So I spent some time in hospital last week — I’ll say a little more about the details later — and a slow recovery will mean that posting will continue to be limited around here for a while, and perhaps a little more link-heavy than usual. But I want to deviate from the topics of this blog, for a post or two, to comment on what I saw in the belly of the health-care beast. I think it will fit the general New Atlantis mandate, if not that of Text Patterns more specifically.I was admitted to Central DuPage Hospital late on Wednesday night, March 30th, and sent to a room on the fourth floor. My roommate was an elderly man I’ll call Mr. H. I later learned that he is a retired teacher in the area who suffers from both Parkinson’s and some form of dementia, but who was in the hospital for some other reason. I think he may have had pneumonia. It soon became clear that his wife cared for him full-time, wholly, and without any substantial assistance, and whenever she wasn’t around he was quite simply a lost soul. He called our her name over and over, in a keening wail, throughout the night, and kept trying to get out of bed, which set off alarms. (In the meantime she, poor lady, was probably getting the first night of real sleep she had had in some time.)
Maybe I was butting in, though no one complained. I really didn't need to be dealing with Mr. P.’s problems — I was a pretty sick puppy myself — but it was clear that I was the only possible person to be an advocate for him in a tough situation.
All of our recent debates about the American health-care system, it occurred to me, had been about availability and cost — about getting into the system and getting out again. But when you’re in the midst of it, it’s an incredibly complex, convoluted, murky system to navigate. There are overlapping levels of responsibility among many different medical personnel, and it’s rarely clear who’s in charge. In his more seriously compromised condition, Mr. H. had an advocate: his wife; but Mr. P. had none at all. By the time I left I think his situation was clarifying — he was soon going to be transferred to some kind of rehabilitation center — but I still worry a bit when I think about him. Whoever pays for it, and however they do so, the health-care system remains a dark wood in which it is very easy to get lost.