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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Running of the Grey

(A guest piece, here at the razor-thin end of Miserable Annals' guest-blogger April, by Mike Norton)

[Note: Written and submitted at the last minute and probably anti-climactic after the other contributions, this isn't a piece I've been struggling with as the month rolled on. It came to mind during the course of this weekend. So, indolence and circumstance make the last guest-spot of the month likely the least auspicious and most likely to include a dropped letter or even word, but all of that's more to my detriment than anyone else. Sorry, no refunds for the time lost reading it. Hopefully none of this makes me a terrible guest.]

I've been wondering if we're in some unspoken competition.

"We", at the moment, being Crypt Leak, Abbygal and me, though I we're all doomed to join in the race in some way at some time.

See, as we headed toward the weekend - the three of us having lunch together at a nearby restaurant on Thursday - the topic of parental health issues was on the agenda. Abbygal was going to be with her parents since her father (a man worthy of at least one entry to himself, though I know him almost entirely anecdotally, but it's not my place in the world to write much about The Rev) was going in to have a shunt installed due to an enlarging aortal aneurysm. Meanwhile, Cryptleak was heading back to his mom's place to help take up some of the burden from his brother who's much more local and been helping their mother -- who just recently took a spill down some steps and ended up with a compression fracture in a lower vertebra. No fun stuff there.

I, on the other hand, was planning on a more relaxed weekend, including going back to visit my mom on Saturday, take her out to lunch and to get some shopping done. She's looking to get some new curtains, so I was going to take measurements and we'd take care of it in the course of the day. I called her Saturday morning to reconfirm when Nick (the younger of my sons) and I would be heading her way.

About 40 minutes later the phone rang. It was mom, calling me to tell me she though the plans were off because she'd fallen and thought she'd broken her leg. She couldn't move it and she was in a lot of pain. That's my mom for you, though, more immediately concerned that I not waste time running out that way than, well, with calling a friggin' ambulance.

Call the ambulance, mom.

And, so, then she did.

My brother was there, and while he's been an asset to her in some ways in others, well, that's another piece likely never to be written, but it's fortunately not terribly germane to this piece.

I'm a good 40 minutes away, so I caught up with them at the ER, where the elder of my two sisters - who's also an RN, though working these days at a different hospital, was also already there. Cindy's one of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet, and in many ways is an inspiration -- another subject for another piece, and one I might eventually get to. I will note - though it's not important to any of the rest of this piece, that Cindy is a mother of seven, who is eight years older than me and began her work & academic career down the E.R. path seven years ago. (Hmmm. Maybe that "inspirational" was a more loaded term for me than I realized.)

Accelerate through the day and the triage tangle. Finally there's an X-ray and a prognosis: Fractured femur, high, towards the "neck" of the bone. Admitted. Before the evening's out surgery is scheduled for the following morning. Hip replacement -- they're not going to try to repair the bone that high up in a patient in her mid-seventies.

The surgery was this morning, and she was resting comfortably when Travis (older son) and I visited this afternoon. Tomorrow the plan for recovery - the whens and wheres - will be mapped out. (I'm trying not to focus on how the hip that was replaced is on the leg where she's been having knee problems, so recovery's going to be... a challenge.)

What all of this is bringing to mind is that, at least in the circle of us three, that we're each, undoubtedly, wondering at some point is how much of our own futures are we looking at thirty odd years down the line?

Certainly, thoughts of doing what we can to avoid perceived pitfalls each parent may have taken along the way are sound. There's nothing like having the child/parent roles reversed, with the wrong one looking bewildered and shaken, to scare the shit out of a person. No, no, no... I'm the kid here, remember? We had a deal, right?

So, yeah, one good thing is if this gets me to take better care of myself. Something else to think about -- but don't take too long, boyo! It's later than ye think!

Still, I wonder what we have to look forward to thirty to forty years hence - forgiving my brobdignagian presumption, of course - with what jokingly passes for healthcare here in the U.S.A. Oh, make no mistake, I'm not knocking the tech -- most of which is excellent and getting better by the day it seems - but I'm wondering mostly about the healthcare system, most pointedly as in the costs.

Oh, we can hope that the great demographic hump that is The Baby Boomers (the result of some wartime and post-wartime humps of a different sort) will prove to be such a magificently potent voting bloc that substantial changes will soon come to keep us from being written off and placed at the curbside as we reach what we, increasingly sarcastically, have called The Golden Years. Hope that no effort will be spared and no check of solvency and credit will be a factor in deciding treatment. Still, such hopes are more rightly termed wishes, and I suspect shares of WishCo (and, no, I don't mean her) aren't doing as well as Pfizer's.

It's such a huge task, I'll admit, but we have to get behind something. We have to bring accountability and a prioritization to government. We cannot continue to accept the word of paid pundits when it comes to the feasibility of universal healthcare for U.S. citizens. If money and resources can be found to send men and women off to kill and be killed for a raft of shit - for a list of lies offered like cards from the hand of a cheap magician (Pick a card! Any will do!) - then we can find it for a future with healthcare with dignity.

We cannot continue to allow people who are connected to almost limitless amounts of money speak to the mass of the american public and sell them a bill of goods they cannot afford. Lying, connivers who will smile and tell you "It's your money! We're trying to let you make choices the buy the healthcare that's right for you!" Listening to this from some callous, pompous prick who plays up a public image of being a good ol' boy - a hardworkin' everyman... who's had his every failure bailed out by the money of others... and here we are, in 2006... and guess what? Not only are we paying for more of his failures, our parents, children and very possibly grandchildren are, too.

I'm running afield of the healthcare focus, and for that I apologize, but after the "solutions" pushed through for Medicare last year it was inevitable that it come around to the current administration.

This year is an important mid-term election. We're the electorate. We can decide what the issues are. No, really, we can. We just have to push hard enough, to shout the messages loudly enough.

Do what the damned politicians have been doing for the past six years - in some respects what they've been doing forever, but it's become a high art in the past five: Scare people. Scare them with a future in which they're not merely old, but sick and told in not so few words that it's in their best interests to just go make their peace with God and decrease the surplus population. How can we miss? We have something real to scare people with. Look how far they've come with imaginary hobgoblins about how a third-rate dictatorship that'd been bombed back nearly to the stone age was an imminent threat to us?

For now, do some research on who's up for re-election in your state and who's running against them. If you don't know their records, then do some digging.

Next, start to look into organizations who have already made national healthcare their central issue. (Note: I've yet to carefully sift through the following, so don't take any of these as a specific endorsement. That's yet to be determined.) Physicians For A National Health Program is one possibility. Healthcare NOW! is another, each of them pushing for a single payer system of some sort. As you find other, better sources, please let me know.

Do some searches and start digging. Pull up what's offered as fact and compare it with what's being presented by other groups. You get plenty of junk email, why not get on some mailing lists that might be helpful?

Don't be dissuaded -- many special interests are involved, and those in opposition to upsetting the highly lucrative health insurance system in place are sparing no effort in making the case for change seem hopeless. It's not. We don't have to turn on each other in a mad scramble. We're not rats. Don't allow yourself to be turned into one.

Once you feel you've gotten a handle on the issue, go back to the list of candidates and write letters to those in the race. Let them know you won't be mollified with hollow promises, and if they have any sort of record on the issue find it. We're part of the most amazing information-sharing era mankind's ever seen, the growing challenge is to make sure that the information one's gotten hold of is factual. It can be a challenge, because juicy and/or simple lies often proliferate far faster than the truth, but not only is finding out worth the effort, it's a matter of Life, Death and human dignity.

We're all in the Running of the Grey, even if some try to hide it under hair coloring kits. Hiding it's fine, but this isn't a race one can bow out of -- well, aside from dying. No pun intended.


At 4:18 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

Fantastic post, Mike. My blog's not worthy! My blog's not worthy!

I've been joining my voice to the comment threads on the various poli-blogs where arguments for and against a single payer health care system are put forth. I've wanted to see America go single payer since the beginning of Clinton's first term, and I can still remember the THIS MODERN WORLD cartoons from back then that called it exactly as it happened... the Clinton Administration, terrified of the insurance and the health care lobby, backing off their campaign promises in a big way with pre-spun lines like "The government can't even balance its own checkbook and now you want to trust it with your health care?"

Sometimes I think it's all a vast conspiracy. How in the name of God could Clinton possibly hope to end up with a positive historical judgement on his Presidency? Hmmmm... I know... we'll let Dubya be King for 8 years! Then people will positively ADORE Slick Willie, in nostalgic retrospect! (Hey, it's sure working on me.)

What's dramatized America's need for a single payer system best, to me, has been The Always Esteemed Scott's recent ordeal with his daughter's cancer. Horrible enough to go through something like that with your toddler, but imagine having to go through it worrying about how you were going to pay the bills, or even get access to treatments your doctor prescribed but your insurance didn't want to cover? Do nightmares like your kid having cancer get worse? Oh, sure... here in America, we can do anything...

Anyway, great post, Mike. Thanks for letting me host it.

At 9:37 AM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

I agree, Mike. Both with Highlander's assessment of your post (you already know what a great writer I think you are) and with your point.

So many conservatives are scared of socializing ANYthing, that even providing medical care universally leads them to believe that the commies are taking over the joint. Sad and short-sighted, at best.

If nothing else, today, you have motivated me to take a look around and add my voice where it might at least grate on some official's nerves. I already plan to be at the polls on the 16th, and will do what I can there.

And, on a more personal note, let me add that I'm sorry to hear the news about your mother. I cannot imagine what it would entail to take care of my kids, an infirmed spouse and parent, while working full-time and managing a house. You are truly one in a million, Mike and I know I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Oh, and if there is some kind of impromptu judging going on, I'm VERY glad (well, I am for a variety of reasons, actually) that I'm sleeping with the judge. Otherwise, I would not have a chance in hell against the rest of you!!

At 11:06 AM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

Thanks to you both.

Yeah, it couldn't help coming to mind while reading Scott's post, could it? (I'll leave my belated comments there in time, as I work my way back through the posts.)Dealing with an illness of one's own is bad enough, but our current system is set up to crush many of us under the weight of feeling like bad providers.

It's such an important issue or set of issues, as one chooses to view it. Overcoming the opposing mantras of "It doesn't work" and "It won't work here" is a daunting challenge, but that's largely because we've allowed the wrong forces to frame the debate. Taking back our government... it's going to be the fight of our lives.

Government largely giving itself a pass, we've been pitted against our employers, forcing us to come to compromises that, well, compromise too many aspects of our lives. People with existing health conditions, dependents or, perhaps worst of all both, find themselves trapped in jobs they've either outgrown or, via changes in the company and/or through promotion, have outgrown them. Such health coverage as they have becomes more expensive and less comprehensive. Feeling trapped, helpless and inadequate are becoming common states. While we weren't paying attention we've been sold into the virtual slavery of a neo-Dickensian era.

At 11:28 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Well, as far as socialized medecine goes, I have to demur. I can't think of any place where it's been done that is an improvement over not doing it.

Sweden? The UK? Please. Tell me, what's the difference between getting a treatment and then having to worry about paying for it, or having to wait until your condition is terminal to see a doctor that might have prescribed it as a treatment when it could have saved you, but won't bother now because you're gonna die anyway?

Oh yeah, in the first scenario, you live, and maybe file for bankruptcy. In the second, your kids inherit well.

I'm not particularly fond of the current unfettered free market medical mayhem currently in practice in the US, but I do have a solution to offer that might be better than socializing medecine.

Change the way drug and medical device patents work. As it stands, any company that researches a new drug or invents a new medical device has to recoup all of their invested research dollars within seven years, and then anyone who wants to can market it without license from the developer. This cause new drugs and devices to have astronomical prices, leading to few if any actually getting these treatments as insurance companies refuse to pay for them.

But what if the developer of a drug had a 100 year monopoly on it (licensing agreements notwithstanding), in exchange for not being allowed to charge more than a specified percentage of cost as markup?

At 11:05 AM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

Demur as you wish, but warts and all Canada still appears to be a friendlier place to fall ill for the majority of its people than the United States.

Let's start by stepping away from the bugaboo of the term "socialized medicine."

I'm not even suggesting the same system -- I know the existing ones have problems -- let's start with keeping a structure like the better HMOs (harder and harder to find) and put everyone on it (even if they choose not to use it because they have some sweeter deal they're confident in, they're still going to be paying into the general system) and have that be single-payer in the sense that the government takes the place of our employers in that respect. Each of us paying the $10 or $15 co-pay for doctor's visits. Something with a built-in Rx plan, where we pay $5-$10 for a generic prescription and $15-$25 for a brand name. Let the federal government bring that huge, single-payer negotiating hammer to the table concerning prices; they're going to be dealing in huge volume.

Something so people know that an annual physical is built into the system -- you still pay the $15 co-pay as it's a doctor's visit.

Something tied to citizenship, so people don't have to worry about keeping jobs that are going nowhere because of existing health conditions they or their dependents might have. As it is now, they don't dare move. It's a sort of slavery, and can turn into one that's even more perverse if the wage-slave finds himself needing the position more than the employer needs him.

As for drug development costs I've long suspected these are routinely exaggerated in the best interests of the pharmaceutical companies... who, along with defense contractors and a quite a few other industries, often conviently forget to include in their accounting the federal funding they receive during the R&D.

I do sympathize with them on the basis of lawsuits. Some solution (compromise) has to be found there.

An extension to exclusive rights to 100 years? In the one - as far as I can see only - spot in intellectual property law where the laws haven't been corrupted unto virtual immortality? That's not something I could get behind unless the amount they'd be able to charge from the start was directly to the level of what we'd expect a generic drug to be. That would work well. The current system of having the newest drug be like the newest consumer electronics -- high-priced and as a result restricted to the most well-heeled consumers or those so desperate as to go into debt over it -- is a hellish system.


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