the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Flying Non-Stop

Vartan, my father-in-law, was taken to the hospital last week. The Cedars-Sinai Hospital emergency room was too busy at the time, so he was taken to a nearby hospital which is nowhere near the caliber of Cedars Sinai. Sophia was nursing a cold, so I drove down by myself to the hospital to see what was going on. It was 1AM.

By 3Am, Vartan had a room, but the nurses wanted to move him to ICU. The hospital was understaffed and lethargic. I excused it to the early hours. The patients seemed to come from lower income backgrounds. Was this my first taste of socialized medicine? I made a sarcastic joke on Twitter, saying that I was learning the health care hierarchy of LA: Cedars-Sinai for the movie stars, UCLA for the movie producers, and THIS hospital for the grips. (I was later told that the grips are unionized and have excellent health care) Maybe I should have said this hospital is for entertainment bloggers.

Two slight nurses came into the room to wheel Vartan to ICU. It took them ten minutes to unhook all the tubes and prepare his bed to be wheeled out. One of the nurses was having trouble managing the bed and the attached IV, so she asked me to help wheel the IV to the other wing. I was beginning to wonder if this woman was a nurse, or a receptionist doing double duty. It was an obstacle course to ICU, with wheelchairs in the hallway and humps that we had to maneuver over.

We finally reached the locked door of the ICU and pressed the intercom. A male nurse, the head of the ICU came to the door.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“We’re bringing that patient.”

“We don’t have a room ready. Or an available nurse.”

“Oops. So, what are we going to do?” asked the nurse standing to my side.

The ICU nurse started to laugh, spurring the others to crack up as well. I’m sure they were all tired, and the situation was absurd. Vartan was lying there, equipment sitting on top of him.

There was only one big problem with this funny scenario. I was there, helping with the move. And I wasn’t laughing, despite my reputation as a “humor writer.” I was wearing a blue sweatshirt, so perhaps the ICU nurse figured I was some orderly helping, and not the son-in-law of the patient.

“What the fuck is going on?” I said.

If you know me, that is not something I usually say.

“I don’t see this as particularly funny,” I continued.

“Who is he?” the ICU nurse asked the others, pointing at me.

“I’m HIS fucking SON!” I said. I know I lied a bit, but sue me.

The nurses suddenly became very serious.

“And is this the usual procedure –” I said, my voice getting louder, “– to have family members helping move the patient to the new room? Does anyone know what they are doing here?”

“Perhaps you would like to wait in the visitor waiting room.” said the male nurse, pointing at a room down the hall.

“I’ll wait in the visitor waiting room, after my father gets a fucking room and I see that you know what the hell you are doing.”

Within two minutes, they found a room, a nurse, and Vartan was hooked up.

Of course, the next day at the hospital, Sophia and I noticed that Vartan’s feeding tube wasn’t turned on. We went to look for the nurse, who was apparently busy absorbed in watching the finals of the World Cup… in the visitor waiting room.

I don’t enjoy being pushy. In fact I hate when circumstances force me to do that. It makes me reflect on other parts of my life, as if you are alone in this world, and no one really gives a shit, so you have to force your way into getting what you want. I don’t want to live my life that way.

On the way home, Sophia and I stopped at Ralph’s Supermarket to pick up some groceries. One of the items we bought was a package of cabbage. Sophia likes to make stuffed cabbage. After we paid, and before we wheeled the groceries out of the store, Sophia checked over the receipt. She always does this, and I never do. She is not as trusting as I am. I even get a little irritated at times in supermarkets, waiting for her to go down the list, making sure all the prices match.

“Aha,” she said. “She charged us twice for the same package of cabbage.”

Sophia showed the recipt to the checkout woman.

“I’ll fix it in a second,” she replied.

There were three more customers on the line for this checkout woman, waiting to be helped. The checkout woman helped the first customer and then started taking care of the next customer, a burly Samoan guy.

“Hey, what about our refund?” asked Sophia.

“After I finish with everyone on line. They were here first.”

“What do you mean? We were here first. You charged us for an extra cabbage!”

“I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“Who’s the manager?” asked Sophia, getting angry.

“Calm down, lady!” said the Samoan guy. “And don’t be so impatient.”

Now, normally, I’m not the type of protective husband who defends his wife no matter what, especially when the opposition has broad shoulders. Usually, I am the one calling Sophia impatient. But this time, she was right. I’m sure the Samoan thought he was right, too, and I realize that people can see the same situation in different, Rashomon-like ways. But, the hospital experience hardened my heart. I didn’t care about the other guy’s rightness. We were right. We were tired. We bought a package of cabbage. The checkout woman made a mistake. She should fix it FIRST.

I told this to the Samoan guy.

“Ralph’s Supermarket made a mistake,” I said. “They should fix it.”

“Big deal,” said the deep-voiced Samoan. “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?”

“I’ve made many mistakes. And when I make a mistake, I take care of it. Immediately. Especially if it is a business situation.”

“And why should I get punished. I’m the next on line.”

“This is not about you. This is between us and Ralph’s. Ralph’s is not my friend. They fucked up. They need to fix it. You should be siding with us, so when this happens to you, you will get prompt service.”

“You’re just being selfish.”

“No, sir, YOU’RE the selfish one.”

Whatever. Not exactly fighting words. I said a lot more nonsense, even quoting the Constitution. At the end, they returned our money, and the Samoan called us assholes under his breathe.

When we stepped outside, Sophia was so in shock at my bravado that she was speechless. If she wasn’t so tired from the hospital, and we didn’t have ice cream that could melt, I bet I could have gotten laid in the backseat of the car.

Later, that night, I decided to book my ticket to New York for BlogHer. I had been going back and forth, thinking about taking two different flights. One was on Virgin America, and was a non-stop. The other was on American Airlines, with an hour stop-over in Salt Lake City. The second flight would save me $70. Normally, I would go for the savings. But I hate stopping over on a flight. Was it really worth the savings of $70.

If you don’t speak up, you get lousy service in the hospital. If you don’t speak your mind, you wait in line in the supermarket, charged for an extra package of cabbage.

I’m flying non-stop.


  1. Natalie

    ….there is nothing sexier than someone who “mans up” (man or woman)….I hope you got laid that night instead.

    ….ps, in all seriousness, mistakes suck…and people who don’t fix them suck even harder.

    …pps I hope Vartan, you and Sophia are doing better.

  2. Philly Jewish Amy


  3. thordora

    I hate confrontation-HATE IT. BUT-the times I’ve had to pull it out and use it…well worth it, for the situation, and my pride.

    Sometimes you just have to stand up.

    (and what JERKS at the hospital!)

  4. Susan

    Bam. Your FIL NEEDED you here, and you stepped up.

    Supermarket too.

    This was brilliant. Never stop speaking up to right a wrong in a hospital situation. Your FIL and Sophia are lucky to have you!

  5. Stacey

    I’m not a confrontational person and hate to make a scene or inconvenience others. I’m the person who gets cut in line, who doesn’t complain when the checkout girl mistakenly charges her $8 for $2 rolls, who eats the meal that wasn’t actually what she ordered.

    That being said, I’m glad you spoke up at the hospital. Lousy service in the local tavern is annoying. Lousy service in the ICU is unacceptable.

    • Neil

      Do you get pissed off when you get cut in line? We both should work on that.

  6. sage

    way to go! some days it’s just not worth the hassle but some days you have to speak up. even in countries with universal health care, status still counts for the level and kind of care you recieve. try getting proper dental or health care on state assistance.for some reason the more you try to properly advocate your needs, the more annoyed the response. sheesh.

  7. Titanium

    The absolute best thing a person can have in a hospital environment is not a good doctor (although that is pure awesomeness) or even a good nursing staff… the best thing is having a patient advocate. Someone who asks tough questions. Insists on slowing down an orderly BEFORE he rips the IV clean out of your arm while tripping over his big dumb feet. *ahem* (sorry, got carried away there)

    You advocated. You were THERE. And it made all the difference in the world for your FIL. That? Is pure awesomeness.

  8. wendy

    if it wasn’t for the ice would have gotten laid. classic.

    as for me, I am more of an obla di obla da girl. but understand your frustration.

    There are good nurses.. and bad ones. Always thank a good nurse when you find one.
    When I broke my ankle and was in the hospital, I had this huge bear of a man nursethe first night. He was an angel from god. Carried me to the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to use the bed pan.

  9. Deer Baby

    I hate confrontation too but after years of sitting with parents who were quite meek when dinners were cold, orders were wrong, am getting better at speaking up, although it still makes me cringe.

    Way to go in the hospital. I’ve mostly had good experiences with lovely, kind staff but had a few instances of nurses giggling over sterile bandages being used as doorstops before putting them on my FIL. I’m glad you stood up for him.

    And I wish I could say I’d meet you at BlogHer but I spent so long dithering over the ticket, it sold out.

  10. Kim @ Beautiful Wreck

    Glad to see that you spoke up. Many people don’t.
    I hope your father in law is getting better medical treatment and services now.

  11. Jack

    If you don’t speak up then you deserve what comes. It is not fair, but that is how life works. Speaking up doesn’t mean that you are rude or obnoxious. It is just something we do because it is the right thing. Mistakes happen.

    BTW, I almost always fly non-stop. It is worth a couple bucks more to save some time and inconvenience.

  12. Danny

    You were dead right in both situations, bravo! And I’m glad you took the other flight, $70 isn’t worth the stopover. Hell, in New York, that’s just a hamburger and a glass of wine.

    Is there any chance Vartan could be transferred back to Cedars?

  13. shiny

    You know what I hate? People who come off as bitchy and whiny when they don’t get what they feel they want or deserve. It’s very easy to dismiss them.

    However, that isn’t/wasn’t you. Even when you were at your most demanding, you kept your cool to an extent where they had to realize you would play hardball and not back down. You had a legitimate concern which needed to be met.

    I’m proud of the way you acted; I certainly would have lost my cool in the same situations.

  14. Ninotchka

    good for you!

  15. ingrid

    I am not a good speaker-upper.

    I get mired in self doubt. “After all,” I reason, “there are starving children in the world.”

    The only thing I consistently manage to stand up for are people who are under-dogs and who get shafted by someone else. For some reason people being trod upon makes me into some vicious mama-bear. I figure this is just a latent desire to have children or maybe a misplaced need to get all vicious on someone else’s ass. (If I’m the under dog… I don’t do so good. I whimper a little, maybe.)

  16. Juli Ryan

    Health care is a right, not a privilege. “Socialized medicine” does not result in worse quality of care. It’s just a different health payment system. The quality of heath care services in the U.S. will improve with universal health care. Profits will not depend on denying care to the uninsured and underpaying providers. There will be less red tape. Health care in the U.S. actually ranks poorly compared to other industrialized nations.

  17. sweetsalty kate

    The universal language for a shitty medical experience is not ‘socialized’. But I’m so sorry that you had a shitty experience. Really. On both counts, you were absolutely justified in speaking up and I’m glad you did.

  18. Tuck

    Wait…let me go pull out my dusty Beta-Max copy of Falling Down.

  19. Philly Jewish Amy

    wish i had spoken up yesterday. if i had i wouldn’t be stuck on it and running it over and over in my head what i should have said. glad you spoke up & have no regrets or second guesses. damn the ice cream!

  20. claire

    Good for you, Neil! How stressful though. Not my forte at all. Sounds like you’ve grown* when it was needed. *Not tough or callous but willing to demand what is right.

    I hope your father in law is doing better. My best to you all.

  21. Gwen

    I would have demanded better health care but waited in line at Ralph’s. Inconsistency. That’s how *I* keep it real. Or something.

    Enjoy your non-stop flight (s).

  22. Finn

    I’m proud of you. Enjoy your non-stop flight.

  23. magpie

    I love complaining. Can’t wait to see you.

  24. 180|360

    Nicely done, Neil! Directness is sexy.

  25. Wendy

    Good for you. Hospitals suck and you need to stand up. Sadly, I have experience, too. It’d be awesome to meet you at Blogher. I’m sure you have lots of stuff going on. Me too. But after all these years… 🙂

  26. headbang8

    You didn’t get a taste of socialised medicine. You got a taste of a hospital trying to save money. You find them in the free-market system, as much as in regulated systems.

    Patient advocates? There shouldn’t be a need…

  27. schmutzie

    I’m just catching up on some blog reading, and I’m glad I caught this post! I knew you had this side to you, Neil.

  28. followthatdog

    One of my biggest frustrations in the world is that the squeaky wheel tends to get the oil. And it has become so bad that in order to get oil a wheel MUST squeak. Forget best practices, forget doing the right thing, until that freakin’ wheel squeaks it gets ignored. It is this kind of thing, the carelessness of the incident with the staff at the hospital, the casual treatment of an over-charge by the cashier that forces us all to become squeakier and squeakier just to get the fair thing done. It’s exhausting and the noise is wearing on my nerves. But instead of being the exception it seems to be the way we have to do things now, just to get the basics.
    And the $70 is well worth not having to change planes. Good for you.

  29. WebSavvyMom

    –>I am always the defender of the littler person in public. I’ve watched a sales clerk not allow a customer see their receipt before paying and stepped up and told her to get the manager because she was *just* a cashier. (I was a cashier once at K-mart.) I was called a “skinny white bitch” in a parking lot a few years ago because I went the proper way down a one way aisle to park and appeared to have *stolen* this person’s parking spot. At an intersection near this same store recently, I was called another *name* after flipping the bird to a woman who cut me off in traffic.
    The bottom line is if you’re not going to fight for yourself, there isn’t a good chance that anyone else will either. Unless I’m around.

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