Within a month of leaving the the United States, I wrote a post about how absurd it was that breakfast and a haircut could be so much cheaper in Spain. Within days of returning, I am confronted with another absurdity of American capitalism, this one involving our healthcare system.

In Peru, I cut my foot and went into the hospital to get stitches, where they were able to give me a precise estimate for care, which came to $75 — for the same quality of treatment I’ve received in the past for a similar wound within United States.

Unfortunately, the wound appears to have become infected with cellulitis, which if left untreated, can lead to sepsis (infection of the blood) and even death. Perhaps treking in the jungle while it was healing was not the safest course. In any case, following up on my care here in the United States has presented me with three absurdities about our healthcare system:

1. I’m pretty sure that all that is needed is to drain the abscess and a prescription for some antibiotics. But hospitals here simply won’t take the liability of providing reasonable care without extensive diagnostics, even if I’m willing to incur the risk. The irony for so many is that pragmatic healthcare in the United States becomes prohibitively expensive because it can only be delivered in one way: “state-of-the-art”, with all the bells and whistles.

2. The markups on supplies is so much higher. The exact same syringe or antibiotics in Spain or Peru costs a fraction of what it costs in the United States. It would seem capitalism has even greater difficulty reducing the cost of healthcare than offering up a low-price breakfast and haircut.

3. No one is able to provide a meaningful estimate for what care will cost. I have insurance, but it won’t kick in due to the high deductible that will reset at the end of the month anyway. So the cost all “depends”… on the doctors fee, whether more than one doctor will be needed, on what diagnostics will be needed, on supplies used, on the hospital’s surcharges, on the rate my insurance has negotiated with each of these, and so on. I am left with the impression that it could cost anywhere between $250 and $1000. Probably. Maybe. Or I could take the limited supply of antibiotics I already have and hope for the best.

Is it any wonder that so people wait until sepsis seeps in before they seek care for a simple wound? Even with all my financial privilege and inside knowledge of the healthcare system, I may now count myself amongst them.

Warning: graphic photos below

Below: At the hospital in Iquitos

Below: Wound fully cleaned and sutured at the hospital


Below: Cellulitis, a week later