While in Zermatt, Switzerland recently, I took the opportunity to undergo my annual physical. Over the years, I have discovered that American doctors are so paranoid about getting sued that I can never get a straight answer about anything, so I do all of my physicals abroad.
I like visiting Dr. Christian because he is cut from the same cloth as I. He is a small wiry guy without an ounce of fat, and keeps his hair tied behind in a ponytail. Nothing like treating your patients through example. He has served as the team doctor on several Himalayan expeditions, reaching the incredible altitude of 25,000 feet without oxygen. He includes Mount McKinley and Aconcagua on his resume.
He gave me the good news: I had blood pressure of 110/70 and a resting pulse rate of 50. This was at an altitude of 5,500 feet, which always elevates one's blood pressure. The bottom line was that I had the heart of a teenaged Olympic athlete. He told me that whatever I was doing, to keep on doing it. I said that would be strapping on a 60 pound backpack and climbing the 1,500 foot mountain in my backyard every night after work. He answered that would explain everything.
Dr. Christian usually allocates extra time for patients my age to deliver them bad news. That was unnecessary in my case. So we killed time trading notes on our favorite climbs.
I also grilled him on the state of the Swiss medical system. He complained that it was going downhill, but was nowhere near as bad as in the US, where his brother practices medicine. Everyone here gets medical care after paying a small premium. His liability insurance was only $3,000 a year, compared to $100,000 in the US. The only malpractice suits in Switzerland are brought by Americans, and they always lose.
The main reason medical costs were so low is that the people of Switzerland were so much healthier. Walking around the streets here, most people look like they are triathletes. And they do this despite smoking like chimneys. Maybe they are related?
Life expectancy in Switzerland is 82.2 compared to only 78.2 in the US. And the quality of life at old age is much better. Obesity is rampant at home, but rare in the Alps. Diabetes is unusual in Switzerland, but epidemic in the US. Over 400,000 Americans undergo kidney dialysis in the US, while the treatment is almost unheard of in Europe. This is why the US is spending 12% of GDP on health care, on its way to 17%, while Switzerland is flat lining at 8%, with an older population.
I thanked Dr. Christian for his advice. The total bill? $200. I headed to the local pharmacy to get a one year supply of my anti-cholesterol drug, which I can buy 90% cheaper than at home. That allows me to keep my total health care costs under $500 a year.
I then celebrated my good fortune by stepping across the street for a bratwurst and a beer, which my American doctor once banned me from. There, I planned my coming assault on the Matterhorn.