Staff Reflections: Clarifying Health Care with a Trip to the Vet

Our dog’s eyes were sunken, her walk pained, and she had thrown up all over the house.

I called the veterinarian, but on a Saturday afternoon it was going to cost $90 just to walk in the door; so, my girlfriend and I pushed our luck and hoped Jeff (our dog, a girl, long story) would be better in the morning. She wasn’t. She dry-heaved and vomited through the night, and in the morning I resigned myself to paying the weekend fee, fearful it would yield no better answers than I had.

I found a vet up the road, Dr. Jim Johnson, who kindly cut short his hike in the park and met me in at the mobile clinic parked in his yard. He did some tests, then gave Jeff fluids and medicine. We repeated this for five days as Jeff showed little sign of improvement. We had a somber “end-of-life” conversation. Then, after six days, Jeff returned from the brink.

When I paid up, the week’s worth of daily treatment, including weekend visits, tests, and fluids, cost a fraction of what I expected. Dr. Johnson charged extra for the weekend service, but didn’t empty my pockets. It was a reasonable price for good care, and an exchange that just felt fair.

After handing him the check, grateful for a happy dog, I thought about the health care fight that was raging across the country. People with money in the game would have us believe there are no simple answers, that there’s a more powerful NO for every possible solution.

But when I paid Dr. Johnson, I wasn’t paying for an elaborate waiting room, sparkling corporate offices, or reams of paperwork. I was paying him to take care of my dog. I didn’t expect it to be free; I just wanted it to feel like a fair exchange.

I wondered why that was so hard to figure out for the rest of us.