Monthly Archives: November 2013

DEATH COMES IN GREEN PASTELS

A famous quote from MIT professor Alan Lightman states that: “The tragedy of this world is that no one is happy. The tragedy of this world is that everyone is alone. For a life in the past cannot be shared with the present. Each person who gets stuck in time gets stuck alone.” Lightman is unusually unique in that he is proficient in and teaches both physics and the humanities. There is, therefore, an element of quantum mechanics in his statement. Whatever great joy or elation one may have experienced in the past cannot be to transposed to to ease a particularly painful situation in the present. One, by him or herself, must singularly go through such an experience, basically, in lonely solitude.

I was thinking of this quote because of a particular situation we are currently going through. A woman we know (with her husband) from almost the beginning of our nearly 20 stint here in Las Vegas is in the final stages of cancer. The end game, so to speak, when it is deemed that no further cancer treatments will be of benefit, and therefore, will not provided. Nasty business, cancer, brought on primarily by growing old. It’s not her real name, but we’ll call her Ellen, to protect the guilty. In any event, the wife and I went to visit Ellen yesterday, probably for the last time. Ellen currently has a one-way ticket to and resides in a local hospice, where people go in, but like that old commercial for mouse traps, they don’t come out. Unless it’s feet first.

The hospice is Nathan Adelson, which has an excellent reputation for being a particularly caring and benevolent institution for both patients and their families and loved ones in the end stages of life. Yada, yada. It’s still a storage facility to house people that are too sick to be taken care of anywhere else, and especially not at home. This particular chapter is located in one of the local, nearby hospitals. So as I’ve said, we went yesterday to see Ellen, for almost certainly, ┬áthe last time. I hadn’t been inside of a hospital for several years, so I forgot that the first thing that hits you, when you enter, is the smell of chemicals. Disinfectants, antiseptics, perhaps various medications, but the odor is overpowering. By the smell alone, you know you’ve entered a parallel universe whose theme is primarily sickness, pain and suffering. The tone has been set, almost in concrete, as it were.

We were shown to Ellen’s room by a very courteous and empathetic nurse on duty at the time. The room itself was airy and large enough to accommodate not only the patient, but several visitors that may come by to pay their respects. It even had a TV for those still conscious enough to be able to watch. The walls were painted in a pale, sort of pastel-colored green, which was certainly pleasant an soothing. The chairs were a somewhat darker shade of green and blended in perfectly with the wall-coloring. Even the patient’s smock was in green. I never knew that the color green was the best way to exit this dimension.

Now, in real life, Ellen was an extremely extraverted and out-going person who loved to dominate the conversation. We used to joke that when going out to dinner with her and her husband, all we had to to was sit back and let Ellen talk on endlessly. Having a vibrant and enthusiastic personality, Ellen was more than up to the task. Some years back, Ellen had a bout with breast cancer, but had apparently, successfully defeated it. Her health, until very recently, appeared to have been as strong as ever. But the nasty thing about cancer is that, more often than not, it likes to make an encore presentation. Ellen’s cancer came back with a vengeance, in the form of bone cancer, which is especially painful. So when we arrived in her room Ellen was so doped up with morphine or other pain-killers, that, for the most part, she was unconscious. It’s doubtful that she even recognized our presence.

You should know that my wife has been extremely stressed out by her friend’s situation. To say that she has been overtly upset would be an understatement. Nevertheless, once inside Ellen’s room, my wife was suddenly the epitome of composure. She held Ellen’s hand, kept talking to her in the most soothing tones, and kissed her on the cheek. (I was too freaked out by Ellen’s appearance, which fully displayed the ravages of stage four cancer, to be of any use.) My wife’s calm and composed demeanor under fire was certainly something to be proud of. After some time we finally left this very sad setting.

One must consider, however, that the process of dying begins the moment we are born. Perhaps the entire panorama of one’s life’s events is merely the prelude to the biggest event of them all, which is one’s death. Perhaps the short time we spend on this planet is, as various religions would suggest, merely to prepare us for an eternal life in a different dimension. I used to lean toward that thinking based on near-death-experiences reported by those that had been clinically dead for several minutes. But then I found out that such experiences occurred in less than 20% of NDE victims. For the other 80% plus, there was just the black hole of nothingness. Nobody knows for sure, and even the most determined religionist is afraid of dying. Look at Billy Graham, the most ardent of evangelicals, hanging on for dear life at age 95, even with a bucketful of maladies. In either event though, it’s just as Alan Lightman wrote. ┬áThe tragedy of this world is that everyone is alone- and most especially when undergoing the process we call dying.

 

 

 

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THE HEALTHCARE SCARE

So Obama promised on numerous occasions that: “If you like your healthcare plan you can keep it. Period.” He often repeated this while campaigning for President and then after he was elected. Bad mistake, as it turned out, since perhaps millions of people will lose their healthcare plan due to implementation of Obamacare. Couple that with the disastrous incompetence of introducing Obamacare on-line, and you have Republicans, like sharks smelling blood in the water, circling around their prey, ready to pounce. I suppose if Obama had said that most people would be able to maintain their healthcare plans, this entire kerfuffle might have been avoided. In any event, before we let panic and hysteria reign supreme, I felt it would actually be helpful if we looked at the facts and the reality surrounding the whole healthcare stew that exist in America today. You know what facts are; those pesky and annoying items that always seem to interfere with ideology.

The first fact to acknowledge is that we are the only civilized country on Planet Earth, (and perhaps in the universe) that doesn’t provide its citizens with universal healthcare. Republicans, and other assorted right-wingers point to healthcare systems in Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Japan, India, and everywhere else, and declaim these systems as “socialized medicine.” Oh, the horror. We must never allow the evils of socialized medicine to take root in the U.S., they staunchly proclaim. Except that it already has for major segments of our society. Like the military, for example. Republicans hold the military in such high esteem, that it has not been a problem bestow upon them the “evils” of socialized medicine. Here’s how it works. The military healthcare system is called TRICARE, and it’s available to all active AND retired military, their spouses and their young children. All are eligible to obtain free medical treatment at VA hospitals or from private doctors. Currently, this comes to just under 10 million people who don’t have to worry about obtaining healthcare. Plus, if one has ever served in the military, they’re allowed to obtain medical care at VA hospitals for a small co-pay. Why is socialized medicine a given for the military, but such a big deal about making it available to the civilian population?

Next comes Medicare for all those pain-in-the-ass seniors, who, as everyone knows, are just leeches on society. While not as good as TRICARE, it’s still not bad. It pays an estimated 80 percent of usual doctor bills, and almost 100 percent of hospital charges. It doesn’t cover stuff like eye glasses or hearing aids which are an increasing necessity in many senior’s lives. Normally, when one has Medicare, one has to also acquire a supplemental healthcare plan to cover the stuff Medicare won’t pay for. My supplemental costs about 3 times more than my Medicare premiums; but, between the two, I don’t have to worry about any billings from doctors or hospitals. So we’ll say that Medicare is semi-socialized medicine. Except if a senior decides to belong to an HMO, where everything is paid for and no supplemental is required. Then it’s fully socialized. There are, however, certain disadvantages to belonging to an HMO, which you can learn about on Google. In any event, there are currently 49 million people receiving Medicare benefits. The list of those with Government healthcare support keeps growing.

The next category of Government provided healthcare is Medicaid, a health plan for the poor. Medicaid is generally not considered a worthy plan because the Government is extremely parsimonious in its funding. Medicaid is a joint federal and state funded venture and both have been reluctant in providing the resources needed to keep the system afloat. Many doctors will not accept Medicaid patients because of stingy reimbursements. Still, if you’re poor, and can’t afford health insurance, it’s better than nothing. Currently, 70 million people rely on Medicaid for their health benefits. There’s also CHIP, the Children Health Insurance Program; essentially, Medicaid for youngsters, which enrolls another 7.6 million people. So we’re now up to about 136 million Americans receiving health insurance benefits from the Government. (Better not alert the Tea Party nut cases, or they’ll develop a case of the heaves.)

An estimated113 million Americans receive their health insurance from private employers or as employees of governments at the federal, state and local levels. These are generally safe from the mandates of Obamacare. So where’s the problem with all these cancellation notices and rate hikes. It comes because 5 percent of the population, or about 15 million people have to buy health insurance directly, because, for one reason or another, they are not part of a group plan. Which is always an unfortunate position to be in. Most of these cancellation notices are occurring because many of these self-insured health plans do not meet minimum medical requirements specified by the Government. Or, in other words, these plans are a piece of crap; and the only thing saving the butts of those purchasing such plans is that they remain healthy enough to not require serious medical attention in the first place. Eventually, over time, if Obamacare is allowed to develop and evolve, those buying self-insurance will be able to obtain decent plans at reasonable cost.

But, if Republicans want to howl that Obama lied, they’re free to do so. Imagine, a politician in Washington lied. I don’t think my heart can take it. Where’s my defibrillator? Although I seem to recall those famous words uttered by George Bush, the Elder: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” That notorious line was proclaimed about a year before he signed legislation raising our taxes. Or how about the right-wingers favorite President, Ronald Reagan, lying to us for over 2 years about the Iran-Contra scandal. (Those not familiar with Iran-Contra can also check it out on Google.) Or how about the infamous: “I did not have sex, not even once, with that woman, Miss Lewenski.” Bill Clinton is now revered as a saint in Democratic circles, despite the utterance. It was he, more than anyone, that saved Obama’s butt, in the 2012 election. Or how about George Bush, the Younger, telling us we had to go to war with Iraq because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. It was only later that we found no WMDs existed in Iraq. Or better yet, take the man considered our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln. In trying to secure enough votes to pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery, lying was the least of his sins. Lincoln used bribery, blackmail, threats of political or bodily harm, coercion, and bunches of other bad stuff, but he got the job done and was hailed as a hero. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from that.

 

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