The cost of buying more time

Posted on May 13th, 2008 by Cam.
Categories: Let's talk.

I am staggered and humbled by what resources go in to keeping a person alive in the western world. I have certainly used up an extensive share of time, money and resources in the global picture, let alone within my country.

Biological/Personal Cost.
In order for me to get through these last few weeks in hospital, I was given 4 bags of blood and 4 bags of platelets. I guess up to 8 people gave there time and blood products so that I could get back on my feet. Without these people generously giving their own blood products, I would certainly be dead. I felt even more grateful for the platelets as they told me just before they gave me the fourth bag that it took a while to get this one on the drip because there is a national shortage.

Resource Cost
I cannot remember all the machines I have been scanned by or hooked up to over the last year, but they all are important in treating or tracking this cancer. Without them, a lot of my diagnoses and monitoring would be near impossible. I can easily measure my scan films in kilograms now rather than sheets.

Professional Time
A lot of people have studied long and hard to be able to treat people like me. This blows me away. This was made especially apparent during this recent hospital stay as I had about six doctors working on getting me better. Of course I wasn’t their only patient, but they all had a good knowledge of where I was at and did everything they could to make sure I kept living. These folk, along with the nurses, are golden. The time that these people have spent studying is one thing, but then the ongoing toll it takes on their families for callouts, or working back late, or those consultative phone calls at 1am is another.

Financial Cost
In the last 4 weeks, the cost of my treatment has been astronomical. We conservatively estimate the high-dose and stem cell transplant procedure to cost around $150 000 (the allogeneic transplant from matched donor costs $250 000). There is a charge of roughly $500 per night for a bed in hospital, and I was there for the best part of two weeks. One course of drugs that I needed (the injections) cost $2400, and I have had some tablets that cost $30 each. I will be having a PET scan next week. This alone costs over $2000.

So basically, the money, time and resources that go into medically giving me as many years as possible, they are all just buying me more time. I have been thinking about this because it does a little to make me remember not to take it all for granted. Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to not pay any significant part of this due to the health care system in this country, but by not having to foot the bill, it becomes too easy to forget about what actually goes into extending a life in the western world. I have to say it makes me pretty uncomfortable also.

Sure I want to live as long as possible, but can you imagine how far this kind of money and these resources would go in a place like Burma, or Halls Creek, to extend and save lives? What criteria did I meet to inherit these lavish gifts that will essentially give me, statistically, another five years? I would suggest the significant criteria would include the freak chance of being born in a place that has the resources to treat someone in my situation. There are so many places I could have been born into where there is no option of receiving bloods, $2400 worth of injections, admission to an emergency department, $30 tablets – the list goes on.

I don’t know how much an extra year of life is worth for an Anglo Saxon educated professional with a mortgage and a goldfish. I know if it concerned my child or my wife, there would be no limit to what I would spend. But how can I justify the cost of extending my life when these kinds of resources could be keeping thousands more alive in countries less fortunate? It is the answer, or my lack of ability to articulate one, that makes me uncomfortable.


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