I had been looking forward to my weekend off work. Saturday morning turned into a brightly sunny day with still balmy temperatures in the low 70’s, as the rest of the country was digging out from yet another snow storm, with more cold, wet weather promised on the way. I took the opportunity to enjoy a short hike around our local mountain. As I arrived home, the answering machine was beeping, alerting me to a message left there by a good friend. Her mother had just died, and she was calling to inform us of the funeral arrangements.
My friend, her mother, along with her father, had graced our Christmas table for a number of years. The mother had a stroke a couple of years ago, leaving her with not only paralysis of her left side, but also with a severe expressive aphasia; the inability to speak. My friend’s father, a retired a surgeon, visited his wife every day at the nursing home, fed her dinner, and kept her company. Now she’s gone, and another place card will go unused at the next holiday dinner, adding to the rapidly accumulating pile of memories called forth by the roll call of the missing: Ann, Sylvia, Sasha, Kathy, Carl, Marija, Michael, Jeanette – it’s an ever growing list. It’s as if the tides of time are eroding the bulwark of all those we have known and loved, wearing down the security of friends and family who have stood between us and the winds of chaos and entropy.
Saturday also brought with it an occasion of celebration. Another friend was turning 65, and we joined with those who gathered to make it a day to be remembered. Most of those present work with him in the ER, and like any elite military unit, these foot soldiers on the front line of medicine shared war stories laced with the kind of macabre sense of humor outsiders would no doubt find insensitive if not insulting, but which allows those who battle in these trenches to go back to another shift filled with human drama, suffering, stupidity and pathos without being emotionally bankrupt themselves. He is excellent at what he does, possesses a large heart and a kind soul, but does not suffer fools gladly. All of the staff are fiercely loyal to him, and he to them. I, being one of only a couple of outsiders privileged to have received an invitation, appreciate the value of the esprit-de-corps that binds them together, and have watched as they together have literally saved lives. I was happy to see that the enthusiasm for what they do, as well as for each other, had not waned over the years.
Today, the weather changed, and soon the morning clouds took on a more threatening demeanor. The snow capped mountains, so spectacular in yesterday’s sunshine, no longer were visible, replaced by the gray haze that preceded the coming of the rain. The friend I was supposed to go hiking with this morning called shortly before the rain began, letting me know her teenage son had swallowed a piece of meat the night before, and it was still stuck in his swallowing tube. Since I knew the GI doctor who was working today, I called him, explained the situation, and he agreed to meet her at the hospital to extract the offending item. As it often happens these days, things did not go so smoothly. Since my friend belonged to an HMO, her son needed to have prior authorization in order to have any procedure done. And since this was a Sunday, the only way the paperwork could be accomplished was for him to be first seen in the ER, have tests done, be evaluated by the ER doctor, certified to need a procedure that could not be put off until the next day, etc., etc., etc.. Needless to say, what should have been a twenty minute procedure turned into an all day affair that involved a mountain of paperwork, several needless X-rays, blood tests, and the wasted time of a number skilled professionals (not to mention my friend and her son) – all so the bureaucracy could continue along in its convoluted and very wasteful way. And you wonder why medical care has become so expensive? In no small part it’s because the inmates are running the asylum.
Hopefully, your weekend was a good one.