Caroline is 67 years old. She’s had a few health issues over the years, including a bout with cancer that she overcame. A couple of months ago she noticed she was short of breath when she brought a basket of clothes up from the basement. It passed quickly and she didn’t give it a thought. It happened a few more times and she began to notice discomfort in her chest. It wasn’t pain, but it felt “funny”. Then, her teeth hurt, the back ones on her right side. It lasted a little while then passed. Caroline did a number of searches online and determined she was probably having some mild angina discomfort.

Regardless of her search results, Caroline told her doctor, three of them in fact – a rheumatologist, a neurologist, and another “ologist.” None of them suggested she do anything about the mild symptoms. Then came a visit to the general practitioner who arranged for Caroline to visit a cardiologist. He performed some tests and sent her directly to the hospital, where she underwent open heart surgery three days later. Caroline had several blockages and came through the long surgery very well. Three days after the open heart work, Caroline is in a chair, eating regular food, attending to her own personal needs, and planning to go home a mere four days after surgery.

The surgery and recovery are remarkable – and Caroline tells us she feels great (except for the “discomfort” from the incisions and the few remaining tubes). That’s wonderful news and demonstrates clearly how effective our health system is at solving real physical problems.

But, what about all those specialists who failed to detect a problem – even when their patient complained of shortness of breath, discomfort in her arm that radiated downward, and sore teeth?

Any one of those discomforts are clear symptoms of coronary disease. They should be taken seriously, but they weren’t. The good news is that one doctor finally thought enough to call in a heart specialist to at least rule out anything serious. The findings were serious. The patient needed immediate surgery. The outcome so far is good and so is the prognosis.

Is there anything that could have helped diagnose and handle Caroline’s problem before she was faced with a life-or-death decision about emergency surgery? Would the first doctor have done a better job if he had been paid less or worked more hours? Would the second doctor been more aware of a potential disaster if she had more education (she is already an “ologist”, a specialist with additional training)? How about the third doctor? Would he have been the one to step in to help if he had more testing equipment in his office? Together, would any of the first three done a better job if there was a single, national health system?

Of course, those are facetious comments. Basically, no system will ever insure that any one doctor – or any three in this case – will listen to their patient, do the right thing, and help maintain health. Instead, what we have is a compilation of laws and programs that complicate instead of improve our health.

From Caroline’s perspective, the first three doctors ought to be hauled before a professional review board, sanctioned, and probably have their licenses lifted. They all failed to do the right thing and Caroline could have died. In the end, however, hours of surgery, a gaggle of staff, and huge daily fees in a hospital resulted.

This is the mess we have now and I suspect it will get far worse – and I don’t expect we will ever see a shift towards better health, particularly from the systems, programs, drugs, and laws presently in charge.

That means each individual must stand up, understand their health, do their best to maintain it, and stop depending on anyone else to care enough to do anything for them.

Caroline’s tale proves this point. Three doctors, specialists, failed because they just didn’t care enough to listen and help.