More johnny

Hospitals are becoming a tad too familiar these days. I spent the morning in various cafeterias of the vast medical-industrial complex that is the Massachusetts General Hospital while waiting for the call from Post-Op that Axel is ready to go home. The assistant already called that ‘he did beautifully,’ during surgery – a funny way to describe the behavior of someone who was put to sleep. As long as the surgeon did ‘beautifully,’ I am happy.

I stayed with him during the Pre-Op procedures, some repeated for the second time because the EKG and blood work done at Beverly hospital some weeks ago never made it to the MGH file of Axel.  It’s a different system and they compete heavily, clearly at the expense of collaboration. I left him in the care of various doctors and nurses when drugs started to drip into his veins.

My first stop was a windowless basement cafeteria. Across from me a cluster of workmen were eating their breakfast while griping about the unfairness of the 500 dollars a week payment one was making to his ex. It was funny to hear their indignation about the rules of the game – created to protect women. They talked as if they were the victims and were getting themselves worked up into a frenzy of ever greater victimnesss and other disgruntled dads to get the child payment rules off the books. Life is terribly unfair.

They were followed by two very tired Haitians who didn’t want to talk with each other (one crossed his arms and put his head down) while the other talked in fast Creole to a compatriot someplace else. The next round included only one person; a woman who acted as if she was there with someone else, an imaginary friend I presumed. She was very animated as she talked into the air, laughing loud from time to time, then looking very worried and scratching her head. It was all both sad and entertaining, making the surgery minutes pass faster than if I’d been in a waiting room.

In another cafeteria a group of MBA students or accounting firm consultants, dressed to the nines, where working hard on spreadsheets on their IBM laptops while simultaneously working their i-Phones and –Pads – something Very Important no doubt. But then again this is an important place. I am wondering about these spread sheets, the two sides of the balance sheet: expenses and revenue (both sides seem very well populated with Big Numbers).

The post op time was longer than I was told by the surgeon’s assistant – not 30 minutes but, according to the grey-haired pink-clad volunteer, but 2 to 3 hours. I was starting to get bored.

I decided to check the statistics on overweight and obesity as this is a hot topic these days – 66% of the American people are overweight and about 30% are obese (BMI over 30).  So I did a home-made survey of ‘the American public’ that walks the halls of the hospital – since it included sick people, cured people, women going to have babies and those who had them, people coming for surgery and people with casts around various body parts, families of sick people, students, volunteers and personnel I figured it would be a good representative sample of New England people.

I sat myself at the entrance of the long hallway that led to various parts of the hospital, medical, administrative, food service and teaching areas. I counted how many people passed my chair in a minute (I did several rounds of counting) and came up with an average of 35 people per minute. Then I counted people who were overweight and obese – I eyeballed that – and also did several rounds – it was always 5 plus or minus 2. Five years ago a survey of Massachusetts’ approximately 5 million adults showed that 37% were overweight and 22% obese, one in two above the normal weight range – with this ‘normal’ already becoming abnormal. My ‘survey’ five years later showed some improvement.  I hope I was right.

I moved to the family waiting area where clumps of somber and not so somber friends and family members were waiting for someone, just like I was. A volunteer with a dog made the rounds. He explained they do that two days a week for a couple of hours. The dog and its (volunteer) owner visit patients and family members – I think this comes from research that animal contact speeds up recovery. The whippet did tricks for us: praying/kneeling, a little pirouette and standing on his hind legs. He got rewarded for each trick but didn’t really warm up to people – I think you need labs or yellow dogs for this kind of work, not the nervous skinny whippets or breeds like that.

We finally got home 11 hours after we left the house. Axel is settled into CP’s old recliner, a fire in the fireplace, a mystery on TV and painkillers every 4 hours. The hospital gave us a cooler that pumps icewater into a bladder that is draped over Axel’s shoulder, a pillow and he got to keep his johnny. I am sure it is all on the bill.

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June 2012
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