"Nurses" at AIDS walk, NYC.
Three weeks post op and not even four weeks since I last posted and that muse bitch of mine has gone off to do something more amusing than to hang out with me during my boring recovery. I have beseeched and cajoled and beckoned and yet she remains elusive and is keeping her distance. Now I am severely pissed. None of my friends deserted me when I was down and out but my muse? No way was she going to be part of the nitty gritty when all she ever wants to do is party. Well who needs her anyway? Thomas quoted Chuck Close, a very smart artist, who said that “inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.” So there Ms Erato, or whatever you are calling your smug self these days. You do whatever you want; I need to get back to work. So lacking my fair weather friend, I come without inspiration and only determination to guide me over this keyboard, which incidentally is new. While I was in the hospital Thomas got me this nifty new computer, one with lots of memory, had all my information cleared off the old one and sent it off to my dear daughter, known to OS readers as Eva T.
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulp , Rembrandt 1632, Mauritshuis, The Hague
So, let me tell you about my operation. Basically it was a colo/rectal repair (I know, not a pretty picture and maybe more information than you want but it is what it is). On a scale of serious surgery with say, quadruple bypass being a ten, this might be a four or five. I was in the hospital for three nights and during that time I was never in pain and even the discomfort level was mild. I had powerful pain medications for the first two days. Of course I am grateful for not having had to have any pain at all but as with most things, it came with a price tag and that was that I had some fairly unpleasant and weird hallucinatory dreams.
The Opereating Room, Jose S. Perez, 1929 hmc.org,ga
I found our local hospital, St. Bernadine Medical Center comfortingly efficient, meticulously clean, well staffed and organized and nothing if not professional. I was asked at every turn from the moment I was admitted what my name and date of birth were and what I was there for. This was repeated at every stage and continued right through every medication and treatment. There was never a chance that they would amputate the wrong limb or transplant the wrong organ or give me someone else’s medication. My nurses were beyond reproach, attentive and supportive and helpful in every way. At St. B’s I felt safely cared for the entire time. Still and all, hospitals are places not only of healing and birth but where suffering and death are commonplace occurrences and thus by definition, hospitals are disconcerting. There is always the specter of pain and heartache hovering in every hallway and mainly it is good not to have to be there in the first place.
The Gross Clinic, Thomas Eakins, 1875 Philadelphia Museum of Art.
It is not however very comforting to be signing one’s life and rights away at every turn and that too is part of being treated in a hospital or by doctors where big pharma, big insurance and big medicine are capitalistic and self serving. No treatment, no procedure is done without patients signing an agreement that they will be personally responsible for any costs not covered, not that anybody is willing to tell you what those costs might be(!) and truthfully I don’t even think they know themselves. During the manic two and a half weeks prior to my hospitalization I was sent on a round of tests and procedures and doctors at a dizzying rate and in one, the office of a gynecologist, I was asked to sign away my right to a jury trial if such a situation were to come up. It disgusted me to do so and I really wondered if I would have been seen had I refused to sign. Where do we draw the line? Each office I went to had something for me to sign. In some cases it was only to take responsibility for unpaid portions of the as yet undisclosed fees and in some my legal standing was to be given over and in some all of the above.
The Agnew Clinic, Thomas Eakins 1889.
By far the strangest deal was the one we struck with the surgeon. The insurance company, Anthem, approved of the surgery but not in the way it was being billed by the surgeon. He divided the parts of the service into one set of billing codes and Anthem another with them paying significantly less than the surgeon wanted. We got a call from the surgeon asking us to speak with the insurance company, as it seemed they were more indulgent of patient’s requests than doctor's. This took place on the Thursday before the Monday when the surgery was scheduled. Thomas called Anthem and after lots of telephone tag and on holds was finally told it was all approved only to be told on Friday by the surgeon’s office that it was, but only the way they wanted it billed and for the lesser fee. In the end, we agreed to simply pay the difference ourselves and deal with it later. Luckily, we had the money and Tom ran over there to hand over a check for just under five hundred dollars. I like my surgeon but I do have to say I resent having been put into this ridiculous position of being in the middle of this dispute at a time when I was most vulnerable and didn’t need the additional stress.
View from my bed at St. B's.
To his credit, the doctor did seem somewhat abashed by this but we didn’t have time to dick around if we were going to get this thing done on Monday and at the moment the money seemed less important (at least to us) than my mental and physical well being. We of course are fortunate. We have an income, “good”, very costly insurance and a small savings account and could do this. I don’t expect we will be able to collect on that amount although we might be able to use it as part of our deductible. What about everybody else? I have worked for doctors for enough years to know what goes on after the patients go home. I understand that medical mal-practice eats away so much income that doctors end up feeling as though they work for the insurance company. I understand the burden that horrendous student loans impose on young doctors whose families could not afford to subsidize their medical education and that running a practice is costly. What I don’t understand is how we can call ourselves a civilized country when most of our people can’t afford the wonderful medicine we know how to deliver to the wealthiest of us.
View from my bed at St. B's.
After three nights in the hospital Thomas came to take me home on the Thursday where Trixie, the little dog and I had a reunion although she was a little snitty at first ( terriers can resemble the above bitchy muse) as if to say 'where did you go without me?' She got over herself soon enough and I was very happy to have her company again. On Friday, poor Thomas while slicing an onion an a mandolin (a very sharp kitchen gadget), managed to slice the tip of his shutter finger as well and had to head back to St. B’s ER to get that stitched. On Saturday afternoon our old friends Pedro and Zoe arrived from Berlin for their annual visit. This had been scheduled long before the surgery and since they really are family more than just friends we saw no reason to change those plans. Naturally, we invited our friends from the hood to come by for cocktails as we had been doing these past few years to celebrate the German contingent. This year however, we did keep the count down in deference to my recovery and Thomas’ poor stitched up finger. Next year we’ll be back to full compliment I hope. So we had surgery, houseguests and a party as well as a trip to the ER. Sounds like par for the course around here but it was very helpful to do the things we do (not the cut finger) to shed that patient mentality and to feel normal again. I got some wonderful cards and messages as well as some really nice get well gifts including a Kindle from my mother in law, a great tote bag picturing Wonder Woman from Eva, some new speakers for my desk from Thomas and just for good measure he threw in Paul Simon’s most amazing new CD, 'So Beautiful or So What'.
The view from my bed at St. B's
I got many loving messages from my OS friends and your support has been very important in making this recovery a little less tedious. I thank you so much for being there now as you have been in the past. If and when that old bitch goddess decides she might enjoy a return to try out this nice new computer, we might find a bit more eloquence coming from San Bernardino but for now I am just so happy to be home and back among you. Thank you very much for all your good words.
Nurse, WWI, Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine.