Way back in April, when Prince was still alive – oh wow – Prince is dead. Remember when Prince’s plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois, and a male formerly-known-as-responsive was rushed to the hospital? The He subsequently-identified-as-Prince revived, declined admission, and flew home.
Ace, my charming husband,says, “It’s gotta be an opioid overdose.” End of story. I really want him to be wrong. “They give him Narcan, he snaps out of it, he doesn’t want to be admitted to some Podunk hospital, and leaves against medical advice.” Please be wrong.
Six days later, Prince dies. His family doctor mysteriously drops off the payroll at North Memorial. I’m giving the doc the benefit of the doubt. Of course he disappeared! Even if he did everything right, who wants to be know as the doctor Prince saw the day before he died? I cross my fingers that it’s pancreatic cancer, that Prince managed to preserve his confidentiality as he silently battled the deadly disease. Or what about an eating disorder? Anorexia carries a particularly high death rate. I grasp at straws, searching for any answer other than accidental opioid overdose.
Why? Would it be so much easier knowing that Prince’s body crumpled under the ravages of cancer? Maybe. If he had died of pancreatic cancer, I might not feel as wronged.
Prince’s death is personal for many of us, particularly Minnesotans. And therein lies the trouble. There’s virtually no way for a celebrity to receive adequate and appropriate medical care, particularly in the domains of chronic pain and substance use/tolerance/abuse. My incomplete definition of adequate and appropriate medical care includes:
1) Use of evidence-based medicine
2) Impartial/unbiased care providers
3) Protection of confidentiality
4) Standard-of-care treatment
5) Adequate access to ethical primary care and specialty providers
6) Universal health coverage
Celebrities basically aren’t allowed to have normal doctor-patient therapeutic relationships. Imagine Prince arriving at a clinic in Chanhassen for a routine physical. He couldn’t. He’d be mobbed by cellphones, and within moments, by the press.
I still talk about him as if he could arrive at a clinic.
Let’s say my bones and joints are shot from years of hard physical labor. I’m in pain. All the time. I go to my regular doctor and she figures out a treatment plan, maybe some anti-inflammatory meds, maybe an x-ray, probably some physical therapy. If we get past her prescribing comfort zone, she might send me to a pain specialist. Here’s where the system breaks down even for “normal” people like me. Demand for pain specialists far exceeds supply. We’re still trying to figure out which treatment models work for chronic pain. We have a long way to go.
An accidental opioid overdose seems like it should be preventable.
As our little acknowledgement of the June day upon which Prince entered the world, let’s fix the healthcare system.