“I am like a broken vessel.”
Make that “was,” baby.
There came a day—not so long in reality, but to me as interminably and irrevocably slow in coming as Christmas is to a five year old—when I went down to the hospital for a last meeting with the Hispanic bodybuilder.
The wait in the hospital waiting room was almost as interminable as the months I waited to be well enough to justify being seen. It is after all a county hospital, the only public facility for far too many miles around, and when emergencies arise they must be dealt with, while anything less than Death Imminent must bide its time. So while I bided mine for most of an entire day I read and watched the other patients.
It was like something right out of William Saroyan: black; white; Hispanic; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; women with rosaries; a woman in what we call a burka, complete with a net-screened eye opening and three small children in tow; men and women on crutches or strollers; some in wheelchairs; a man with a monstrous neck restraint held in place by bolts drilled into his skull, like something right out of Frankenstein; slings and orthopedic boots like mine; casts; people moving well; people moving with tentative steps and outstretched arms; people alone; couples; friends; old; middle-aged; young; small children; a man in an Islamic kufi, seated in the same row as a man in a yarmulke; a panoply of faces; a panoply of the wonderful diversity that is America. Also a panoply of the poverty that is a less wonderful part of America, for this is where the poorest of the poor go, those for whom time is always more readily available than money. Not one of us there that day could have personally paid their hospital bill. I could no more afford to personally pay the costs of a night in ER, a day in Direct Observation, and three more days on a reserved floor for people who need special attention than I could afford one of the mansions on the cover of Architectural Digest. The cost of either was probably pretty much the same.
I don’t believe in handouts. I don’t believe in rewarding indolence. I don’t believe in Robin Hood politics, taking from the rich to give to the poor. I have never valued anything I didn’t work for as much as those things I earned through my own labor. And I know that if Obamacare is run with the same efficiency as the rest of our government, the result will be unparalleled chaos and despair and death, and that none of it will be the fault of the dedicated, hard-working men and women in county hospitals all across the nation, the doctors and nurses who do their best with a never-ending flood of pain and fear. I’m not convinced that the so-called “single-payer” system of healthcare will ultimately be a good thing. I tend to agree with Ben Stein’s assessment:
“Fathom the hypocrisy of a government that requires every citizen to prove they are insured, but not everyone must prove they are a citizen. And now, any of those who refuse or are unable to prove they are citizens will receive free insurance paid for by those who are forced to buy insurance because they are citizens.”
But how can we as a society turn our backs on the injured and the sick? If you took the combined annual incomes of everyone waiting there that day to see just the orthopedic team, it wouldn’t be enough to keep the whole hospital running for a single day. What is the solution? Do we become like one of those third-world nations where people callously and hypocritically walk past the suffering with a shrug of the shoulders saying, “God wills it?” Not my God. Yet how do we make it all work? How do we pay for it?
The Hispanic bodybuilder was as brisk and quick as ever, and those qualities coupled with his massive musculature made him seem like a force of nature, especially to someone who both felt and was in reality frail and frangible. He showed me the faint and indecipherable lines on my original X-rays that showed the worst of the broken bones (How do they know what they’re looking at? Do they make it all up as they go along, or do doctors have vision so much more acute than the rest of the world?) and then put up the equally indecipherable X-rays that showed the bones were healed. I took his word for it. He told me I was good to go.
“Can I ride my horse again?”
“That depends on you. It’s going to take a lot of therapy to get you back to where you were, but you’re the one who will have to decide if your reflexes are good enough to let you ride. It’s just like driving. You’re the one who has to judge how quickly you can react. If you feel safe and confident, then you can do it.”
We shook hands, and I found myself feeling slightly nostalgic about knowing—hoping and praying, actually—I would never see him again. He was a compelling and charismatic man. I didn’t tell him I had already started doing rudimentary physical therapy on my own.
I had driven myself to the hospital, and I drove myself home.