If you’re a big fan of WFLD-TV News (Fox 32) in Chicago, you might have noticed that their ace investigative reporter Dane Placko hasn’t been on the air for about a month. Don’t worry. He isn’t the victim of budget cuts. He hasn’t been demoted. He didn’t get hired away by the networks. He just got stuck. In England.
It’s a rather strange story indeed. At the end of March, Placko took his two daughters (ages 13 and 11) on an adventure of a lifetime over spring break. They went to London to see the sights, and boy did they.
“We toured the movie studio where they shot all the Harry Potter movies,” he explained on Facebook. “We sat in on a Brexit debate in Parliament. We dodged raindrops for an afternoon at the London Zoo. And we enjoyed the cheesy/gory history tour at the London Dungeon. But during the Walking Tour for Muggles on Thursday, I noticed some blurriness at the bottom of the field of vision in my left eye. Friday it was slightly worse. And when I woke up Saturday I knew I was in trouble. A large shadowy disc had robbed me of most of the sight in the affected eye.”
Thus began the actual adventure, which included a trip they hadn’t planned: A trip through the National Health System in Britain. Dane had to have emergency eye surgery to repair a detached retina.
Experiencing the different health care system was something that Dane found quite interesting, despite the scary circumstances. His reporter’s mind took over, and he asked questions, observed his surroundings, and made mental notes. It sounded as if he was preparing a report for Fox 32 when I talked to him the day after the surgery.
“The waiting was pretty bad, as advertised” he admitted on the phone, “but the surgery was incredibly professional, and it cost a fraction of what it would have cost in America.”
Dane’s take on this subject was also of enormous interest in England. London’s independent newspaper, the Islington Tribune, asked Placko to compare the NHS to the type of care he might receive in the United States.
“I’ve been of the belief [the] healthcare system [in the US] is immeasurably screwed up,” he told reporter Emily Finch. “Drug costs are regularly too high, and treatment is too expensive. There are two classes of service people receive. What struck me about my time at Moorfields (a specialist NHS eye hospital in London) was that there was a very broad cross-section of society – people who didn’t have money and people who seemed to be prosperous individuals and of all ethnicities. It was more socially representative of the community.”
But Dane’s trip didn’t include just an unscheduled stop in the international spotlight. The diagnosis from the doctors delivered one other little tidbit of news.
“As part of the surgery, they replaced the vitreous liquid in the eye with a gas jelly that holds the retina in place. I was given a stern warning not to fly for at least four weeks. Otherwise, the gas would expand and make my eye [could] ‘splode.”
The potential of his eye exploding was enough to scare him straight. He knew he had no choice, so he started making calls back to the states. His bosses at Fox were very understanding of the situation. His friends promised to help him with the Cubs tickets he wouldn’t be able to use the first month of the season (Dane is a season-ticket holder). But Placko still had to figure out a way to get his daughters back home. That ended up taking nearly a week and costing him a pretty penny. The age of his youngest daughter (11) meant that she couldn’t travel back to the US as an unsupervised adult, so Dane had to pay for a “supervisor” (his daughter’s mom) to come and bring her home. Doing that at the last second is harder and more expensive than you might imagine.
And that was just the beginning of his extra expenses. Even though this hardship was brought on by a medical emergency, Dane’s insurance wouldn’t pick up the cost of the additional lodging and meals. Have you priced hotels in London lately? Have you stayed there for a month?
“The surgery might have been cheaper here,” he confided, “but trust me, I’m making that up with everything else I have to pay for here.”
When I called him in London, he was just getting ready to take a train to nearby York. “I’ve been there before,” he said. “It’s a great little town, and it’s a fraction of the cost of London.” The veteran reporter admitted that he hasn’t exactly received an outpouring of sympathy from his friends and colleagues back in Chicago. “Most everyone has said things like–you can still go to the pubs, right? There are worse places to be stranded.”
My query to him went a little something like this. “Let me get this straight, you have no choice–you HAVE TO stay on holiday for a month–something no one in America is ever allowed to do under any circumstances–and this has been cleared, nay MANDATED, by medical experts?”
“I know how it sounds,” he admitted with a chuckle, “but believe me, I’d much rather get this eye back to normal and get back to work.”
Hand on a bible, Fox 32 newsroom. That’s what he really said.
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