For anyone not acquainted with O. Henry's short story, "The Gift of the Magi", stop what you are doing and go straight here, and do not come back until you have finished it. You will not regret it. If are you familiar with it, but haven't read it in a long time, same goes for you. This will still be here when you get back.
I had a precious little gift of my own last week: an all expense paid visit to the ER! I was going to write about it last Friday and then the horrific murder of two policeman changed the focus of what I wanted to say. But, the players remain the same: two of Stockton's finest in blue, ER docs, representative of the evil, non government hospital, in white, a homeless man, and a keen observer of the human condition. (Okay, he was kicked out of the ER for loitering and then it was just up to me to take notes.)
It was the first time I'd been to an ER during the week, when things are relatively quiet. Typically, I'd be there on a weekend, like everybody else, because I didn't have access to my regular physician, and, well, it was an emergency. In fact, I had a great deal of déjà vu in driving myself there. Just before I moved to Ohio, I had driven myself to the very same ER, with a rapidly beating heart and pains in my left arm. The pain in my arm, it turned out, was coincidental to all the packing and moving I was doing, but, because that and my first ever bout with A-fib, I got moved to the front of a very long line of folk in the ER that weekend.
This time, there were may be a dozen people there, and a lot of them were friends and families of those actually needing medical treatment, still, there was a lot of "hurry up and wait". I didn't mind, since I was familiar with how the triage system works and my injuries were far from life threatening this time, so I waited. And waited. USW*
After waiting in one place, they invited me to wait in another, this time on a gurney in the hallway. So, I waited a little more. They had some of those portable curtain screens around, but there wasn't much call for them. Then, a couple of Stockton's finest and a couple of docs escorted this guy with no pants to sit on the gurney closest to mine. I tried not to eavesdrop, but by this time I was ready to read soup labels for entertainment.
It was apparently a homeless guy. Straight out of Central Casting, he had long scraggly hair and a long unkempt beard...and no pants. From what I was able to piece together his story, he'd been brought to the hospital four days before with some kind of seizure. His clothing and meager possessions had been stuffed into a plastic bag, per hospital policy. And now, he wanted to leave. Apparently in no uncertain terms he wanted to leave. My guess is, that he raised some kind of ruckus with the nurses, which explained the presence of the two police officers, who did not bring him in but were called because of the nature and volume of his impending departure.
The police officers both drew their night sticks and beat him mercilessly, shouting racial epithets in rhythm with the blows. Of course not. BTW, I haven't mentioned anyone's race or gender here (besides the homeless guy), and won't. It's irrelevant. The police and the doctors both explained that they could not keep him here against his will, but they were concerned for his well being after he leaves the hospital. It was remarked that he was weak, and could hardly walk, had no residence to return to, but he insisted he wanted to go to a "friend's house".
The police were there to ensure the safety of the staff, in case this gentleman went beyond violent outbursts to violent action. There were also there to see to his well being, and convince him, if they could, to stay under the hospital's care until he was better equipped to handle things on his own.
Let me remind you at this point, that the man was homeless. He had no insurance. He had no money to pay, yet here this money grubbing, non-government hospital who might charge you $20 for a pack of Pampers was offering to let this man, who had been with them for four days, without paying a cent, to stay for an indefinite time longer.
No one has to go without health care in America.
But, he'd made up his mind. In a way, I can't blame him. I'd been there for four hours and pretty much had seen everything I wanted to. He'd been there four days. He determined to go, against doctor's recommendation. His bare feet were stuck in running shoes. "Could we give you a pair of socks?" they asked, and someone went off running to fetch him a pair of socks. This was Winter in California. Maybe forty degrees outside. Not bad by comparison to much of the country, but then, most of the country has some place to go home to.
It was around 11:30 AM. "How about lunch? Can we get you something to eat before you go?" Again,one of the orderlies was dispatched to find the man something to eat, that he could take with him.
So now he had fresh, clean dry socks, lunch, courtesy of the hospital and, did I mention he wasn't wearing pants? In California in the winter time, it doesn't snow through much of the state, but it does rain. We'd been having a number of big rainstorms lately, and when he was brought in, he'd been brought in soaking wet. And his pants? Put into the plastic bag in the condition they were brought in. Wet. They hadn't gotten any drier or cleaner in the last four days. So now, he has clean dry socks, a meal and wet pants to go off walking about in 40 to 50 degree weather.
After a brief discussion of the feasibility of laundering his clothes, it was another command decision: "Can we get him a pair of hospital pants?" And again, someone provided him with, shall we say, less than ideal winter wear...thin and hardly fashionable, but clean and dry. They put the partitions around him to give him a little privacy while he dressed.
"Where does your friend live?" The guy was a little vague. I suspect his elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor, if you know what I mean. The doctor says, "Let me get you a bus pass. Here's two. I don't want you to have to do a lot of walking."
The elderly gentleman thanked him and they escorted him as far as the parking lot, clutching his meager possessions, his lunch and sporting a snazzy blue pair of pants. A hard life just got a tiny bit easier, for a while, anyway. Thanks in large part to the kind of hospital that Barack Obama would do away with. Thanks in part to a couple of police officers who wanted to make sure that this individual did not harm himself or anyone else.
The next time some hospital bills you $24 for a box of Kleenex you could have picked up at Costco for a buck, just remember that the excess isn't necessarily going towards the head doctor's next Lexus payment. It helps cover the costs of those who pay nothing at all, like our friend here. The gifts of the Magi were clean socks, and a lunch and some crummy blue pants, given in the Spirit of Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all!
Oh, and me? Hurt my arm. Tore something. Very painful, but nothing I can't handle. Will be typing with one hand for the foreseeable future. Thanks for asking! (You know you were!)
* "Um so weiter": German for "et cetera". See? You didn't think you were going to learn anything today!
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