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.