VZP's plight affects hospital that saved my toes

Take a look at my feet and you'll find ten fairly normal-looking toes. Take a better, closer look and you'll discover that both big toes have been operated on. Thanks to my father - a tall and well built African - I have big feet and was plagued with ingrown toenails on both big toes for years; not because I was too lazy to get it taken care off but simply because I was unable to find a hospital with doctors able to win the battle with the nails once and for all.

I underwent several operations in New York and Prague but the stubborn old nails kept on growing back in all directions. It was then that my local doctor managed to convince me to try out a faculty hospital here in Prague. Guess what - problem solved!

I don't know whether it was normal hospital policy or the fact that it doesn't get that many specimens of big black feet to experiment on but I was on the operating table before I knew it. Two weeks went by and I was able to walk normally - the limp was gone and the pair of shoes two sizes bigger than usual was in the trash can.

It took me a while to get used to that special attention - a feeling that zoo animals must have - being stared at by groups of students who have gathered around to inspect an interesting health problem... but the faculty hospital brought my agony to an end, and since then, it has become my first choice. After all, this is where medical students learn how it's done best.

That's why I was disturbed when I heard that the country's thirteen faculty hospitals are facing tough times. In a desperate attempt to help the heavily indebted national health insurer, VZP, the health ministry has ordered faculty hospitals to slash expenses by 15 to 20 percent. The result: hospitals are prescribing less medicine, closing down departments, postponing operations, and sending doctors off on leave. Treatment with expensive medicine that doesn't save lives but prolongs them has been limited and in order to cut costs wherever possible some hospitals have even started using lower quality bandages.

The Czech Patients' Association has been outraged but both the health ministry and faculty hospitals have been trying to assure them that patients with serious health problems will not suffer. Strangely enough, since the plight of faculty hospitals has been in the news another of my toes has begun looking a little swollen - could another ingrown toenail problem be brewing? Just my luck!