Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cold Hearted December

For all of my blog readers (all 5 of you), and those among you who do not follow my Facebook page, I apologize for my absence here.

It's been a rough month. As always in December, I'm very busy and ill at the same time. This year, I've been going through a royal succession of flu, colds, and respiratory infections that have left me miserable but functional at best, and completely bed-ridden at worst. On top of all that, on Saturday, the boiler in our building blew, and so it's 25F outside and there's no heat. I'm sitting in front of a space heater grading papers during the day, and shivering under blankets on the couch at night so that Michael at least can get some sleep without getting sick. We went through Sunday with no water as the old boiler was torn out. I canceled one of my classes this week because of illness, and I sent an email blast to students in another that I might not have their papers graded by exam time (it looks like I will after all).

And then there are so many people for whom things are so much harder.

I made a trip to the emergency room at Beth Israel in Manhattan last night that, fortunately, turned out to be unnecessary. Another respiratory infection that gives me a nasty rasping choking cough replaced my flu, and it was starting to set my asthma off, so Michael took me to the hospital. We arrived on a bitterly cold Monday night to a packed emergency waiting room with all kinds and all ages of unhappy people and little security or supervision. A small group of old drunks was openly drinking Jack Daniels and harassing everyone else in the room right in front of an unconcerned staff. After waiting about 3 hours, the nurse on duty put us in a cubicle next to an old woman who apparently had some kind of seizure. Her family was there with her, and she made life very difficult for them. She had Alzheimer's, and put up quite a fight every time anyone wanted to do anything for her. Her daughter was apparently quite used to this, and supervised the orderlies and nurses on how to handle her. "Bitch!" the old woman would yell, and her daughter calmly replied, "That's right, my name's bitch." It turns out that they had all been there together waiting since noon on Monday (It was after 9PM when we met them), and they just got word that the old woman would have to spend the night in the emergency room because, while the hospital did have a bed, there was not enough staff to look after her at that moment.
Across from us was another family with another ill mother, a large family who formed a kind of protective escort around the elderly mother. They were having all kinds of problems with security who were allowing only one friend or relative with a patient at a time into the emergency area. When a security guard insisted that one woman in the group leave, she refused. She said she would rather be arrested than return to a cold crowded waiting room to be harassed by a bunch of old drunks. The guard backed down and she stayed.

Michael and I have been in plenty of emergency rooms in our day, but this was probably the worst we've seen in terms of crowding and disorder, and this was Monday night, not Saturday night. Michael guessed, probably correctly, that this hospital, and most of the others on Manhattan, are this way now because Saint Vincent's in Greenwich Village closed. That was the only hospital on Manhattan south of 14th street, and on the West Side, and now all the other hospitals in the Borough must take up the slack. Officially, Saint Vincent's closed because of financial reasons. Unofficially, it sits on some extremely valuable Greenwich Village property, and the developers are already swarming in and squabbling like vultures over a fresh carcass.

Michael this morning angrily suggests that several Congress people and Senators should be forced to go to emergency rooms just like the rest of us with either cut-rate insurance or no insurance, and then tell us how awful socialized medicine in those godless gulags known as Canada, France, and Israel really is.
I think that they know all about it, and they just don't care. As Michael pointed out, in affluent Nassau County he watched 10 police squad cars pull up just to remove one old passed out drunk in a parking lot. Meanwhile in much of Brooklyn, if you're being robbed or assaulted, you're lucky if one cop car shows up within an hour. As long as they and theirs are cared for and protected, people genuinely don't care what happens to their neighbors. I got mine, and the hell with everyone else.

It's for this reason that now I despair of any real political solution to the economic and social impasse we find ourselves in these days.

A nation divided between winners and losers won't last long, especially if half or more of the population have no stake in their country and nothing to lose. They might conclude that it's better to kick over the table and start a new game, or to take their chances with the enemy.

So, to hell with the December darkness and the enforced Xmas good cheer! Let's join Gauguin and head to the tropics where it's bright and warm, even if it's really no better than any other place on earth.


What was once St. Vincent's Hospital will indeed be torn down and transformed into luxury housing. St. Vincent's which played historic roles in the AIDS crisis and in the September 11th attacks as well as providing vital services to the residents of Lower Manhattan has been discarded in the name of profit.


susan s. said...

I don't know how I would react to being in that ER. It sounds so miserable. I am sorry your heat is still out. Two words. . . Electric Blanket.

Thanks for the South Pacific. I played Bloody Mary 29 years ago(God was it that long ago?) in my off, off, off, way off Broadway debut(Modesto, Ca. I loved singing Bali Hai!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I loved the film and the record...

JCF said...

{Everybody in ERs}
{All of Us}

Unknown said...

The ER here in our small town isn't much better these days. But your description of the Alzheimer's mother held bit of humor, so I'm hoping that means you're on the mend.

Hope you get better, and warmer soon.

it's margaret said...

I spent about 15 hours in an ER this weekend --3x in about 5 hour blocks.... and despite the people on stretchers in the hallways, the on-going beeping of machines, the crying and fighting --I couldn't turn around without seeing police, sheriffs, and even some private police... I still think your story beats anything I saw, hands down.

Tui Snider said...

Sorry you had to go to the ER, and that you had such a wait. Breathing is such a priority for us humans that I am always shocked how long people with asthma are forced to wait.

Hope your heat turns on soon and that your month gets better!


Mary Clara said...

Doug, thanks for this amazing sermon on how bad things are, and how beautiful. Sending love to you and Michael and beautiful suffering New York.

IT said...

I'm so sorry. I hope you are doing better.

I'm just astonished that the Republicans continue to attack the health care bill when we have this kind of evidence of sinking into banana republichood. What in hell are they thinking?