine at the time was all of 19 years old. He had been hale and healthy when he joined up, but by the time I met him he was already sickly.

He was always hobbling around on crutches and frequently, he couldn’t go to work. He had broken his femur, at least twice. The femur is your thigh bone. It is a big, thick bone. It’s difficult to break your femur even under extreme circumstances. For a 19-year-old who was healthy enough to join the United States military and get through basic training, to break a femur is very rare. My friend had broken his, more than once.

How? Was he playing tackle football or skiing in the Japanese alps?

No. He was just walking around. One time he broke it while he was washing his car.

He had been in and out of the military hospital at our base for months. The military doctors thought they had traced his leg breaks to cancer.

They flew him back and forth to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Lackland has a state-of-the-art military hospital. My friend spent a lot of time there.

At one point, the military doctors were so convinced that he had cancer that they told him they had no choice but to amputate my friend’s leg. They were just about all set to chop it off.

It turns out that they were wrong. My friend didn’t have cancer. He never had cancer. A doctor caught the compound error just in the nick of time.

He didn’t have cancer. He had a type of staph infection. That was what was making him sick. That was what was weakening his bones to the point that he broke his femur, more than once.

Can you guess where he picked up the staph infection? Probably not, but you’ll be close. It wasn’t in the military hospital.

He picked up the infection at the military dentist’s office. During a routine procedure — getting his wisdom teeth pulled.

We’re not talking about a VA facility here. We’re talking about a facility for active duty and their families, on a major overseas base.

To be fair, I also had my wisdom teeth pulled at the same office. I received great care and had no complications. The dentist, a friend of mine from church, did an incredible job. My friend wasn’t so lucky.

That staph infection that he picked up at the dentist’s office led to so much misery for my friend and his wife. That infection nearly ended up in a permanent mutilation for a healthy 19-year-old.

Of course, cutting off his leg might not have stopped the infection. He might have had to go back for more mutilation until the doctors finally figured out that he did not even have cancer. The infection could have killed him eventually.

How many doctors compounded the original error, across about two years? Many. At more than one military hospital.

This story of the wonders of government-run healthcare gets even better. Because the doctors who hurt him were in the military, they were not subject to malpractice lawsuits. My friend couldn’t sue them. They kept on practicing.

Liberals like to tout the military health care system as the future for all of us. The military health care system certainly isn’t all witch doctors who have no idea what they’re doing. But it does lack accountability, and market forces never force it to innovate or weed out incompetence. Liberals tout the military’s system because they love centralizing authority in unaccountable government, and because most of them were never in the military and have never experienced the military’s health care system for themselves. Experience is a great teacher, and it taught me sound reasons to oppose universal government-run healthcare in all its forms.

Did I ever tell you about the time that a handful of military doctors thought my fiancée had active tuberculosis, despite showing no symptoms at all, and pondered whether to use the military command to stop our wedding? I’ll save that dark comedy war story for another day.