When I was in college I volunteered at a hippie day care center where my favorite child was a toddler named Free. He was just learning to talk and had a limited vocabulary. Nonetheless he was an effective communicator because every other word out of his mouth was “fuck.” I loved that baby.
All of my life I’ve given back to the community: I did one of the first big fundraisers for the AIDS Foundation in 1983; I did another fundraiser for the Library’s LGBT reading room in 1995; and, for several years I was a volunteer at the Bessie Carmichael School in the City. Recently I’ve been helping out my neighbor who’s had a medical setback.
Now that Ben is getting stronger and is home from the rehab facility, reunited with my god-diggity-dog daughter Sydney, I was starting to sense a void in my daily schedule. Then a message from the Department of Public Works crossed my laptop. They have an Adopt a Drain Program and need my help.
If you’re willing to put a little elbow grease into keeping it clean before and after storms, you are granted naming rights for that drain. A win/win, what better use of my talents?
I returned from an east coast jaunt in early December to find my friend Ben in the hospital, his life in chaos. As the doctors searched for the cause of his pain I helped get his affairs in order. To motivate him I said we should try to get him home by Christmas.
He probably wouldn’t have been able to care for himself so I offered to have him stay at my place for a week to transition. I suggested he carefully review Kathy Bates’ performance in Misery.
Reality soon overwhelmed planning and he didn’t go anywhere for Christmas. Last Thursday he was transferred to a skilled nursing facility. Although there had been talk that he would eventually go to one of these places, the move itself came about rather suddenly.
Ben called me around noon that day and was distraught. They were making arrangements to move him that afternoon. He was afraid it would be some “Tenderloin hell-hole.” As a graduate of Boalt Hall he can be quite argumentative and contentious at times. He put up all kinds of resistance.
I ended up the go-between for Ben and the Client Relations Manager Rihana. They’d determined the sole cause of his hip pain was a bacterial infection and the course of therapy was an IV antibiotic for six weeks. This could be administered at a nursing home. Ben pleaded for one more night at the hospital and said he would go in the morning. Rihana said she would try and it was left at that.
That evening when I visited him at San Francisco Health Care and Rehabilitation Center he was a defeated soul. Plus he looked at me like my powers of advocacy had failed him. I put the best spin on it I could. At least he’d found out the treatment was six weeks, he’d already done two, he just had to ride it out for a month.
Then he told me what happened that morning. He’s had an untreated Sciatica problem for years. In addition to the hip pain he was having a lot of back pain. Another MRI was done at 10:00 am and they found problems with a disc. By the time he got back to his room at 11:00 the transfer had been set in motion.
Had there been a secret meeting of the ODP’s (Obama Death Panels) and was it determined that a second non-emergency surgery paid for by Medicare would not be profitable for Davies Medical Center? One tries not to be cynical but…
Friday afternoon I went to see him at the home and noticed there was no IV. He hadn’t had any treatment in the last 24 hours. I didn’t have the energy to take on the new mysterious bureaucracy of the nursing home, I preferred the old bureaucracy that I did know. I went outside and called Rihana at Davies.
When I explained the situation she apologized. Then she said the facility was chosen because they could administer the therapy but Davies had no authority over what they actually did. I was flabbergasted. I accused her of being duplicitous and deliberately misleading Ben. I was upset that she had used me to help convince him to move based on her assertion that he would continue to receive treatment. It appeared Davies just wanted to free a bed for a more profitable patient. She kept repeating the “no authority” line so I hung up on her.
I walked around and ran some errands trying to think of a way to present this new development to Ben. When I returned to his room an hour later an IV had miraculously appeared in his arm.
To call this facility a hell hole is being kind. Ben says he’s seen bugs. When I visit he never has water. Nor do they provide pitchers I could fill with tap water. So I bring in bottled. He’s been there five days and has yet to have any physical therapy. They haven’t even helped him out of bed.
I could go on but all you need to know is that there’s one Russian doctor for the 168 patients. My guess is he’s a graduate of the famed Trump University of Ekaterinburg’s Med School by Mail program.
Who needs Kathy Bates to terrorize you when you have Medicare-fraud nursing homes to do it for you?
Wear bright, bold colors and show as many teeth as possible when you smile. Phony cheerfulness can do wonders for the dreary ambiance of a hospital room. Listen intently to what the patient is saying. Somewhere in that incoherent mumbling they may be articulating a need you might be able to help with. Or not.
Be sure to to take advantage of the hospital’s free wifi and bring your phone. Small talk about the patient’s physical therapy can get old. Start texting to let everyone know which episode of The Crown you’re on. Or who you saw that tramp Bill with last night. You did your job by showing up at the hospital, now book a little “me time” and indulge yourself.
Patients often have weak or non-existent appetites so it’s no crime to stop by at meal times and pick at their trays. Those are your Obama-care tax dollars that paid for that slop, take back what’s rightfully yours. Patients are like zoo animals, they get regular feedings. Missing a meal here or there isn’t going to hurt them.
Decorum and a sense of self will get you everywhere in life. Never let down your guard.
Ben continues to make slow progress. And, as should be obvious, he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
Thanks to all of you who have supported Ben. If you are interested in reading his story or making a donation visit gofundme.com/ben-and-sydney.
Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Or whatever it is that floats your boat.