Indescribable pain racked my body, shooting white-bolts of blistering agony from the low of my back down through my legs and up to the top of my skull. Each spasm caused by body to convulse, twisting like a burning scrap of paper, compounding the torment. I slowly shifted to my other side to lay panting, sweating, terrified of the next attack.

The possibility of rising from my inflatable mat was remote. Muscle contractions had left me spent, near vomiting and pissing. While there was little I could do about the former I groped behind me in the dark for my water bottle. We stared at one another in this sudden calm. I drained the last of its contents. We stared some more. I experimented with pulling myself up using the bed next to me but this sent me perilously close to another seizure. The two sleeping girls shifted under their covers. (more…)


I Got The Hook-Up

Rumors are swirling throughout the capital that President Obama will attempt to post-pone Senate’s August recess until legislation on national health care is hammered out. Medical associations are lobbying against any attempts to nationalize coverage and former PR flak cum Center for Media and Democracy pundit Wendell Potter is following the medical industry’s attempts to subvert change. Weak-willed representatives are hoping to establish a non-profit insurance company that will operate alongside private companies while millions of Americans continue to live their lives without any financial protection should they suddenly be stricken by disease or an errant bus.

A couple of years back my parents’ neighbor gave me a copy of Uncle John’s Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader, a collection of short essays designed to occupy one’s quieter moments. Recently I read an entry on Thomas Douglas, the former Premier of Saskatchewan credited with creating Canada’s medicare system. Although there are many critics of what they’ve got going on up north, particularly in terms of waiting for procedures and tests, the country does manage to spend less while providing some form of basic coverage for every citizen of their country. How did it begin? (more…)

As mentioned in the past my doctor is a bit on the useless side of worthless. When I finally decided to seek medical advice concerning an assumed cyst which was causing people to ask if I’d taking up chewing tobacco, he suggested he could handle it himself (cutting noises and a finger drawn across the face) but sent me to a surgeon he knew instead. That surgeon balked at the idea and sent me to a plastic surgeon rather than risk a malpractice suit for scarring me. Subsequent trips to see my primary care practitioner have resulted in him asking, “What do you want?” and essentially allowing myself to prescribe whatever I think is necessary to alleviate my current condition. When I recently hit him up for a referral he explained that he couldn’t refer me for this particular problem and sent me off to grapple with my insurer. On the upshot he never expects me to come in regularly and never tries to poke or prod or stick me with a needle.

Unfortunately this just allows me to continue avoiding doctors who may try to take my blood pressure or draw a blood sample. Once I was unfettered from my parents’ guidance (age of 14) regarding these matters I stopped going unless a friend’s mom dragged me in or something was terribly wrong. Strep throat? “You have a really good gag reflex” followed by a blood test. Ulcer? The nurse spent more time trying to convince me to see the behavioral specialist then worrying about my bleeding stomach, followed by a blood test. Food poisoning? Stethoscope to the abdomen: “Yeah, you’ve got a lot going on in there” followed by a prescription for belladonna and two weeks of some seriously bad toilet time. Possibly a blood test. Busted back? A year’s worth of the runaround and ineffective physical therapy where my therapist complained I was being screwed by Kaiser, eventually a hard-won CT scan which proved I was broken, a prescription for an asprin substitute since I was on fifteen a day and bleeding internally again (they would not even consider giving me anything which might have been effective because I looked like a junkie) eventually followed by a series of spinal injections. It only took a couple years but at least I could walk again.

WTF Mate?!?

Sometimes things do come up which drive me mad with curiosity if not actual concern. For instance I have infrequently been afflicted with a curious skin disorder which causes small flesh-colored bumps to appear on my hands, primarily in between my knuckles and fingers. They itch once in a while, feel really good under hot water and eventually disappear about the same time I forget to worry. I’ve had various theories about causes ranging from peeling oranges to remembering an old girlfriend suddenly having a reaction to her guitar strings. However, as I eat oranges and play guitar several times a week, it doesn’t stand to reason that I would periodically react to either of these activities. So I did what any true-blue, modern dude would do and consulted the internet for a possible identification of this condition. (more…)


The Potrero Hill free clinic was probably never happy to see my family because I had a reputation. Getting shots meant I would have to be dug out from under a table. There was screaming. There was crying. There was that unfortunate incident with the fire alarm and to this day my mom still doesn’t believe that I pulled it because I could read the word PULL on the knob. I have very vague memories of these incidents and this place, but I know it wasn’t fun for anyone.

When I was very young I was hospitalized twice, the first time for having an extremely high fever caused by croup and the second so they could take my adenoids out. My sister had preceded me in this prestigious procedure as we were both afflicted with frequent ear infections. I have very vague memories of warm medicine being applied to my ear canal by droplet, just as I have a very vague memory of chewing on a popsicle stick and swallowing the splinters. When the doctors decided the best way to stop the ear infections (no cure for rampant stupidity) was surgery I was whisked away, clutching a grotesque and homemade tweety-bird, to the dimly lit hospital rooms of my oldest memories. There was a shot in the arse, an experience I shared with the stuffed animal by squeezing it to death. There was the gas mask, a sweet smell, the hissing, either the doctor telling me to pretend or me simply pretending I was a jet pilot. There was waking up, calling for my mom, someone shoving a kidney shaped pan in front of me and puking blood to the brim twice. There was also one of the tubes falling out of my head at the drug store, but that was much later.

The point is, I was a tremendously fearful and excitable child, quite unlike now. However, I was never restrained or held down, and when I was faced with a team of surgeons and a mask I happily inhaled my way to oblivion. Other children, it would seem, have more conviction when it comes to fending off unwanted medical attention. The modern cure? Pedisedate.

The name is ridiculous, of course, and I was already creeped out when I saw the picture of a doctor leering over his bifocals at a little girl playing video games. This video which is on their website, is accessed through a directory page and I swear to god that when the warning about graphic content popped up I seriously though I was about to witness child porn. Not that the quality of the video is anything to be proud of, or anything that someone looking to invest in new medical technology could take seriously. The fact that you contact them through an AOL e-mail isn’t helping matters, but they’re merrily plugging away through clinical trials and winning praise from all corners of the media. I guess it’s not much different than dentists who have TVs for their patients, but does it just feel like we’re all being pampered and coddled a little too much for our own good?

An important cornerstone of Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House was his assertion that transparency would finally come to Washington. His recent speech on the federal budget has been championed by many critics of government for exposing the methods which have hidden costs from the American people by means of accounting sleight of hand. The reality of the budget situation is, as one could imagine, quite bleak but better to know what you’re facing before it smashes into your face.

How far will Obama’s call for open government go? The National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes lunch for under-privileged kids, is undergoing restructuring. Even the NSLP admits that the program is far from perfect– their latest data suggests that their meals fail the USDA’s standards when it comes to total and saturated fats– but many critics have been taking aim at the entire program’s structure. The subsidies program, which reimburses school districts based on the amount of meals served and at what cost, also offers a selection of vittles for schools to use in their menu planning. These commodities, due to economic and logistical pressures, tend towards the frozen, the preserved and the less than ideal. But struggling schools have to feed the children of struggling families. In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, yuppie demi-god Alice Waters envisions an integrated approach to feeding children healthy meals, providing better nutritional balance and eliminating processed foods from the menu.

Who decides what foods are made available to the NSLP? A consortium of scientists and nutritionists, of course, and such a meeting was recently held at the National Academy of Sciences. Presentations were made discussing nutritional needs, the merits of this vs. that, and a crowded auditorium took notes. Reporters? No, the only reporters on the scene were from American News Project. Educators? District Supervisors? Agriculturalists? Nope. The audience was thick with representatives from major food industry groups, companies and lobbying firms. These flies on the wall, in plain view of everyone, were researching what’s being discussed so that they can better grease the wheels of Washington and secure contracts with the government to continue selling crap to feed the children.

Is anyone even shocked that PepsiCo and The Pork Board are set to weigh in on what passes for school lunches? It’s a huge industry with a captive client and you can be sure that everyone from Monsanto to Hershey’s is looking through past contributions to see who owes them a favor. Will it be another year of back door dealings, will it be another case of money winning out over people? We shall see, and you can see:

Merci beaucoup Pete pour l’article de Mother Jones. There’s also a conversation with The Omnivores Dilemma author Michael Pollan which raises disparate but related concepts of food policy that I would have liked to highlight but had to let go of in order to be concise and not loose control of my typing. The picture of school children developing diabetes is by Owen Franken and stolen from the Amber Waves article cited above.

Why do I always get the cute pharmacist girl filling my prescription? It’s impossible to try and be charming when she knows what’s wrong with you, especially when you’re freshly lanced and although the nurse said antibiotic you’re still not one hundred percent convinced that you didn’t just order herpes medication. Not that I’ve ever been handed a bag of pills from a woman wearing latex gloves and a SARS mask, but they never really want to establish eye contact.

If you’re going to suffer such humiliation as having your personal business scrutinized and expedited by a young woman you should at least be comfortable knowing that, while they’ll never give you the time of day, you can rest assured they’ll give you the right pills. The pharmacy tech hands me the bag, asks if I’ve ever taken these before. No, I lie, and he yells “CONSULT” to the cute girl two feet away. She garbs the pills from me, glances at the bag, and tells me to take one before going to sleep every night. I’m a little confused– how long do these last? Oh, there shouldn’t be much of a hangover, they should only last four to six hours. She walks off, done with the day by all appearances, and I’m looking at the various warning labels and instructions. But I’m not having trouble sleeping.

So she’s wrong, but hopefully the pills are right. I guess I’ll find out, like I did when I mistakenly took an antacid instead of medicine. Walgreens was just the tail end of a long and sordid affair which left me wondering whether I was coming or going, just like every time I feel the need to bother my doctor. Perhaps if I had been less vague with his receptionist when squeezing an appointment in I could have saved myself forty bucks and a lot of trouble, but I was at work with someone just around the corner when I called. Besides, I just wanted a referral without any sort of poking or prodding that might be required if I started rattling off symptoms. She told me I could come in at 2:30, “…and you’re going to wait”. Fair enough. (more…)