Thursday, October 19, 2017

-- American Healthcare and how to kinda cope when you’re dealing with hospital nonsense (but not really) --

I think at this point, if you’re not interested, just assume you’re going to think, “TL;DR” and move on. This is for the sexy people. …and move on, because I got something to say… (“Misfits ref… Blammo!”)


I haven’t done laundry in two weeks. I am walking advertisement for Febreze.

Mercifully, like Anthony Bourdain, I have enough pairs of jeans and black tee shirts that I can rotate them so that, thanks to the fine technicians at Procter & Gamble, I don’t smell like I’ve spent my nights sleeping on the steps of some once-glorious church in semi-decline with a dwindling congregation. For a while I was using Obsession as my high-end Febreze, my cologne of choice since 1988; but I’ve run out of that and my Obsession-alternate, Givenchy PI, which is like Obsession if Calvin Klein loved cake, is still too expensive, and anyway, I’ve run out of that. With everything going on, I can’t afford to be frivolously spending money on cologne. The price of one bottle is three nights of pizza for Ebony, or my phone bill.

I had an idea, maybe not original -- maybe I saw Heloise on Donahue back in the 70s when I was a kid and it registered -- but I picked up a small empty spray bottle from the travel aisle of CVS and filled it with Brut, which I feel is not an excessive purchase. Brut’s okay. But atomized is, “actually not bad,” as my friend Alan might say. But at least when I go out I don’t stink to high heaven. At least when I go out, I smell like sweet soap.

The last two days were wrought with frustration. Ebony was in pain when she got up Tuesday and we ended up taking her to the hospital. Had to call 911 and we rode in an ambulance to Weill Cornell, Ebony, her mother and I. They were pretty cool, the paramedics, Bobby and Gina. I said, “Like the Bon Jovi song?” and they got it, though Bobby rightfully corrected me and said, “It’s Tommy.”

Shame on me. As if I don’t have enough to deal with, I am corrected about my 80s hair metal by a kid who grew up with *NSYNC as his Led Zeppelin. Jesus.

Spent ten hours at the hospital in the Emergency Department. Same place I spent two nights with Ebony before they admitted her for what turned out to be 5 weeks. She had pain in her side, lower right rib cage. But in her condition, she couldn’t articulate what was causing her pain. So her doctor’s assistant said “get her in.” I did and they ran all the tests: X-Rays, sonogram… they found nothing but took blood to send out. This is where it got insanely frustrating.

I’m very thorough about communicating with the doctors, nurses and aides. When we got in, just before 2 in the afternoon, the attending resident – cool guy, closely shaved hair, black-ish dude, maybe East Indian -- with bushy eyebrows -- was on top of everything.

“We’re going to do some imaging. Xrays and a sonogram, to make sure there’s no breakage in her ribs and no organ failure, check her gall bladder and stomach. And then we’ll take it from there. Can I get you anything?”

None of us had eaten all day and Ebony hadn’t taken her meds, which include anti-seizure pills and steroids. “They’re serving dinner right now, I’ll see if I can’t get a tray in here for her.”

So… cool.

By 6 she’d had the Xrays and sonogram. They waited on the results so “the team could assess her.” Then gave her some meds. That was before shift change, which is at 7.

Talk about night and day… I said, “TALK ABOUT NIGHT AND DAY! AMIRITE LADIES?”

Cool resident with bushy eyebrows split and was replaced by annoying Preppie, plaid shirt, pleated khakis (because he’s 5’10”ish and lanky and so he can pull it off), nice shoes – Burgundy lace ups – and ZERO COMMUNICATION SKILLS.

“So… hey. How are you? We’re waiting on the results of her imaging, just wanted to check in, say Hello. You know. Someone will be around to draw blood.”

“The other doctor mentioned…”

“He’s a resident. He left. We’re all part of the team.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, he said he was going get her some dinner. She hasn’t eaten all day and also needs her meds. Kepra and Dexamethazone, I think. The steroids.”

“I’ll look into that.”

So it’s Ebony on a crash cart (bed) in a double room with some poor Asian woman who was just OUT and looked mangled like a pretzel in her bed. No family there. Sundai (Ebony’s mother) and I were there with all the entertaining sounds of an Emergency Department after dark.

So we wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. It’s coming up on 9 and I go out to find Preppie Resident.

“Hi, I just wanted to check in and see if there was any news.”

“Yes. Her imaging came back and she hasn’t broken anything and there’s no organ damage or anything to worry about. It’s probably muscular-skeletal and she might have pulled something and is sore.”

Well, she’s been home and I’ve been lifting her up and down from the couch to the chair to the toilet to wherever. I’ve been doing it the way the PT showed me but in her condition, that made sense. I felt badly about that, but I’m so careful with her and talk her through every lift assist so I’m not hurting her… but there’s no way to guarantee that. Also, at 5’11” and whatever pounds, I have been seriously regretting not having gone to a gym all my life.

“So where are we at now?”

“Well, we’re waiting for the results of her blood work. That should be another 30 or 40 minutes.”

So I go back. An hour later, nothing from Preppie Resident and then a nurse comes in…

Now in the meantime, Ebony has slipped down on the bed. I tried to get her up but she’s in pain and doesn’t want to move. I’ve asked two passing RNs if they can help but everyone is busy. I stopped another nurse who had seen her earlier.

“I’ll need another nurse, give me five minutes.”

So, of course nothing happens and no one comes by and half an hour later another nurse comes in, and I ask and get lip service and then another and so on and so on… and now I am starting to unravel. And then yet another RN comes in.

“Are you here to help her? I can help, I just need another hand…”

“I’m here to take her blood.”

“Well, can we get her up first? I hate to see her like this and she’s uncomfortable. Her head is on her chest, she needs to sit up and I need help.”

“I’m sorry sir, I have to take her blood.”

“Well, okay, but they took her blood and they’re waiting on results. Can’t we just get her up first?”

She ignores me, leans in and starts with the Heparin lock on Ebony’s arm.


So, yeah. I lost it. I know that startled her because she backed away and said, “SIR…”






I don’t really have a lawyer. I have a couple of friends who are lawyers. My father was a lawyer. I watch a lot of “Law & Order.” Like, seriously, I love that show and will watch it over and over… but I was really frustrated.

“SIR… Sir. I have to take her blood and then we’ll get her up.”

This makes no sense at all.

“Why do you have to take her blood?”

“They told me to take her blood.”

“Why? They took her blood. They’re waiting on results, so why more blood?”

“I don’t know, sir. They didn’t tell me. Let me take her blood and I’ll come back and we’ll get her up.”

There it is. No communication, no nothing. This is your Healthcare, America.

She takes 3 vials of blood and leaves. I’m so pissed as she’s walking out I say, emphatically, “THEY WOULDN’T DO THIS IN FINLAND!”

I don’t know exactly what I meant by that when I said it, but I have been to Finland and I love it there and I know they have national healthcare. Also, they love metal there. National healthcare and they love metal. Why are we not in Finland? Sweden and Norway, too, but like I said, I’ve been to Finland. So I said that. I was just pissed but I kept thinking, “This wouldn’t happen in Helsinki.”

So now Sundai is looking at me with concern and Ebony still hasn’t been taken care of and they already sent out for blood and we have been there since 2 p.m. and it’s like 10 now and I’ve seen three or four episodes of “Fixer Upper” while we’ve been hanging around and I am fucking losing my mind.

I go see Preppie Resident and I just went off. Not pretty and not my finest hour and I wish I’d handled it differently but this just defied logic.

In the past couple of years since Ebony has been living with a malignant brain tumor and coping with treatment, and I have been working nights at ABC, I have been watching an inordinate amount of “The Sopranos” and “Law & Order” reruns when I get home from work – usually around 3 or 4 in the morning depending on the terrible subway service (F Train blues). I guess I just want to see some justice and I don’t care if it’s righteous or outside the law. My vernacular has changed a lot. I swear too much, like some low-rent goombah, and I’m sarcastic as Hell and pseudo-sanctimonious, like Lenny Briscoe or Mike Logan. Doesn’t make for strong real-world communication, but at least I’m communicating my frustration and outrage. Like Chris Matthews about anything that isn’t JFK. Just pissed like any Irish American hothead who is watching his loved one suffer. I need to work on my rage. I know, I know.  


Yeah, that didn’t go so well.

Anytime they say, “Sir…” I get pissed but I know they’re following some kind of legal protocol where they have to be firm but want to calm down the itinerant jerk.

“We needed to take more blood because the lab isn’t getting a sound reading.”

So now I walk over to Preppie at his workstation, staring at him looking at his computer.

“Hey! You can’t fucking tell me that, that she’s not getting a sound reading? Look, dude. I think you’re all stellar and I know you’re up against it and busy and whatever… but for all of your admirable qualities, you fucking SUCK at communicating. And she needs a bed assist and we haven’t gotten any help. And PS: where are her fucking meds and where is her fucking meal? She hasn’t taken her meds and she hasn’t eaten all day. Are you planning on starving your patients? WE HAVE BEEN HERE SINCE FUCKING TWO IN THE AFTERNOON!”

Then Burgundy lace-ups Preppie Resident got Medieval on my ass.

“Sir… we’re understaffed tonight. I am supposed to have an RN for every three or four patients and I have one-to-seven right now. I have three trauma cases I can’t get beds for and your wife at least has a room – and she’s not bleeding from her eyes.”

Here, he pointed to a woman, about sixty, with some kind of medical mask on her face, with blood clearly flowing from… I don’t know. I guess her eyes.

“You’re not the only one here concerned about a loved one.”

I just looked at him, exasperated with the whole system. “Dude, you can walk over and tell me. I’m not a doctor, I’m not medically trained, but I’m pretty sure communication is part of your training. And if it’s not, you got screwed out of an education. You can talk to me. I’m into that.”

He jus shrugged. “I’m sorry. There’s just a lot going on…”

At this point I’ve already had to call out of work. I work at ABC, in radio. I’m a writer/producer for radio and, with my colleagues, create digital content for our affiliates in North America and around the world. I am not curing cancer, but neither are these bozos and I’m losing income when I’m not at work. I’m so fucking lucky to have the job at all and luckier still that I have such understanding bosses, but we are big on communication and it is utterly baffling to me that the best and the brightest in medicine can’t take the time -- a moment -- to confer with the patients or their family/loved ones.

So I’m like ten kinds of pissed and I could have handled it better. I am a terrible, terrible person who loves a pure, beautiful woman and wants the best for her. I’m not any different from anyone anywhere in that regard. But has Led Zepplin taught us nothing? Even RATT knows the pitfalls of healthcare (yes, I am referencing “Lack of Communication” and you who judge this can fuck off right now. It’s a good song).

The upshot of all this rigmarole was that Ebony had pulled a muscle. She was discharged at midnight. They never explained why they needed additional blood and they never treated her pulled muscle. “Just give her a couple of Tylenol and she’ll be fine.”


We were there ten hours and then had a 40 minute, $55 cab ride home. For fucking Tylenol.

And that was just a Tuesday. Man, I really, seriously want to move to Finland.

So… now Wednesday comes and we have to be back at 3:30 for an MRI that was already scheduled weeks ago. Another $55 ride, a Lyft into the City and then another $55 back to Queens. Ebony was so physically exhausted, I promised her pizza (she loves pizza) if she would try her hardest and stay awake and stand up when I lifted her from the chair to the car, from the car to the chair, from the chair to the crash bed for the MRI, from the crash bed into the chair and back into a car and then out into the chair and back into the apartment and then out of the chair on to the couch… well, I for that, I would get her pizza. I mean, what am I, a schmuck on wheels? So I ordered pizza, from the good place in our neighborhood, where there’s like, a yelling Italian guy manning the ovens.

Pizza came and I didn’t have any. I got everything sorted out and kissed Ebony goodnight and left for the subway to work.

The subways suck right now. SUCK. SUCK. SUCK.
I think they always sucked, but man, do they suck ass lately.

I get into the City after 45 minutes and I walk around and I’m just this crying mess because this is A FUCKING LOT to take. But I don’t care if I’m crying because I need to release and it’s New York and no one fucking cares and most people are looking at their phones anyway; and anyone who does look just pisses me off and I start to feel that Taxi Driver vibe and then I’m just pissed and scowling and they pass and it’s like no big deal that I’m walking along Central Park South and then CPW with my nose running like I just got out of the pool after inhaling by accident.

This is a pretty regular occurrence now. I deal with shit and then I hold it in because I’m trying to be strong for Ebony and when I cry in front of her, her eyes tell me she knows and feels it. She wipes my tears away like she’s swatting flies and can’t understand why I’m a mess… but I think she knows it’s because of her situation, even if she doesn’t say so.

So I cry. What the fuck is it to ya, anyway? I cry a fucking lot lately. Fuck you if you have a problem with it.

Sometimes I’ll step into the Chase on Broadway because I can be alone there. There’s a couple of places like that. I could write a list for Buzzfeed or New York Magazine: “The 10 Best Places to Cry in Public in New York City When Your Life is Falling Apart.”

Here it is (so far):
1. Chase Bank, Broadway & 61st.
2. Under the scaffolding by the Steinway building, south side of West 58th between 6th and 7th
3. CPW btwn Columbus Circle and West 66th, West side of the street while everyone – fucking tourists -- is looking at stupid Trump International Hotel or Central Park, or that building where Madonna lives but is never home.

I can’t remember the others right now.

I would try to complete the list but I’m still addled from the subway ride home. It only took me 90 minutes.

I blame the MTA for a lot, but I think this Joe Lhota and Governor Cuomo are responsible for a lot of it. It’s easy to blame them: they are the public faces of why nothing is fixed. But a few weeks ago, I contacted the Governor’s office and suggested he send flowers to Ebony for her ongoing inconvenience. He did not. Make of that what you will. We will be on our way soon enough.

All I want to do is get home so I can get a decent night’s sleep before I have to get up and start my day taking care of the woman I love. I guess that’s asking too much these days. The MTA has been “fixing” the Queens E and F lines for what seems like the entire 6/7 years I have been here. It’s the icing on a shit cake that I have been served but I cannot fathom what they are doing and when they are going to be finished doing whatever they’re doing because they don’t communicate anything to the public beyond press ops. I blame both of these guys and the entire MTA for the cost of my time going to WC/NYP over the last 3 months. Not that either of them or anyone from the MTA or NY State Gov will help. Morons.

Cue “Lack of Communication” by RATT.

Today I am going to try to sleep in a little bit. But I have to get up and do laundry, call Social Security back and see about getting some home care for Ebony, and then I have to call MET LIFE about her financial benefits, which they have “partially” denied. Called the contact on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday and she hasn’t called me back. In the meantime, I have to wait and I think I am slowly losing my mind with this beaurocratic horseshit.

But I can’t afford to lose my mind, unless I can find a way to monetize it. Also, I have to take care of the woman I love so dearly.

There’s got to be a way, no?

I refuse to come undone no matter how much I bitch. Sometimes, the bitching is therapeutic. I just need to vent my spleen and then everything will be all right and Ebony will be right as rain and then my only concern will be if I have clean towels.

Right now… I don’t. But I’m working on it. I just need a little… communication.

Don’t we all?