By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
What’s wrong with this headline? “Stop Drive-Through Mastectomies.”
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Americans are continually reminded that the country enjoys a state-of-the-art medical care precisely because it is privatized – driven by a market that will pay for the best. Still, somehow a headline that talks about women’s surgery like it was doing banking or picking up fast food never makes it into the dialogue.
So when it comes time for women with breast cancer to have surgery, patients discover they’re short-changed by the insurance systems. They are encouraged to leave hospitals before their surgeons feel they should instead of being assured of a minimum two-day stay after a mastectomy and a 24-hour period of hospitalization after a lymph node removal.
“One week ago my 44-year old friend, Terry, underwent eight hours of surgery for breast cancer in San Francisco. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction,” wrote Louise Heyneman in 2002 for the Internet group, CancerLynx. “One of her doctors urged her to go home 24 hours after surgery, with reference to insurance coverage.”
The problem goes back further than 2002, though. Since 1996 women have felt sufficiently disenfranchised to organize toward support of a Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act. Still, the numbers have not been found to get the legislation through Congress.
The original bill introduced in 1997 by Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic Representative from Connecticut, was stymied and languished in various committees. Now, DeLauro has teamed up with a counterpart in the Senate, Mary Landrau (D-La). According to Lifetime Television, the pair will reintroduce the bill once again in 2005.
It’s hard to imagine a men’s complaint that would attract a label as pejorative as “drive-through.” More, the literature on breast cancer protection is riddled with double and triple exclamation points that almost border on hysteria, not to mention lines like “if there was ever a time to be courageous…” and so forth.
Clearly it’s the rhetoric of a group that feels outside the loop. Of people that have become frantic and think they must yell and stand on their tip toes and wave their arms to be heard.
The good news is that at least modern women realize they deserve better. Particularly Kristen Zarfos, M.D. and a Middletown, Connecticut surgeon who first raised the issue with DeLauro in 1997. In part due to the women’s efforts, Connecticut along with New York passed bills to end the premature hospital departures. While that was a step in the right direction for at least some of the nation’s women, DeLauro believes the problem requires federal backing.
“When I had my mastectomy back in the 1980s, I spent a week in the hospital recuperating,” said 80-year-old Laura Belle Nelson of Mill Valley California, “I can’t imagine a woman going through something like that and going home after just a day.”