Drugs or Surgery?

by Ed Sawicki - November 29, 2019

I've been experiencing kidney stones for years and have had five surgeries to remove them over the years. Now, they're coming on again. The recommendation from the specialists has been to drink plenty of water. This doesn't seem to have helped much. Now, thanks to my GP, it seems the solution is close at hand.

My GP and I talked about my chronic kidney stones during a recent "wellness visit" that my health insurance allowed. They're the common calcium oxalate stones. This morning, he told me that a blood test revealed that I had elevated levels of calcium and "intact PTH", which is caused by my parathyroid glands. I didn't know what parathyroid glands were until today. They regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the blood.

My doctor knows that I research everything, so he explained the basics, gave his recommendation, and told me to choose my treatment. He did promise that if I had the surgery, I'd likely never have kidney stones again. There are two treatments: drugs and surgery to remove them. I'm going to choose surgery for one important reason. I've met my deductible for the year, so the surgery is nearly free. However, the end of the year is close. I have to have the surgery in December.

If I wait until January, it'll cost me a few thousand dollars. With our existing health care system, the timing of our illnesses and treatments can be very important to us.

If we had a health care system that was not complex, expensive, and broken, I might try the drug treatment first and only choose surgery if the drug didn't work. That might save a lot of money that could be used caring for others. But that's not how it works.

Medicare For All is the solution.

P.S. If the specialists had known about my hyperparathyroidism when I had my first surgery for kidney stones, my health insurance company would have saved about $90,000 for the four additional surgeries. It took my British-trained GP to solve the problem.

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