Land of the Free and home of health insurance

Last year, on holiday in the US, my daughter fainted. We were in a diner at the time; I knew it was nothing more than a simple faint, and she revived within a few seconds.

We were just about to leave when an ambulance screeched up and two paramedics jumped out and ran over.

'I believe you have a sick child, sir,' said one, in a clipped, military tone.

'I'm sorry you've been called out, it's a false alarm, she's fine,' I said, in what I retrospectively admit was rather non-clinical language, and with a total misjudgment of their motivation.

'Possible case of juvenile dehydration,' said the other, speaking into one of those space-age face-mikes. 'She may need emergency fluids, we'll attempt to stabilise on site, also need to out-rule head injury, please alert neurosurgical team and ready CT scanner.'

The obligatory small crowd had gathered by now. 'Oooh', they murmured, bewitched by the jargon. 'It's just like ER,' I heard someone say, the atmosphere becoming almost festive.

'I'd like to examine the child, sir,' said the first paramedic, 'I need to make a proper assessment.'

'Look buddy,' I said, 'She's fine.'

'Sir,' he said firmly (did I mention he was wearing shades?), 'I need to see the child.'

'Leave the kid alone,' I said. The crowd hissed at this departure from the script.

'Please step away from the child, sir,' he said, flexing; he was obviously used to dealing with uncooperative parents.

Things were getting confrontational and slightly threatening. The second paramedic reappeared with an impressive array of splints and tubes (I noticed a mandatory defibrillator; is it too late to buy shares in those things?), and the crowd was agog with excitement; my daughter shrank back further into my arms.

I considered my options. I could reveal myself as a doctor and hope the authority of our ancient profession would cow these upstarts or I could make a Thelma and Louise dash for freedom. But then I remembered: this is America, the Land of the Free, where everything has a price.

'We don't have health insurance,' I said.

'I'm sure the little gal will be fine, sir,' they said reassuringly, as they disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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