This is a very long story. Bear with me, and you shall understand.
Domino One, August 21, 2009: A flight from Seattle to Palm Springs to fulfill a commitment to read from my book, Hunga Dunga, at a bookstore in Rancho Mirage, CA. Unpacking in my hotel room, I noticed I had forgotten my Flomax, one of the few medications I reluctantly take because it has proved effective in reducing the slight enlargement of my prostate. But since I had been taking it for years, I assumed there was enough in my system that I could do without it for a few days. That evening, the reading went very well, the audience seemed delighted, and the bookstore owner even more delighted as he rang up sales of the book.
The next day was uneventful, but relaxing, as I lounged at poolside and caught up on email. That evening I shared a wonderful dinner with friends. But later that night, I began to experience some discomfort. By the next morning, I decided I should not be without my Flomax.
Domino Two, August 23, 2009: A trip to a nearby pharmacy where I explained the situation and asked if they could sell me just six pills to get me through the next three days before flying home to Seattle. They said I had to have a prescription and since it was a Sunday, not only was my doctor unavailable but my regular pharmacy as well. They suggested I see a doctor at Urgent Care, which I did. Urgent Care is one of those storefront medical facilities for the poor, uninsured, or underinsured, who have no primary physician. The doctor gave me a prescription for six pills, plus the perfunctory blood work. The pharmacy filled the prescription but said my insurance wouldn’t cover it since my prescription was not due for refill.
Out of pocket expense for the six pills: $39. Charge for the visit to Urgent Care and blood work: _____?____
Domino Three, August 24, 2009: Sweltering heat. The kind of day perfect for a matinee. I went with two friends. In the middle of the movie, I had stabbing pains in the left side of my abdomen. The pain was very localized and I could pinpoint it with my finger. A friend brought me back to Urgent Care, where the doctor I had seen the day before, told me to go to the ER at Desert Regional Medical Center, called ahead, told them I was on my way, and handed me a sealed envelope to give to the trauma nurse.
At the ER, the doctor opened the letter. All it said was “urinary retention.” He sent me to their lab for yet more blood work, an X-ray, and a CAT scan. The blood work was unremarkable, the X-ray showed nothing, and the CAT scan revealed the same. His diagnosis: “idiopathic stomach pain.” (I hate that word, “idiopathic,” though it does bring to mind the word “idiot,” since I complained how could my pain be “idiopathic” when I can pinpoint the source of the pain? Don’t these doctors study anatomy?) He wrote me a prescription for two antibiotics and a pain reliever. He said should the pain continue, to see him the next day.
Cost of the medications: $31 (my co-pay). Cost of the visit to the ER, blood work, X-ray, and CAT scan: __?__
Domino Four, August 25, 2009: The pain was severe enough to warrant a second visit to the ER. I saw the same doctor. Though I took his finger and, for a second time, pressed it precisely where the pain was on my left side, he was fixated on the initial diagnosis from Urgent Care, namely “urinary retention.” When he sent me for more blood work, another X-ray, and yet another CAT scan, I questioned why it was necessary to repeat what had been done the day before. His answer was “things change.” When all the results were in, nothing had changed. I began to complain.
My complaints became somewhat incoherent as the Dilaudid began to course through my bloodstream. When he asked if I felt better, I confessed there was a warm, comforting breeze caressing the landscape of my body, but the pain was still there.
Before I knew it, a nurse gave me a booster shot of Dilaudid and began a procedure, one that has always haunted me and caused me to cringe at the very thought of it. Namely, a catheter being corkscrewed up my penis. “Breathe deep,” said Nurse Ratchet as she pushed the tube in deeper. In a daze, I watched piss flow freely from my bladder into a plastic bag. Since I’d been lying in a bed for five hours, I had to pee anyway. It felt good, but as a fashion statement, the catheter and accessories did nothing for my self-esteem, or for that matter, the continuing stabbing pain in my left side.
The doctor discharged me with the admonition that only an Urologist could remove the catheter. I was to fly back to Seattle the next day! Would I be able to handle that? When I got back to my hotel, I called my physician in Seattle who referred me to an Urologist. The earliest he could see me was two weeks away! The idea of being catheterized for that long was unbearable.
Cost of a second CAT scan, a second X-ray, and more blood work, all in an ER environment: _____?______
Domino Five, August 26, 2009 : Fortunately, I found an Urologist at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage who could see me the next day. Though I would have to cancel my flight home I figured it was worth it to have the damned catheter removed.
Certainly, Eisenhower Hospital could retrieve all my medical information from Desert Regional. But no! The two hospitals have different “systems” which are incompatible. Smart guy that I thought I was, I showed the Urologist the copies of the X-rays, the lab reports, and the CD of the CAT scan I brought with me. He promptly complained that Desert Regional ER had not used any contrast solution when performing the CAT scans and therefore were of no use. He also ordered more blood work, even though I had copies of those done the day before.
Once again, I was scooted from a gurney onto the table that would slide me beneath a large magnetic donut, so reassuringly labeled SONOTRON in huge medical corporation letters at the top of the enormous apparatus. When all the reports were in, the Urologist said, “Aha! You do not have urinary retention, your prostate is fine, and your pain is the result of an infection in your colon (exactly at the spot where I had been pointing the past three days!) “Here, have this prescription of antibiotics filled. You should feel better in a couple of days. I asked for copies of the lab work and a copy of the CD of this new “iodized” CAT scan.
I was sure he would remove the catheter, now knowing the true cause of my pain. No dice. Just to play it safe, he said I should leave it in until I returned to Seattle and could see my own doctor. Shit!
Cost of the Urologist, the blood work, and the iodine metallic-flavored solution injected into me for the CAT scan: ____?____
The next day, 27th of August, the antibiotics turned my stomach inside out and upside down, and I was down for the count. The entire day. I was still in great pain and decided to move my flight back to Seattle out one more day.
Domino Six, August 28, 2009: Though it was very hot, I wore baggy sweat pants and sweatshirt. The baggy pants were to hide the protruding tubes from my penis leading to a large plastic bag strapped to my leg. When my friend dropped me off at the airline, we were the ONLY car in front of the unload zone. My friend went in to bring my luggage to the ticket counter and to find a wheel chair. He had just entered through the automatic doors, when the lone Airport Parking Attendant guy, sporting his fine, shining badge, yelled at me to go get my friend and tell him to move the car immediately.
I tried to explain he would be back in a moment. I couldn’t walk very well. He kept yelling at me to get my friend to move the car immediately or he would write him a ticket. I tried my best to hobble into the terminal telling him I had a catheter up my cock and a plastic bag that was quickly filling up with piss! He glowered at me and repeated his threat.
That’s when the explosion occurred. Not the plastic bag, but me! I had had enough! I lost it! I felt like Michael Douglas in that movie where he goes berserk after being caught in gridlock on the freeway and one little incident begets another nightmarish incident, until it gets blown up way out of proportion. As the Parking Attendant (not even a TSA guy!) approached me, I dropped my sweatpants.
There, for anyone to see, but especially for him, was my elongated cock, the quarter inch tube extruding from my piss slit and running down my leg into the plastic bag. He was stunned and did not know how to react, but then retreated to the safe demeanor of one who has authority and is more than anxious to exert it.
“How dare you flash me! Just what the hell do you think you’re doing! I will call law enforcement and have you arrested!”
“So arrest me,” I yelled back. “At least I have the consolation of having peed in front of you!”
The Airport Parking guy menacingly approached. The ticket agent inside, who had witnessed the entire episode, came to my aid and verbally slapped the “meter maid” upside the head. He used epithets that fully expressed his disdain for the way I was being treated, and the inexplicable phenomenon that as soon as you put a uniform and badge on a minimum wage, under-educated lackey, they turn into egomaniacs. Thank goodness for people who are humane and have some common sense.
The Parking Attendant, probably thinking of himself as an Agent of Homeland Security, was totally surprised at the outburst, and retreated. The ticket agent got a wheel chair and wheeled me inside. He changed my ticket so I would have a whole row to myself.
And so the dominoes fell. The point of this long story should be evident. If not, add up what all these procedures, most of them in an ER cost the taxpayer. I am lucky. I have health insurance. But think about the duplication of the procedures. Think about the lack of communication between hospitals and between doctors. Think about the cost savings if a doctor or hospital could access the same databases and get all your information immediately. Think about all those people who have NO insurance at all.
And now I dare you to tell me we don’t need health care reform and we don’t need a public option to keep insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical supply companies in line! Use your noodle! Please!
I have left blank lines I will fill in after I get itemized bills. But my research shows a CAT scan costs on an average between $4-6000. An X-ray costs between $4-600. Just being in an ER costs approximately $1,000 an hour. If a contrast dye is used in a CAT scan, that is $500 extra. A radiology report costs $300. And the physicians, transcriptions, administrative costs, etc… well, when I find out, I’ll let you know.
My best guess is that my six Dominoes over the course of 4 days, tumbled into a bill that cost me AND you conservatively $23,000 but I will not be shocked to find the final bill to be much more! All this money, only to be told, when the last domino fell, that I had an infection that could be treated through diet and antibiotics. Think about it people.
And as long as I’m venting, there is no need to be constantly reminded what color the terror threat is for the day. TSA and first responders should know, but there is no need for it to be constantly blaring out of PA systems for all to hear. This fear mongering has got to stop! The only color in which I am currently interested is the color of my pee!