Socialized Healthcare in Sweden. A Story and Some Comparisons.

Chris Heuer from Hospital Bed and Morphine Hell

Chris Heuer from Hospital Bed and Morphine Hell

First, my apologies to everyone for not getting links in here. I wrote this all evening and just want to get it published. There are some people like Anders, Anders and Thomas who deserve more link love, but its late and I am as you may guess exhausted. This is in essence an unedited diary entry of my experiences of the last 36 hours here in Sweden, getting sick as a foreigner in a socialized health care system. The kind the folks who watch Fox news have been warning you about.

As the last few days have proven to me on a personal level, social media can certainly save your life and make you feel better mentally, so I think it can make you healthier. Though in some cases, as in mine, when someone really doesn’t take a compliment well due to self-esteem and other issues, it can also make one feel quite unsettled. But the outpouring of friendship, support and love over the past two days has been quite touching and has certainly improved my health and my spirit. And for this and so much more, I am deeply grateful to have my friends and #thefamily for support.

I wont go in the long narrative here, you can read that down towards the bottom of this post if you like. The short story is that yesterday I set out from Stockholm early to head to Norrkoping for a daylong brainjam with the @SMCSWE team and friends from Lasso Networks. Anders Abrahamsson arranged for a nice lunch and a little open space that I barely got to experience. Half way through lunch, the chest pain I had been ignoring for over an hour became too much and I asked to be taken to the hospital (called Vrinnevisjukhuset by the way, which has an incredible staff and great Doctors).

With all the talk of the terrible health care provided in socialist medical systems by the conservatives in the U.S., it’s a miracle I am still alive. Funny thing though, not once, did I see a bureaucrat. In fact, when given permission to be discharged, my Dr. had no idea of how much money it might still cost me above the 2,000KR I paid during admission, or what the price of any procedure was. Instead, she was focused on collaborating with her colleagues who treated me previously and coordinating the task at hand with the nurses.

What a novel idea. Dr’s who aren’t concerned with money or insurance or litigation, but rather focused on helping patients get healthy. If this is socialized medicine, I am all for it. First and foremost, it was focused on one thing and one thing only, me as the patient. There goal was getting the patient rested, diagnosed properly and on the road to recovery. There was no one calling a bureaucrat to get approval to have me treated, there was no one checking to see if the procedures were profitable and there was no one there who cared about anything but me.

What did Social Media Have to Do With It?

Besides the fact that this happened during a local Social Media Club event, there was a huge social media component to this major wake up call in my life. Most notably, as Anders Sporring has told me, while the conversation we were supposed to have together didn’t happen, another conversation happened. In the flow. Thomas Selig, who I had never met before not only came to spend time with me, Anders and Anders, but he came back earlier this morning to sit with me as we waited for final results before heading to the train together. In short, though I was thousands of miles from home, I felt like I was home, with my brothers by my side.

And then there were all the twitter brothers and sisters who poured out their support, offering to fly Kristie to Sweden, to house me if I was unable to fly, to fly to get to me and just generally to tell me I was loved and they cared. My eyes swell with tears even now as I write this. The connections we create over these interwebs, when manifested in the real world, or through a simple message across the wire, are real enough to heal and to support. Most of all, its there to drive out the loneliness and the fear of being alone.

Supposedly there is a study going on right now about how social media makes those who connect through it more healthy overall, but I have not been able to find it. The general premise is that 1, social media participants are generally happier which contributes to health in many ways and 2, they have access to more health information by others who openly share their experiences.

Some Comparisons Between Swedish Healthcare Experience and USA

Thankfully, I didn’t have to have an operation, so perhaps I cannot provide a true representation, but I can share what I experienced in checking in, getting diagnosed, getting treated and getting released. Despite my support of healthcare reform in the US, you can count on the following to be only biased against the shoddy care I have received from Kaiser Permanente in the past several years and not by any other political leanings.

In an odd twist of fate, while sitting at The Story Hotel bar the other night, I happened to watch a US energy executive hitting on a lovely business woman (who for some reason didn’t notice his wedding band tan). What he said made me at once want to hit him, and also laugh at how stupid some people are. He actually used as one of his pick up lines “well I better eat my vegetables now, because if I get sick in Obama’s healthcare system I am gonna be in real trouble”. Seriously. He actually believes everything that Fox news has had to say on the healthcare debate. Probably never even changed the channel. OK, so that was a little political, but lets get to the reality of my experience.

What was the same? Well, it was, as Mike McGrath said, still a hospital. Doctors and nurses and all that stuff. It was warmer somehow, despite being sterile and looking like a hospital. It was on a lake and I had a beautiful window overlooking that lake. The intake process was slow, just as it is at home, but this time, I could see her concern to get the other nurses moving to take me in as soon as possible into a treatment room, which is different then at home. She actually suggested that Anders girlfriend Karin finish the paperwork so they could get me in there quicker. Also the same, once I got into the cardiac care unit, I was in a room with multiple beds. When it was time to get an x-ray, I had to wait a little while to be taken for it and I had to wait a little while longer then I had hoped to get the results read by the doctor.

What was different, everything else, most notably the attitudes and the level of care they provided. It felt like they cared, and the nurses (especially Maria) did care more then I have ever felt cared for by KP. It felt like a human system, not a machine. When I gave the nurses back-story on prior issues and conditions, they listened. They really listened, and they noted it in the charts (as I noted when others came in on shift changes, because they didn’t start all over form scratch each time). When I told the admitting nurse in ER I didn’t want to take the morphine the Dr. prescribed, she listened, starting with only 2mg instead of the full 5mg the Dr suggested. Once that was in and no reaction happened, then and only then did she increase the dose until the point I was comfortable, but no further. When I needed to get detached from the EKG machine so I could go to the bathroom, she helped me do it. In the US, they would never have let me do that; they would have made me use a bedpan in front of everyone else. They also never would have let me keep my shoes and pants on, no matter how cold the room was and how little they really needed them off in the first place to deal with my chest. The people I shared my room with were so extremely nice. They cared about me and I about them in a way I would never expect in a US hospital. That is of course just something about the people, but its important and it is what my experience about the Swedish people on the whole has been. I love the Swedish people, and now I know why with 100% certainty.

Payment. While I am not sure about my final bill, if there even is going to be one, I paid 2,000KR at check in (about $280). Most importantly, when I asked the Dr. how much it would be or how it worked, she didn’t know. She didn’t care. She is separated from it. Had she been concerned with it as US doctors, I am sure they would have done another few procedures. In fact, they were more concerned with the allergic reaction I had previously experienced with the iodine during a CT scan in the weeks that followed my stomach examinations when weighing whether or not to do a contrast study on my heart. A reaction that my KP doctors didn’t even believe was real (though one nurse later told me over the phone that it happened in less then 0.5% of people). Finally, to top it all off, thank god I was in Sweden where the education system helps citizens learn multiple languages. While there were a few moments of slowed translation thoughts, nearly everyone who cared for me spoke nearly flawless English. Had I been a foreigner in a US hospital, I would have been screwed unless I spoke the local language. I know this cant be used in a fair compare and contrast post, but wow. What a relief, and it helped me recover faster.

What Happened, Heading to Hospital

Shortly after sitting in circle together and having some coffee, I started having chest pains and noticed some pains in my right arm/wrist area. I started some basic breathing exercises and dashed off a DM to my wife Kristie to set up a DR appt for when I got home. Unfortunately, I have had this similar experience 2-3 times in the last 2 months, once requiring us to call the ambulance and 1x during SxSW shortly after having to leave Amanda Coolong to run the daily recap show herself. This time though, it felt different and despite my slow breathing and focus, it wouldn’t go away and seemed to get worse as a splitting headache started while we walked to lunch.

After sitting for lunch a few minutes, it got worse not better and Thomas Selig suggested we take a walk. Which I did reluctantly since I was unable to eat, but also felt terrible for not being able to be present for my friends with whom I came to collaborate on a plan for Social Media Club Sweden and to contribute in anyway I could to their other projects. Long story short, after the walk I felt better but worse and thought it best to go find a doctor. Being so far away from home, I was concerned about this plan of action, but really had no other recourse knowing that 1) I have been on the road for 3 weeks 2) under extreme stress, financial, emotional, professional and otherwise 3) caught a bit of the SXSARS deep in my chest 4) had these prior experiences with chest pain and high blood pressure and 5) was beginning to see things/hallucinate and that scared the bejezzus out of me.

Anders girlfriend Karin took me to the hospital about 10 minutes away, which looked like any hospital you would find in the states. If I had been listening to Fox News and the Republicans the last few months, I would have probably died of fright at the site of it! Thankfully, I don’t believe everything I hear and was happy to be there because the pain had been getting worse and I had been getting more light headed. While you can read the comparisons of the two systems above, what is important here is that I made it to check-in, paid my 2,000 KR (about $280usd) and was brought into the ER to have an EKG hooked up and get some oxygen and determine what the hell was happening.

Everyone except one nurse spoke incredible English, and even she understood well and spoke passably all things considered. In the ER I was scared. I thought I was going to die. My heart was racing, the chest pain was getting worse and the pain in my right arm was also now in my right leg. My headaches was coming and going in waves. Oddly enough (or good for me) my EKG was normal, the same thing I experienced when we called the ambulance for me a few weeks back and chalked it up to a panic attach (which I had several years ago and went to the ER for). But my blood pressure was 190/135 and despite being able to slow my pulse at will through breath control (a game I practiced when laying in the hospital bed last night) I could do nothing to calm my body down. I tried some self administered Reiki but couldn’t focus long enough before I was flooded with worry and fear. Which as I passed through the first few hours were perhaps my 2 biggest enemies.

I can’t believe that I am only at the 30-minute mark of the hospital experience. If you are still reading this, I am sorry for the verbosity but also happy that you care/have an interest.

Ultimately I called Kristie from the ER. I had been crying a lot in there. Not only was I afraid, I was sad and mad at myself. I know better then to party like I was doing and eating as I had been eating and staying up all night. But this is what I thought I had to do. What I must do. So I did it, consequences be damned. Perhaps, if I had gone home after SxSW instead of heading to Europe, things would have been a little different, but I think it would have only postponed the inevitable, so all in all, I am glad it happened here with the friends I have in Sweden.

I cried a lot. My soul hurt as much as my body.

In the ER I was prescribed Morphine, which I didn’t want to take, but the nurse explained (as I know) that my body needed to relax and this would be the best way. She started out with just 2mg, then up to 7, then eventually 10 and finally by the end of the afternoon I had been given 15mg and it only felt like a light buzz, though my thoughts were dopey and slow. Eventually with the EKG normal, and my blood pressure down to 160/110 I was moved to the cardiac care unit and placed in a room with 2 other men.

Still going through diagnosis, most of the rest of the afternoon was spent just laying there, slowly talking to the Doctors and Nurses about my prior history, about what happened and about how I felt. Then Anders A, Anders Sporring and Thomas Selig showed up to check in on me. Despite barely knowing me at all, they stayed at the hospital into the evening as the nurses took blood, as the morphine induced haze wore on and as my panic subsided into being overly worried about how stupid I am for not taking care of my health properly yet after all the close encounters and scares of the past few years.

Having friends around, I decided to reach out to Twitter in the late afternoon to share my story and connect with loved ones. What happened next and is still happening now as others hear about what happened through their tweetstream is nothing short of miraculous. While I have seen such support previously with my mystery stomach problems, the amplification of love I felt and concern sent my way was almost too much to bear. But knowing that you are loved and hoping you are thought of are two different things. The certainty of being connected and being more important then just a simple soul in a hospital bed with no one around was and is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Even the people who wrote nasty notes to me about getting the fuck off of twitter and relaxing were wonderful to read.

When the day doctor went home, and the SMC Sweden crew finally shoved off for the dinner I was supposed to join, the night doctor came on and did a thorough review of my case and an interview with me to determine for himself what may have happened and what might be done. The day doctor had wanted to do a contrast study of my heart using a CT scan, but because of the experience I had last time in a CT scan, with some sort of ‘burning blood’ sensation I had afterwards which is a reaction that occurs in a small number of cases, all doctors ultimately agreed it would be best to not do it and did not see the need given how my condition was appearing.

The nurse, after taking one more blood sample to check and see if I had a cardiac infarction (which I didn’t thank god) dropped off a sleeping pill and I slowly drifted to sleep. I still woke up in the middle of the night around 3 or 330 for some reason despite taking the sleeping pill and I still woke around 430 when someone got put in the 4th bed. But then I finally woke up around 830 for breakfast and another exam by the next shift doctor and the nurse did a finger prick test with my blood sugar reading 6.6, which was good. It was decided I would get a chest x-ray to look at my lungs and then if that was ok I would get released.

For breakfast they put applesauce on my dry cereal and gave me milk and an orange with it. (they say not to eat bananas here that they aren’t good for you). A short while after breakfast I went back to sleep to awake to Thomas Selig who had come all the way back down from his place outside the city to stay with me for a while. We had an incredible conversation all day, just sitting and talking. One of the most surprising and rewarding parts of my trip so far. What an incredible man he is. You are lucky if you get to work with him.

When the nurse came back in the late morning, she did another finger prick test and my blood sugar was high, no good she said. Borderline diabetes, which I have known for some time and honestly just tried to ignore, but I cant anymore. This is perhaps my last ‘warning’ to get this straight and follow a strict diet, which has no room for alcohol, bread and sugar.

The rest of the morning blurred together as they finally took off the EKG monitors, I was able to get up and walk around a little and started feeling a bit, well, a bit more normal I suppose. I was taken for my x-ray and when I came back I ate lunch in the common area. Then Thomas and I chatted as we waited for the news from my x-ray. Being as worried as I am that something major was wrong with me, I wont even begin to tell you what I thought they would find on the x-ray, but it came back negative.

With that news I was told I could just leave. So we gathered my things, grabbed my suitcase and camera they had locked away in an unused office (so used to being in a KP facility where someone might steal it I had asked them to lock up my Canon and my luggage for safety though I need not have been concerned there).

Thomas then drove me to the train station to connect with Anders Sporring for the 1424 train to his town of Marsta, which is where I now sit writing this, feeling 100% better, but also knowing how precious my life is once again and how important it is that I take care of this body. Which means dealing with the depression, the ADD and the feelings of low self esteem that drive me to drink and eat too much. It means dealing with the financial reality that I now face in not generating enough income for the lifestyle I lead and the debts that I carry. Almost everything has to change. I don’t know if I am strong enough to do it. Thankfully I know Kristie is and that together we will make it through this and so much more.

I am so blessed to be a part of #thefamily we have around the world, and especially blessed to have the family Kristie and I make together. Don’t ever take this life for granted. Despite not seeing it every day, in every way you would like to see it, know that you too are loved. You are special. We are all special. Whatever you need will appear and be there to support you, if you just let it into your heart and breathe…

—conclusion — so you can rip me apart for any or all of this, I dont care. I wrote this for me more then for anyone else. I share it so that perhaps it can move someone and help them to see things differently.

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  1. #1 by Claire Celsi - March 28th, 2010 at 10:50

    Chris: Thank you for sharing your story, especially the personal conclusions you reached regarding the healthcare system. If you visit my blog, you’ll see that I just wrote about being in social media and pr and still expressing my opinion.

    I hope you follow through with your goals to reform your self-care routines. I’d like to have you around for many more years.

  2. #2 by Thomas Selig - March 28th, 2010 at 11:59

    Thank you for all your kind words.
    And I certainly hope things will continue to get better. Such a great experience having been able to get to know you.

  3. #3 by Rachel Clarke - March 28th, 2010 at 12:07

    Here’s the line that jumped out for me “there was no one checking to see if the procedures were profitable”.

    Coming from the UK, that statement gives me a great insight into the problems with the US system. Healthcare, in itself, is not supposed to be profitable. It’s supposed to help people. it’s supposed to get the community and nation in profit by keeping the people healthy. The concept of keeping someone alive, fixing them up and making them well as a profit-driving industry is obscene. Although I acknowledge elective healthcare/surgery can be profitable and also the provision of extra-services, but the basic stuff, no.

  4. #4 by Kristie Wells - March 28th, 2010 at 13:47

    We have been talking about ‘getting healthy’ for the last couple of years. Always get a good start on it, then ‘life happens’. Well, to ensure life continues to happen, we cannot keep pushing this off. I am committed to getting healthy with you baby as I expect 50 good years of living and loving with you and lifestyle changes must take place to ensure that happens.

    This is also lighting the fire under me to find a new health insurance carrier as it has become clear that Kaiser does not provide the level of care or attention that we should receive (especially paying $1k/month for just the two of us).

    I love you baby, get home safe and do what you can to minimize the stress. Meditate. Drinks lots of water. Sleep. Relax. No running a mile a minute any more.

  5. #5 by James Zinkand - March 28th, 2010 at 14:29

    Chris: I read this and completely miss you brother. Your incredible and sometimes life which we both know can be fast. I am glad your better, amazed for one you did Austin and the dumbfounded you made it to Sweden. SF has warm arms for you man and I miss talking to you.

    Take care of that vessel of yours, you still have tons to offer.

    I love you man,


  6. #6 by Tom Foremski - March 28th, 2010 at 14:47

    Chris, I’m glad things worked out. And yes, you should slow down a bit, you are constantly traveling and doing all sorts of projects, I’ve always wondered how you do it all…

  7. #7 by Stephanie Booth - March 28th, 2010 at 15:01

    Good luck with the changes, Chris. It’s probably not an easy path, but it’s worth it.

  8. #8 by Jen Huge - March 28th, 2010 at 15:15

    Wow Chris – what a story. I’m so glad that you are finally listening to your body – it clearly has been trying to get your attention! And I’m also glad to hear that you are OK and will be home soon. It’s funny – I’ve heard other folks share their negative experiences with KP – I’ve been with them for about 8 years – the amount of years I’ve been working with the YMCA and have had nothing but great experiences. I must have gotten lucky in the beginning when selecting my 2 care providers. In fact – I just had surgery last week – broke my collar bone skiing at Northstar (bummer) and had to have it put back together. Had an amazing sports orthopedic surgeon assigned to my case and received great care.

    Either way – the important thing is that you are on the mend and I wish the best for your health and wellness goals. I’ve got some amazing weight watcher recipes I’m happy to share and am extending an invitation for you and Kristie to come to dinner when you are up for it!

    Hugs and well wishes –

  9. #9 by Rachel M. Murray - March 28th, 2010 at 17:48

    Hey Chris,

    Wow, what a story – quite a lot to digest. Not much to say other than hugs to you and Kristie. Making personal changes are incredibly hard, but you *are* a strong gent, and those changes will happen. And reading about the power of social media is always welcomed – anything that reminds us in our darkest hours that we are not alone. Please remember that 🙂



  10. #10 by Irene Koehler - March 28th, 2010 at 21:12


    The work you and Kristie have done has touched and inspired so many people. With such success, it is easy to see how the momentum can easily become a mixed blessing. I join all your friends in sending warmth and hugs your way as you listen to your body telling you it is time to apply the brakes (probably the emergency brake!).

    This very intimate post is striking in that it shows your intellect, compassion, honesty and appreciation for others. I completely get it when you say that you wrote this more for yourself than others. That said, I’m with everyone else nudging you to step away and slow down.

    Warm wishes to you and Kristie,


  11. #11 by S R Larson - March 29th, 2010 at 02:56

    You are right – the physicians in Sweden are not preoccupied with the cost of health care. Politicians take care of that and slash away 2-3 percent of the health care budget every year. They close ERs, make lists of conditions not to be treated, etc. In the county of Skane, with over 1 million residents, there are only four ERs left. And two may close a year from now. More than 3000 people die every year from denials of care in Sweden – that would be 100,000 deaths per year in the US. Check out my blog for the rest of the story.

    Foreigners got good health care in the Soviet Union, too.

  12. #12 by Anders Sporring - March 29th, 2010 at 08:22

    Chris! Thanks for your kind words, and reading them now again makes it all clearer to me. Working myself on a post about health. I hope you get some well-deserved rest when you get back to the USA and finding a way to balance your career, life with Kristie and yourself. Not easy but I promise you it can be done.
    All love Chris!

  13. #13 by Anders Abrahamsson - March 29th, 2010 at 09:19

    Dear Chris,

    A late check in after the stormy days just passed, due to being with my daughter Sat and Sun.

    I don’t know where to take this comment. For the moment, I will just echo my tweet from the midst of the course of events the past weekend –

    “Re:love the world. They’re not just words for me. I walk the talk. Love and Respect. All will be fine! Be strong!”

    I will return with a full (health-confessional) blog post myself, and take it to some further implications and lessons learnt. And a “what’s next” suggestion to get it straight. Then I ping it back to this posting when ready.

    Many hugs, and hope you now can rest beyond delivery in Copenhagen.

    Take care! PROFOUNDLY!

    With full and unconditional Love and Respect, your Swedish ‘bro.

    /a part of #thefamily/

    PS. Good thing you got this blog post out, then you tie yourself to make something deeply about your lifestyle. Take advantage of this turning point. And keep it up! We are here to help in and beyond your “mid-course correction”. You know it. DS.

  14. #14 by Claire Chang - March 29th, 2010 at 14:46

    Dear Chris,
    Thanks for sharing this story. Too often we neglect to listen to our body and continue on as we are made of iron… Very relieved to hear that you are okay and hope by now you are safely back home. Kristie must have been worried to sick! I think this was a wake up call for you to now really take care of yourself! Your story has definitely reminded me that I need to do the same and I am sure many others feel the same way. Thank you again for sharing and take good care and look forward to seeing you both soon!

  15. #15 by Chris Heuer - March 29th, 2010 at 15:44

    thank you all. more to write in a few days after I get home…

  16. #16 by oliver marks - March 29th, 2010 at 19:37


    Best wishes and hoping the medical folks find out what ails you. Looking after you and yours is more important than evangelizing a transient social phenomenon…thinking of you and Kristie….

  17. #17 by Meryl Steinberg (@meryl333 Twitter) - March 30th, 2010 at 13:35

    March last year I had chest pains, headache… all the symptoms and ended up at Kaiser. A terrifying experience. After relenting to an angiogram, they discovered a 70% closure and put in 5 stents. After the surgery THE SYMPTOMS PERSISTED. Long story short. It wasn’t the closure that was causing the problem. It was long term, severe exhaustion that has been developing for many years. ( paradoxically manifested as hyperactivity, speech etc). I am being treated by Brian LaForgia L.Ac. and Jasmine Oberste L.Ac. Brian is known internationally for his expertise in Pulse Diagnostics. Jasmine is an associate & does sliding scale. If you want to gently heal the underlying problem w/o having statins, beta blockers & surgery thrown at you for a cure for the symptoms… I can’t recommend them enough. Worth the trip to SF. Drop me a not if you want more info.

  18. #18 by Meryl Steinberg (@meryl333 Twitter) - March 30th, 2010 at 13:47

    POSTSCRIPT: I deeply touched that you shared all this. I didn’t have the strength … or the guts to detail the experience at the time and now I don’t relish going over it. Most upsetting that they wouldn’t pay attention to the fact that I hadn’t been cured by their efforts and made it seem like something was wrong with ME. My most sincere good wishes for your journey. For someone like you, the blessings that come with such experiences will continue to outweigh the problems. That is my prayer.

  19. #19 by Andy Lindsay - March 31st, 2010 at 06:54

    Exactly in the same boat mate. Get well soon…:-)

  20. #20 by Vanessa - April 7th, 2010 at 11:56

    Hi Chris, just read this, and truly appreciate your sincerity. You mean so much to so many people.

  21. #21 by Anita Kearney - November 16th, 2010 at 21:21

    I am a freelance writer who was given an assignment to do scathing but funny piece on the horrors of socialized health care. while Googled the words funny and socialized health care I came across this piece. I devoured it, line by line and I have to say thank you for showing me the path. I will write this piece but I will not poke fun at something that could possibly be good for America. I will list the pros and cons and leave it at that and if you do not mind I would like to reference this article. I think it would do a lot of people good to hear of your experience in a health care system that has them frightened to their toes. I would like your permission please

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