Docs tell 83-year-old Swede she’s ‘too old’ for treatment

An 83-year-old woman from Östergötland in southern Sweden was forced to pay for back surgery out of her own pocket after doctors at her local public hospital told her she was too old for the treatment.

“Without the operation, I might have lived another five years in incredible pain. But what kind of life is that?” Marianne Skogh told the Östgöta Correspondenten newspaper.

Skogh has suffered from pain and numbness in her legs since 2004.

After waiting for more than a year to see a specialist in the public health system, Skogh was finally told that the pain was likely to do problems in her back.

Doctors told her she suffered from spinal stenosis, a disease that involves a narrowing of one or more areas in the back.

The narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord or on the nerves that branch out from the compressed areas, often causing cramping, pain or numbness.

But despite the lengthy wait for the diagnosis, Skogh was then told that, even though the ailment was treatable, she was too old for the surgery.

In addition to Skogh’s age, the fact that she had previously undergone heart surgery also made her ineligible for the operation, doctors explained.

In lieu of the surgery, Skogh was prescribed painkillers, which didn’t alleviate her symptoms.

Christer Andersson, head of medicine at Linköping University Hospital, denied that age was the deciding factor in the diagnosis.

He told the Östgöta Correspondenten that county health official don’t prioritize patients based on age, but that age can play a factor if it is deemed the patient is unable to handle a course of treatment.

With her condition failing to improve, however, Skogh eventually became worried about her ability to walk and finally decided to finance the operation herself by seeking treatment at Sophiahemmet, a private hospital in Stockholm.

“I would have been confined to a wheel chair if we hadn’t called a private hospital. I immediately got an appointment and the doctor didn’t say anything about me being too old,” Skogh told the Expressen newspaper.

Skogh ended up paying 130,000 kronor ($17,500) for the surgery needed to relieve the pain caused by the spinal stenosis.

Less than a month after the surgery, she is living pain-free and says the price she paid for private treatment was worth regaining her quality of life.

“There are thousands of people in my situation. With a meager pension, they don’t have the ability to do what I did. It’s important that they receive assistance in preserving their right to a dignified life,” she told Expressen.

Skogh is particular upset that county health officials didn’t inform her about options for seeking a second opinion or about options for private care in the area.

But Anders Olai, a spinal specialist at the department of orthopedics at Linköping University Hospital, said that it is not common practice to refer patients to other doctors.

“We have no policy of directing people to another doctor for a second opinion. If someone is dissatisfied with one doctor’s assessment, they can turn to the county in order to try and get another diagnosis,” he told Östgöta Correspondenten.

The who episode has left Skogh questioning the value she received from all the money she’s paid in taxes over the years.

“I can understand that the county feels it is expensive to ‘fix’ us elderly, there more and more of us, but in general, I am healthy,” she told Östgöta Correspondenten.

“We end up paying for healthcare for younger people, but we don’t get anything ourselves.”

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