Posts Tagged 'Health Care'

Let’s delay Obamacare

Pretty amazing stuff.

Health care insurance exchanges open on Tuesday and millions of U.S. citizens without coverage will have the opportunity to participate in them.  After decades of attempting to join the rest of the modern world that considers health care a right, we are taking a significant step towards that noble objective.

A law has been passed in accordance with the procedures contained in our Constitution, its appropriateness validated by re-election of the man who fought for it, and its lawfulness adjudicated by the highest court in the land.

But apparently this is not good enough.  We must, as though there were another secret step in the Constitutional process, re-adjudicate the law before it is implemented.  Dissatisfied with the law, the House of Representatives has voted more than forty times to repeal it.  It’s as though their supporters need to be repetitively reminded of their distaste for this enabling legislation.  And, in reaction to their whistling in the wind, the Senate and the President of the United States have consistently said “No deal. It’s the law of the land.”

Is the law perfect?  Of course not.  Can it be improved?  Certainly.  Will boatloads of people suffer from its implementation?  Some.  Will the overwhelming majority of the millions of have-nots benefit greatly from its implementation? Undoubtedly.

But in the hope that serious men of goodwill can prevail, and since there is some doubt about the law’s absolute perfection, why not take a deep breath and, as the House now demands, delay the law for a year and…do what?  Well, we can convene a bipartisan commission, review the law’s imperfections and develop a list of changes that Congress can, to the everlasting benefit of those who they represent, correct the law’s current deficiencies and produce a product that is even better than the current one.  Just like we almost did with tax reform, immigration, the farm bill, food stamps, and the hands-thrown-in-the air simple-minded budget fix called Sequestration .

After all, what’s wrong with a one year delay to this law when we’ve been grappling with access to health care for at least fifty years.  Surely reasonable minds can get together, ignore the fact that there’s another election in one year, pay little attention to the rants of the extreme voices in the electorate, deal effectively with the millions of dollars that will be devoted to the production of falsehoods that will float through our TV sets, set aside the manic differences that separate Democrats and Republicans, think of what’s best for millions of have-nots instead of the consuming need to stay in office, and present a revised Affordable Care Act that will be passed by both houses of Congress without filibuster and obfuscation.

What’s wrong with that?  And if we can’t manage to do all that, we can delay it for another year or, in the alternative, shut down the government and refuse to raise the federal debt limit.  The millions of have-nots with pre-existing conditions, zero access to preventive care and financial ruin caused by serious illness will surely understand that further delay is in their best interests.  What’s wrong with that?  Huh.

delay obamacare

Adventures in Health Care-Part 3

The door opened and a young man in a white smock entered the room.  He had a folder of papers in his right hand.  Papers that contained the results of Steven’s biopsies.

We started this odyssey in September when son Steven went for a general physical from his newly assigned primary care doc.  “I’ve got this thing on my back.  It gets irritated by my guitar strap.  And sometimes it bleeds.”  Off to the dermatologist.  “Hmmm, we should remove that mole and have it biopsied.”  It came back “melanoma.”  An advanced one, stage 4.  The internet screamed the dire possibilities.

Steven gets his health care through the Healthy San Francisco  program.  A program for the uninsured.  Only for those who live in San Francisco.  All services to be provided in San Francisco through an array of clinics.  Get sick in Oakland and you’re out of  luck. The bulk of hospital services are provided by San Francisco General Hospital, a county facility.  Visions of Martin Luther King Hospital flashed through my head.  An ER without compassion.  Patients left for dead.  Or worse.

Sweetie and I accompanied Steven to the hospital in mid-October to meet the surgeon who would, we hoped, remove all trace of the invader melanoma.  We found the last space at the top of a six-story parking structure, stowed the car and crossed 23rd street to the main hospital building.  Maybe forty people in line at the first floor pharmacy window.  Waiting for their free meds.  Not a good sign.  We wandered about the third floor searching for the registration desk.  Found it and took our seats in the waiting room.  The walls were lined with notices in multiple languages.  The only one I could read offered the services of a wide array of interpreters.  A good sign.

“Steven Rothenberg” the voice shouted from somewhere down the hall.  Afraid of immediate loss of our appointment if we didn’t respond instantly, we all leaped to our feet and were greeted by a small, friendly faced female.  “Come with me.”  We obeyed.  And we waited in one of those small, windowless examining rooms that after ten minutes makes you believe that you have been forgotten…forever.  But we weren’t.

Dr. Horn became our new, best friend.  A surgeon with a terrific bedside manner.  An oxymoron, but true.  He patiently explained what needed to be done.  Not displaying the pressure of a large patient load, he slowly answered my questions about his background and experience.  A salaried physician on the teaching staff at UCSF.  “I seem to get all the melanoma patients.”  A very good sign.  “You’re lucky”, a nurse told us after Dr. Horn left the room.  “He’s a wonderful surgeon.”  A very good sign.

The surgery wouldn’t be performed for several weeks.  Discomforting because of the popular understanding of the rapid spreading nature of the evil melanoma.  Discomforting because of the time we would have to wait, the uncertainty and the fears.

We returned in early November for the surgery.  Arrived at SF General at 7am.  No parking problems.  Steven checked in and had his body autographed with Sharpie pens delineating the surgery sites.  More suspicious moles were to be removed in addition to the original offender.  Then off on the shuttle bus to UCSF hospital for a nuclear tracer that would identify the lymph nodes that were also to be removed and inspected.  We caught the shuttle back to SF General.  Steven was ushered into the ambulatory surgery suite at noon for the procedures, including general anesthesia, that were scheduled for 1:30.

Five hours had passed since our early morning arrival.  We took our seats in the windowless waiting area.  A TV set hoisted out of reach of adjustment played an array of stuff that I would normally have not watched other than under the threat of bodily harm.  By 4pm I had read all of the magazines we had shlepped with us and half of a 400 page, small print book.  A friendly nurse appeared.  “Would you like to come into the ambulatory suite to see your son?”  Well can you beat that, I thought.  Not bad.  Only 4pm and they’re done.

Only one person at a time is allowed in the surgery suite.  I elected myself as the first visitor while Sweetie waited her turn.  As we walked to the door I asked “How is he doing?”  Nurse Ratched responded oddly.  “He’s not a happy man.”  I entered and found Steven, blue hair bonnet in place, lying on a gurney in the hallway.  “Well you look pretty good after a bout of general anesthesia and multiple stab wounds.”  He was, indeed, not happy.  “I’ve been laying on this gurney for four hours.  I haven’t seen a knife yet.”   I left and relinquished the pole position to his mother.

Five hours later he was recovering from the stab wounds inflicted by Dr. Horn and the twenty-four metal staples that now held his wounds in place.  The good doctor had removed a large chunk of flesh surrounding the melanoma, an assortment of lymph nodes and two more suspicious moles.  Fresh as a daisy at 9pm, Dr. Horn displayed a positive attitude and announced that things had gone well.  “We should get the biopsy results in about five days.”  Following an hour in recovery, we bundled Steven into the car and got home around midnight.  It was a long day.  Longer days and weeks were around the corner.

Three days later, after the usual two-hour wait, we watched Dr. Horn remove the dressing that covered the staples.  “No results yet.”  Five days passed.  Then two weeks.  Then four weeks.  An assortment of horror stories passed through our heads.  We spoke almost daily with Steven.  His disposition was a lot better than ours.  Last Wednesday we loaded ourselves into the car, drove to San Francisco and anxiously awaited the scheduled Thursday visit with Dr. Horn.

Usual routine.  Drive to SF General, find one of the last parking spaces, enter the main hospital building, and wave to our new druggie friends in line at the meds window.  Plunk ourselves down in the waiting room three minutes before our 10:45 appointment.  At 1pm we were still on the wait list.  Kindly nurse Ratched appeared.  “Follow me.”  You bet.

Ila took the little wheeled backless stool normally reserved for a doctor.  After 15 minutes of sitting stoically, she began to wheel about the room.  After 20 minutes she wheeled to the open door of the exam room, stuck her cute head into the hall, and spotted Dr. Horn as he moved from room to room.  “Yoo hoo, we’re here Dr. Horn.”  This movie replayed itself every five minutes.  Until the young man in the white smock with a sheaf of papers entered the room.  The papers announcing the biopsy results.

What seemed like an hour passed while Doctor-To-Be Alekko, a fine-looking boy, told us that he was a third year medical student at UCSF.  Finishing his resume and displaying a yet to be developed bedside manner, he mechanically intoned,  “Steven is fine.  The old melanoma is gone and the margins are clear.”  He went on.  “No evidence of any cancer in the lymph nodes.”  And, blessedly, “The other moles were non-cancerous.”  We showered our relief and gratitude on him.  Somewhat embarrassed, Doctor-To-Be Alekko said “Dr. Horn will be here soon.”  Alekko left and Ila resumed her imitation of a roller derby queen.

Dr. Horn arrived and repeated the biopsy results, but in a way that made you feel that he really believed them, that they weren’t just words on a piece of paper.  “By the way”, he said.   “The reason they took so long was that one of the moles was a bit of an enigma.  We had to send it to the University for another opinion.”  I thought “they must have turned it into a case study for the entire medical school, written a book, and made it into a movie.”

We thanked Dr. Horn for his work and, I hope, made his day.  A funny feeling was shared by the three of us as we left the hospital, crossed to the parking lot, found the car and drove home.  No elation.  Just sort of like air exiting a balloon.  It reminded me of when I watched the election results and the moment that Obama was declared the winner.  After what seemed like years of hoping, we had been rewarded.  Thankful for a wonderful result but no excitement.  Happy that things had turned out as we hoped they would, but no dancing in the streets.  A feeling of comfort after a long journey.

Trashing health care reform

I fell off the rowing machine.

First my mouth fell open, then the rest of me.  I stared at the professional looking TV ad warning me and all my really old friends that our Medicare benefits were about to be cancelled, our health put in the care of a postal clerk, and my dog put in charge of my end of life plan.  Good thing I don’t have a dog.

Don’t pay for health care reform on the backs of our seniors, the ad warns.  Faces of the elderly and the infirm stare out from the screen reminding us of what we owe them and how ungrateful we would be if we passed a bill rewarding those who are unwilling to buying health coverage the American way, from a caring, grateful group of health insurance companies. 

Congress plans to cut $500 million from Medicare

Long waits for care

Cuts to vital tests

Seniors may lose their own doctors

Government decides if older patients are worth the cost

Congress could get better health care than the rest of us

Seniors have sacrificed enough

The one minute ad is brought to us courtesy of the 60 Plus Association.  Its national spokesman is Pat Boone.  The same Pat Boone who sang those homey country songs that epitomized the American Way.  Pat’s current bent is toward religious music and bashing Congress for the stimulus bills and taxation without representation.

60 Plus claims to be a non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors issues.  Its non-partisan status is laughable given the evidence found on the Project Vote Smart  website displaying the ratings that 60 Plus assigns to members of Congress.

60 Plus is a principal beneficiary of the pharmaceutical industry.   As reported by Source Watch

…The 60 Plus Association describes itself as a “non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach.” They list their main issues as the “death tax” (estate tax), energy, health care and Social Security.  However, a 2006 report in the AARP Bulletin called 60 Plus a front group for the pharmaceutical industry.

60 Plus supported a lawsuit by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America against the state of Maine (in a “friend of the court” brief) for daring to try to pass a law that will authentically reduce prices for Medicare drugs by allowing the state to buy in bulk directly from manufacturers. It has also joined a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission regarding campaign reform (specifically in support of soft money for issue ads).

…In the 2002 election campaigns, 60 Plus paid for issue ads on local radio and TV stations across the country saying that local Republican candidates “care for seniors” so much that they “passed a prescription drug bill” that “saved us from an inept government bureaucracy meddling with health plan benefits.”

Maybe I should get a dog.


A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of US, a great calamity fell upon the land.  A pestilence so mighty that all of the people in the kingdom were afflicted.

King Bama gathered his council, lords of the kingdom, wise men, and even those with whom the Black King did not always see eye to eye.  They assembled in the Great Hall of the White Castle.

The King began. “Woe is US.  This pestilence shall be our undoing unless some noble and worthy actions are taken to defeat it.  It afflicts the best and worst of us.  And, yea, we have spent most of the royal treasury battling it without respite.”

The council member on the right side of the great table, Sir Newt, cautioned against any rash acts.  “Oh King, do not move precipitously to quell this pestilence.  Yea, truly it does afflict us all.  Yet those of us, you and I, live behind the battlements, enjoy the attendance of a host of court physicians, and will survive.  Nay, does it matter to us that lowly serfs and servants are without such benefits?  That is the way of our world.”

Sir Teddy sitting to the left of the Black King, having warned about the pestilence when it was yet a mere boil on the neck of the kingdom, disagreed with Sir Newt.  “I have devoted my long life to eliminating this pestilence.  Verily I too am afflicted and enjoy the benefits spoken by Sir Newt.  Yet I shall fall upon my sword before abandoning my quest to do unto others.”

The King’s personal mendicant, Merlin, weighed in.  “Oh great King, yea, these many years have I served you.  Nothing have I spared in seeking out whatever affliction, real or imaginary, has afflicted you, those in the Royal Family and anyone else who has the coin of the realm.  I shall continue to do so.  You need not worry.  Trust me to do what is right, regardless of the cost.”

The Black King considered what had been said.  “Yea, I believe that we shall survive.  But I, being a compassionate king, fear for my subjects.  There is not money in the treasury to offer them any relief from the pestilence.  Pray tell, perhaps we should have the royal physicians go to the countryside and service our people.  You, my wise council and the other knights, barons and lords could each contribute a pittance from your great fortunes, earned on the backs of those living in servitude, to reward our noble physicians for this additional care.”

Sir Newt rose and spoke.  “Yea great King, have not we, your strongest and ablest, contributed mightily to the treasury?  Another farthing and we shall surely cease to participate in any further grand crusades which have heretofore brought us untold riches.  Surely, there must be another way.”

Merlin rose and beseeched the Black King “Thou have a wondrous nature, kind to a fault.  However, I fear that the ignorant people of the countryside shall reject my overtures.  They are so fixed in the use of their own potions, incantations, and witchcraft that they shall reject me and my medicines.  I fear they are too set in their ways.”

Sir Teddy exclaimed eloquently. “Oh my King.  Lo these years have I labored to conquer this pestilence.  The time is now.  I fear that my energy wanes.  Do not listen to the counsel of those who have only their own welfare in mind.  Be brave.  Thou shall not have an opportunity such as this again.  Strike while the iron is hot.

The Black King rose majestically.  “Yea, ye who have served me and my people lo these many years faithfully and with great zeal.  Thou speak with great clarity and forcefulness.  I have considered what you have spoken.  My kingdom is at a crossroads.  To continue the ways of old in relative comfort while others suffer under the great pestilence.  Or to rise up beyond our petty arguments and, knowing full well the possible consequences of our actions, attack the pestilence with all our might.  My time here is short.  Shall I risk to suffer the consequences by acting with vigor or shall I remain motionless, comfortable in my own White Castle?”

At that moment, a great light shone down from the dome of the assembly hall.  A gentle wind blew and a voice was heard as if from the heavens. “King, thy choice is clear.  Be brave and risk all.  For to do less, is not why you are here.”

And the King did.  And they all lived happily ever after…except for Sir Newt.


No News is Good News

Daughter Nancy and grandson Morey came to visit yesterday.  It isn’t a long trip from Calabasas but it takes some effort to make the shlep.  Good girl.

We met at Bonnie Lu’s, one of our favorite eateries.  The waitresses are friendly.  The cooks, though at times a bit grumpy looking, plate up some pretty good food.  And, it doesn’t require dipping into your IRA to pay the bill.  I had the Yippie Dippie Veggie sandwich on wheat toast.  And balanced the healthy stuff with a big helping of fries.

Nancy is a bleeding heart liberal, a Democrat, and a champion of social causes.  We taught her good.  Our conversations generally include robbing the rich to give to the poor.  And, of course, the Bushies.  Like her mother, she finds it hard to get off that subject.

We talked about health care as we waited for lunch.  Nancy has a vested interest in keeping her job in that industry, so she supports the expansion of coverage to everyone, including extra-terrestrials.  But, she warns, keep your hands off the way we deliver that care.  I, having divested myself from a regular paycheck, argue for single-payer or, at least, a government option.  We were both woefully ignorant about the proposals lurching through Congress…except that the House version is 1,400 pages long.  Mercifully, lunch arrived before we could do serious damage.

In between bites of my sandwich, I mumbled about the news from the financial markets.  “Looks like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citicorp made a ton of money last quarter and seem to be headed back from oblivion.”

You’d think that was good news.  Months ago we all had thrown up our hands, wrapped ourselves in sackcloth and ashes, sat in the corner and said “Woe is me, the banks are failing.  The credit markets have dried up.  I shoulda kept my money in the mattress.  What a bunch of incompetents.  I’ll never trust them again.  Woe is me!”

My bible, the NY Times, spent huge sums on ink, paper and webspace bemoaning the situation, calling for a special prosecutor and recommending the reduction of executive compensation to that of a level one postal clerk.  Not a day went by without predictions of the second coming and imminent global destruction.

So you’d think the Times, having now witnessed the equivalent of  the rising of Lazarus, would have said something like…Ooops, we’re sorry.  Or…What a turnaround.  Who’da thunk it.

Instead, the Times, financial mavens, and others intent on ruining my day, bemoan the creeping stability evidenced by the banks’ profits.  Random wailings include…

  • They only made money by taking advantage of the increase in the value of their investments (I should be so lucky.)
  • They’re still getting away with murder because we don’t have any new regulations that will stop them from screwing us…again.
  • Who cares if they returned the bailout money we lent them.  They should never have taken it.
  • It’ll never last.  Doomsday is coming.

Now I don’t want the momsers (Google it) to profit at my expense.  But I would love a one day respite from the predictions of doom and gloom that fill the airwaves, the newspaper and my computer monitor.

Even no news would be good news.  Then again, be careful what you wish for.  To wit, one explanation  of the no news saying offers this warning…

I’m sure you’ve heard of the king’s joker, or merry-man, who loved to make puns, so much so that the king, in disgust, ordered him hanged. But the king’s vizier prevailed on him to grant the joker a reprieve. Upon learning it, the joker immediately said, “Well, no noose is good noose.” So the king decided to hang him anyway.


Adventures in Medicine…Part 2

It started innocently enough.  Time for Sweetie’s annual mammogram.  For the uninitiated, a mammogram involves having your breasts compressed by a mid-Victorian machine that, according to Sweetie, was designed by men who never had the pleasure of the experience.

For more years than I care to count Sweetie has been subjected to mammograms, some of which have been followed by needle biopsies, breast sampling and related invasive procedures.  Luckily, none have discovered evidence of the big “C”.  In fact, it’s been many years since a breast exploration required anything more than the squishing by the mammo machine, followed by Dr. Jim’s all-clear pronouncement.

Off we went to Ojai Community Hospital.  A calm and unhurried place it is.  Coffee is provided to those of us who must sit and wait while our loved ones are prepared, poked and prodded.   Java and Joe’s has nothing to worry about but a cup of hot liquid helps to pass the time while one reads every word of the free, frequently inane Ojai and Ventura View…twice.

Ah, there she is, finished being squished.  “Piece of cake…let’s get some breakfast at Eggs and Things.” she says.  No sweat.  Routine.

Two days later the phone rings.  Nurse Barbara asks for Sweetie.  “Hi, uh, they found something unusual on the mammogram.  They want you to have an ultrasound.  No big deal.  Better to make sure.  I’ll ask the hospital to call and set one up.”  And they do.  For a week later.  No sense rushing things.  Let’s not get excited.  But we do.

We arrive.  “Hi, I’m Ralph.  I’ll be doing your ultrasound.  Right breast, correct?”  No need for a female attendant.  I’ve elected to sit and watch while Ralph explores my wife’s private parts.  I view the monitor as the hills, valleys and undersea gardens appear on the screen.  I think every ripple bodes ill.  I scan Ralph’s face for clues.  None.  He’s good.

“All done.  But before you get dressed, let me get the radiologist to take a peek at things.”  Dr. Bob enters the semi-darkened exam room.  He peers at the snapshots that Ralph took.  I watch his face for clues.  None.  He’s good. 

“Uh, you see this shadowy area.  Right here, above your nipple.  I can’t be sure what’s there.  Probably nothing.  But I think we should do a needle biopsy.  Hopefully, it’ll be OK.”  Sure it will.  Let’s not get excited.  But we do.

Coincidentally, Sweetie’s annual physical with Dr. Jim is scheduled two days later.  We arrive.  Dr. Jim is concerned but calm.  “You know, with your family history, we really should do the biopsy.  Better to be sure.”  I suppose I’d hoped he’d say “Forget about the biopsy.  What does that guy know anyway?  You look the picture of health.  Go home.  See you in a year.”  We schedule the biopsy for a week later.  Let’s not get excited.  But we do.

Jan the hospital nurse greets us, escorts us to the outpatient area and prepares Sweetie for the biopsy.  “You’re lucky.  Dr. Julia is doing the procedure.  She’s done it a million times.  I’d pick her to do mine.”  Ah, I think.  We’ve got the breast queen.  Lucky us.

I’m shooed out to the lobby.  “Wait here.  I’ll come get you when it’s all over.”  Sure she will.  I picture myself dehydrated and covered with cobwebs.  “He waited too long”, they will say.  I read the same Ojai and Ventura View without understanding a word.

She comes and gets me.  So far so good.  “It’ll be about five to seven days before pathology has any results.”  I calculate.  It’s Monday morning.  Five days takes us to Friday.  If we don’t hear by Friday, the Memorial Day weekend starts.  That takes us to Tuesday, next week.  Crap.  Let’s not worry.  But we do.

The week passes, very slowly, as in a fog.  By Wednesday, I react every time the phone rings.  When we are away I constantly check for messages.  I try to hide my anxiety from Sweetie.  She’s doing a lot better than me, a whole lot.  I marvel at her composure.  But I know what’s going on inside.

Thoughts race through my head.  What if?  I’m nicer than usual.  I don’t need to be asked twice. I pick up after myself.  I don’t leave the paper on the table.  “Whatever you want.  Sure, that’s great.  You’re absolutely right.  What can I do for you.  Here, let me do that.  You look terrific.  I love you.”

Friday morning. “Uh, maybe you should call Nurse Barbara in Dr. Jim’s office.  Who knows, maybe they got the results.”  Sweetie, hesitates.  Then dials.  She’s caught in a telephone loop.  She hangs up.  Crap.

It’s mid-afternoon.  “Uh, maybe you should try Nurse Barbara again.”  Contact is made with Dr. Jim’s receptionist. “Hi, I had a breast biopsy on Monday and I wonder if you got the results yet.”  I sense the woman on the other end of the line picturing herself in Sweetie’s skin.

In a nanosecond, Nurse Barbara is on the line.  “Hi Ila, I’d be a little surprised if the results were in yet, but let me get your file.”  An eternity passes.  “Well, here it is.”  I watch Sweetie’s face while she listens to Barbara reading the results.  Her mouth slowly molds into a broad smile.  She gives me the thumbs up.  “Thank you Barbara. Have a wonderful weekend.”

Her eyes moisten, so do mine.

Adventures in Healthcare

Spent most of Wednesday in the hallway of Community Memorial Hospital.  No, they didn’t forget me on a gurney.  Sweetie was there for an angiogram.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure,  an angiogram is an x-ray that uses a special dye and camera to take pictures of the blood flow in the arteries near and dear to your heart.  A little puncture near your groin.  A teensy tube inserted in a blood vessel.  Noxious dye coursing through your body.  Medical exploration of your most private parts.  People who have really poopy x-rays sometimes have their chests split open for what is jocularly called triple or quadruple bypass.

Our arrival at the hospital was the end of a long journey that began one evening several months ago as we sat on the couch watching TV.  Sweetie suddenly straightened up, stiffened and complained about chest pains.  “They’ll go away, like every other discomfort”…we thought.  After ten minutes of feeling my blood pressure rise beyond the limits of my sphygmomanometer, I said “Put your shoes on, we’re going to the ER.”

Most people headed to an ER hop in the car and in less than five minutes arrive at that place of refuge.  But not if you live in the Upper Ojai.  You wind down Sulphur Mountain Road avoiding boulders that have fallen during the night,  get onto Highway 150 behind a hay truck driven by a myopic senior, crawl down the Dennison Grade, drive through Ojai’s stoplights…red of course, and eighteen minutes later arrive at Ojai Community Hospital.  It’s the longest eighteen minutes of your life.

After three hours of pokes, jabs, tubes, electronic invasion and fixation on the monitor attached to Sweetie, her condition was determined to be a muscle spasm.  Whew.  But alas, the EKG was inconclusive.   Doctor ER, in telephonic consultation with Doctor Cardio, determined that it would be prudent for Sweetie to pay a call on the heart guy.

A few days later, we visited Doctor Cardio.  ” Hmmm, he said.  Need more information.  How about a nuclear stress test?”  Again, for the uninitiated, a nuclear stress test involves injecting a nuclear isotope in your arm that makes you glow in the dark.  It helps the scanner to more clearly see what’s going on inside your cute little body.  So, being obedient patients, Sweetie glowed.

“Hmmm”, Dr. Cardio said after the atoms had done their work.  Looks like we need more information.   “Up for an angiogram?”  I was beginning to tire of “hmmms.”  The alternative was an impressive sounding 64 bit cat scan.  A recent development performed by a doctor who spent two months in Germany learning how to generate new revenue.  But the results might still be inconclusive.  “Hmmm” we said.  Off to angiogram heaven.

Bright-eyed at 4:30am, we rose and shone.  Had to be at the hospital in Ventura at 7 for a procedure that was to start at 9.  Musn’t be late or we’ll miss our spot in the angio line-up.  In the car before sun-up.  Merrily on our way.  Arriving before 7 we checked in with admitting.  Fortunately they knew us.  “Sit, please…it will only be a moment before one of our people leads you to the promised land.”

Wham!  Lights out.  Transformer blows.  Power gone.  Emergency lights on.  Surely they aren’t serious.  After all this and Edison conspires to cheat us of our long awaited appointment with the cath lab.  Thirty minutes in near darkness.  They’re going to send us home, I thought.  Bastards.  Do it all over again they’d say.  Not on your life I’d say.  We’re going to stay here even if it means sleeping on the floor.  I’m not going through this again, I selfishly thought.  We’re going to poke that hole in Sweetie even if I have to do it myself…in the dark.

Forty minutes since lights out.  But wait.  Coming towards us is an angel of mercy.  She must be an angel, I thought.  She appears to be at least 80 with a cute pink outfit.  “Come with me”, she intoned.  We went.   “Sit here.  I want to take your temperature.”  Good thing it wasn’t my blood pressure.  After trying twice to take Sweetie’s temperature, she muttered “hmmm” and left us alone…in the dark.  Not a good sign.

Finally, off to the prep area.  Blessedly the lights sprang to life.  A succession of lovely angels of mercy paraded through the room.  Major accomplishment was the delivery of a styrofoam cup of coffee…for me.  It wouldn’t have mattered if it was last week’s cold coffee.  I consumed it.

Two more hours in prep seemed designed to raise our expectations, our appreciation of the complexities of hospital procedures, and our stress levels.   But, relief was in store.  When our original ancient pink lady announced that our Dr. Cardio was also her mother’s cardio, Ila turned to me and said “her mother’s still living?”  I wet my pants.

The IV nurse showed.  “I am an excellent IV nurse.  It’s what I live for.  I don’t rummage around in your arm like those other neanderthals looking for the holy grail.  I look closely, explore with my eyes and then I stick you.  You won’t feel a thing.”  Know what?  She was right.  It pays to advertise.

Two hospital orderlies with biceps the size of both my thighs arrived.  All aboard the gurney, Sweetie.  You’re off for your long awaited tryst with Doctor Cardio and his merry band of explorers.  Kiss, kiss.  See you soon.  Have fun.  It will all be OK.  I promise.

A woman who looked strangely like Nurse Ratched said it would be an hour before Doctor Cardio would arrive with any news.  “Sit in the x-ray waiting room…you know, the one with the hard chairs, no reading material and a few hundred others who look like they’d rather be somewhere else.”

An hour.  Hmmm.  Must be a way to get a real cup of coffee in this institution full of revenue generating medical marvels.  The promise of sustenance lay in the basement.  A full cafeteria.  Home away from home.  But not at 10:45 in the morning.  It’s between meals.  No food.  But, wait.  There’s a coffee machine…undergoing an angiogram of its own.  Busted.  Won’t be up again for an hour.  Suffer, buster.  Might as well wait in x-ray’s Devil’s Island.  Sat there for fifteen minutes doing nothing.  The clock never moved.

The door where only angels are allowed to tread opened.  Dr. Cardio appeared.  “Rothenberg…are you here…stand and deliver.”  I got up, stared at him, waiting.  “Everything’s fine.  She has pristine arteries.  She’ll be in recovery for about three hours.”   Thank you, Doctor.  You are truly a god.  He left.  I stood there.

There is only one place in the hospital more uncomfortable than x-ray’s Devil’s Island.  It’s the little row of plastic chairs right outside the cath recovery room.  At the opposite end of the hall there’s an automatic door that seemingly opens and closes without any apparent human intervention.  And stays open long enough for a blast of icy air to chill you to the bone.  I figured that it must be how they keep us awake and upright.

Two and one-half hours repositioning my ass on that plastic chair allowed two things to happen.  First, it made me promise to never complain about the seats anywhere else.  Second, it let me observe the comings and goings of the endless throng of hospital visitors.  Short, tall, old, young.  And, above all, generally obese.  Tomorrow’s candidates for the cath lab and Doctor Cardio.

Hmmm, I’m sure my pink angel of mercy will still be there…taking their temperature.



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