While reading this book I remembered that when I’m with American friends, the conversation almost always ends up turning around health insurance and this probably indicates that this is a constant concern for those living in the United States. Shriver could have been content to condemn the “health industry”, bad bosses and bad insurers but goes beyond and traces the origin of the system, which was born during World War Two. While workers were few and wages were regulated, employers who wanted to attract employees, offered health insurance as a bonus. At that time, it did not mean much: treatments were minimal and people died young. The reader is certainly tempted to accuse the wicked employer of all evils. Shriver prevents us to do this by serving us a small speech from Shepp’s employer (also not friendly), which shows us that we can not expect a small business to be able to support all medical expenses families of all employees through insurances, especially when some family members require special and expensive care: it can only lead to the company’s bankruptcy. The employer also attracts Shepp’s attention of the fact that his wife’s expensive treatments have raised the insurance cost to the point that the employer now employs only contract workers, in order to maintain his competitive edge (we feel like saying that this is not a good reason, but we ourselves have all been guilty of trying to find the best deal, and often because we do not have afford to pay top dollars). There are several levels of discussion, including a criticism of insurers themselves, says Shriver, who have employees whose role is to find ways to not pay for treatment, but also of medicine and doctors, who sometimes maintain the unrealistic expectations of desperate patients. Shriver also talks about money, which is refreshing, in a way, because we rarely talk aboutit in novels (each chapter starts with the amount of money Shepp has got in his saving account). Of course we know that money is not important, but only as far as one has enough of it. When in need, that’s another story. Towards the end of the book (do not read if you want to read the book), Shepp asks Glynis’ doctor, a year after having started the treatment that could save Glynis (which cost almost two millions dollars), how much time the doctor believes to have added to the life of his wife : three months, he replies laconically (hence the title).
After finishing the book, one feels grateful for living in a country where there is a health system run by the state, but relief does not last very long. I realised that if I had to make a long stay in the hospital, or if I had to undergo expensive surgery, I would be quickly ruined if I had to pay for it and it would probably the case of a large part of the population. It is ridiculous to believe that the state can afford treatments that individuals cannot pay for (since we are the ones who pay taxes) and we increasingly live longer and run the risk of needing expensive treatments sooner or later.
Shriver makes us aware that medicine today is a time bomb that is just waiting to explode. A very interesting book that really made me think. Shriver is often accused to expand on the results of her research in her books. For me it is not really the research as such that bothered me because it was used in a very efficient way (in fact, I often wondered, while reading the book, what was fiction and what was experienced and this is probably a good sign), but the repetitive side of certain passages. Shriver is philosophical in this regard and says that readers can skip the passages they do not like (that’s what I did). As for me, I wish the editor had intervened further to amputate the over five hundred pages book (which reads nonetheless easily) of about one hundred and fifty pages. Shriver is not a great stylist, but her dialogues are very skilled and reading is enjoyable. She likes to focus on subjects that cause controversy. Her most recent book is about debt (collective and individual) and inheritance, which I will certainly read. She has convincing male characters, except when they discuss the way women dress, which seemed to me to be feminine. I thought extraordinary that Glynis hardly mentions her two children and not very often in Shepp’s mind either. The end is a little too Hollywoodian for me, but I am not sure what would have been a good ending*.
And until we find a solution to the problem of modern medicine, I can only eat lots of vegetables and exercise daily, hoping that it will do.