the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: health care

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.

My Health Care Plan

Many Democrats are shocked that a Republican won Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts yesterday. I’m not. It is a referendum on Obama’s health care plan, and I think I am uniquely experienced to comment on this subject. For the last two weeks, I have been visiting my father-in-law in the hospital, and just like a journalist going undercover, I have seen FIRST HAND how our health care system really works.

The simple fact is that there are a lot of sick people. Too many sick people.

The beds in the hospital are never empty for long. In fact, since my FIL has arrived in the hospital, he has had five different roommates, and one of them didn’t make it out alive. Is that really a good success rate?

And who are these sick people anyway? If we examine the word “sick,” we see that in general discourse, we mean someone “not healthy.” And why aren’t these individuals healthy? Is it the taxpayers responsibility? Should we really feel sympathy for a bunch of lazy leeches who CHOOSE not to care for themselves? Many of us work hard to look and feel good. It is something we are proud about. It is an achievement. But it is WORK. Hard work. Why should I subsidize those who don’t eat and exercise correctly?

Do you know how much it is costing YOU to keep my father in law in this fancy hospital room with costly equipment and highly paid “doctors?” You’re even paying for his FOOD, which gets delivered to him from a MENU, like in a four star hotel! Sorry, folks, but my family is using you like a bunch of suckers — and you don’t even realize it!

Obama has it wrong. Universal healthcare is like a band-aid, welfare for those who want to sleep late rather than go to the gym before work.

I’ve heard the excuses before. You say you have “no room” for an exercise bike in your bedroom. Well, you certainly find enough room in that bedroom for that big screen TV and that stack of burgers from In-N-Out, you scourge of America with your wii age of 95!

I work hard to stay out of the hospital, and then I have to pay for YOUR unhealthy fat ass who won’t walk to the supermarket! The fashion industry does a better job than the medical establishment in promoting HEALTH with their healthy thin, role-models. Those who insist that “real” (read fat) women should be portrayed in ads, are not your friends. These women, so-called “feminists,” are mostly lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies wanting to promote bad health to increase profits for diet pills.

It breaks my heart to see my father-in-law sleeping so much. He used to be a strong guy who built chairs and loved to garden. But as he aged, he grew lazy. While the nurse was undressing him, I noticed that his abs had grown weak. I have seen photos of him when he was younger in the Soviet Army. He was a hunk! So, what happened? I blame America, the decadence of the West, her seductive processed foods, and her constant search for the easy way out.

As I thought about all those in the hospital, I had an “aha” moment. Fancy medical equipment and high priced pharmaceuticals are not the answer. Massachusetts voters were right. Obama’s health plan would bankrupt America. The real answer is as simple as $19.99 per American household. Yes, I am talking about Jillian Michael’s “30 Day Shred.”

If every American was required to complete this video, our country will truly be as healthy and fit as our forefathers hoped when they wrote the Constitution. Rather than pissing away our money into more debt to China by creating universal health care, our hospitals could be turned into greenhouses to grow organic tomatoes. I have a dream: One day, we will be a country of tight abs! After all, a person’s fat content tells a lot more about a person’s overall health than an EKG!

Granted, our country would need more qualified physical trainers, but this could be easily arranged by creating a ShredCorps. Many trainers could already be shipped to various parts of the country from Los Angeles, where one out of every three residents is an unemployed physical trainer.

Hospitals do not make you healthier. I can see the toll on my father in law. He is lethargic and depressed. Is this really worth $10,000 a day? Can you imagine the results if my father-in-law had Jillian Michaels yelling at him to to “push” one more crunch. He’d be his old self within days!

Next time you are in the hospital, take a look around. Why are the sick children lying in bed playing video games and getting fat on vanilla pudding? Those who are sick WANT to be sick so they can get free room and board at the hospital. If you want my tax money, I want you to WORK for it. Have those kids do squats to get better.

I applaud the people of Massachusetts, who are as revolutionary as in 1776. Throw those Crestors, Prozacs and diabetes monitors into Boston Harbor, and let’s ride like Paul Revere to a world of fitness.

“Jillian Michaels is coming! Jillian Michaels is coming”

It’s time for a revolution. Out of your beds, you lazy bums in Cedars-Sinai. It is time for your workout!

Editor’s Note: This is supposed to be a satire, perhaps not well done, but it made me laugh. I hate to have to put this disclaimer up on my blog because it ruins the joke, but let me be perfectly clear and state this to a new reader: No, despite me saying so in the post, I do not truly “believe” that we can solve our country’s health care problems by supplying sick people with Jillian Michael’s 30-Day Shred rather than having them stay in hospitals.

Tales of Health Insurance


For the last day, I have been reading a lot of the blog posts and tweets about Obama’s health plan, and I came away with a few thoughts:

1)  I am not learning much information from these blog posts and tweets.

2)  People who write exclusively about politics seem to get angry very easily.

3)  Political writers treat public policy as a team sport (my side shoots, scores!)

4)  Too many bloggers have one eye on the prize, and the other eye on “their prize,” whether it be a mention in The Huffington Post or Fox News, which is cool, but doesn’t really have much to do with health care.


But this is not a post about politics or health care.  It is a post about stories.


After the speech, I had one question on my mind, the same as many Americans — How is all this going to affect ME?!

Sophia and I are both freelancers, and we shell out $1000 a month for a mediocre HMO.  We have discussed changing our plan, but Sophia has a pre-existing condition.  We’re going to have to do something soon, because my plan is useless to me in New York City unless there is an emergency since all my doctors are in a “network” in Los Angeles.  We are lucky to have health insurance, but we pay for it in a huge way, and I would like to have more options.

With this question on my mind, I went on Twitter and asked, “Sophia and I pay $1000 dollars a month for health insurance — what do you pay?”

Some answered my tweet, all with different stories.  Some had great insurance plans from a spouse’s company, and were concerned about how changes would affect the quality.   One woman said she and her husband, being young and healthy, chose to use their money as a down payment for a house, rather than pay for health insurance.   Another woman said her sister went into debt because of a long illness.  One man was rejected by all but one insurance companies because his son was autistic, and is force to spend $2,000 a month for his family.  Most of those who answered are not in a dire financial situation (after all, we were all on Twitter with our expensive iPhones!), but we are as concerned about the state of our health care, both the quality and the cost, as anyone else, rich or poor.

Politicians love to use these types of personal stories to bolster their intimacy of their speeches.  Great orators since ancient Greece have trotted out a “true” tale of poor Hermes (or Jacques or Joe) who has no drachmas (or francs or dollars), but under their plan, if elected, will be provided with plentiful gyros (or croissants or Egg McMuffins) in every urn (or vase or pot).

Stories sell the political point.

The 140 character “stories” on Twitter were special to me because they were told for no political gain.  I had no idea of the political persuasion of anyone.  They were just life stories, and it is difficult to fight with a story.  You can disagree with a person’s choice, but it is their story to tell, and you can’t dismiss that.

I was most moralistic with the blogger who put a down payment on a house rather than buy health insurance.  As the son of an anxious father who took out extended warranties on RADIOS at electronics stores “just in case” it breaks, I do not have gambling in my blood.  How could they take such a risk, especially with their health?!  Then again, how “smart” have I been for paying $12,000 a year for the ability to go once a year to my doctor for a cholesterol test?  Who can judge another without being in their shoes, or first hearing their story?

The point is I learned more about our health care crisis by listening to your stories, than reading the angry rantings of political pundits.  All of us have stories about bad doctors, life-saving hospitals, uncaring nurses, brilliant physicians, Blue Cross customer service, the good and bad magazines in the waiting rooms, malpractice suits, and even the time your own family cheated Medicare!

Politics is important, but in this case, storytelling shoots, Wins!

On Health Care and Supermarkets

I received a compliment from a nice reader, saying that I encouraged debate on “political” issues.  She felt that her opinions were too hardcore and only attracted readers who agreed with her.  I told her that she nees to be who she is, because her style is just as important, maybe MORE important in getting things done in the REAL world.  In many way, my “encouraging debate” is a positive spin on “being wishy-washy.”  I tend to always look at the others side, which would make me a bad President, football coach, or union leader.

Leaders need “vision,” something as hard and rugged as the concrete of a New York City sidewalk, in order to inspire his follwers.  Leaders cannot be like Charlie Brown, debating whether or not to trust Lucy and kick the football.

This month’s big debate is over health care.  It is shameful that so many Americans live without health insurance.  Something needs to be done NOW.

The main argument against change is a fear of “socialized medicine.”  You hear the same questions being asked over and over again.  “How can we trust the government with managing our health care?  They screw everything up!  Have you ever gone to the DMV?”

Rebuttal:  There are examples of socialized medicine working successfully around the world.

Wishy-washy:  But every truth has two sides.

There is some truth that the government tends to make a mess of things.  Obama health-care supporters shouldn’t become so ideological that we brush this under the rug.  There has been a lot of discussion about “socialism” from both sides, and I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are talking about online.  No one wants to turn the United States into the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, I read someone on Twitter trying to persuade others to push for socialized medicine by asking, “What’s so wrong with socialism or Marxism anyway?!”

I can only assume that this passionate leftist is a sophomore at Columbia University, because it is something after a year of Contemporary Civilization classes.  I’m now an old fart who has sadly accepted the uncomfortable fact that most of us do when we leave the university and try to make a living — most people are lazy, selfish jerks who won’t do anything if there is no competition. Free enterprise is necessary.  And yes, so is some “socialism” to help those who need it.  We’ve all seen the good and the evil of both systems.  And yes, I include going to the DMV as one of the evils.


If you look outside from my mother’s dining room window, you see a supermarket right downstairs.  We are over the parking lot.  When I was growing up, this store was Waldbaum’s.  It was a decent store.  I remember every can of the store’s own brand of vegetables had a photo of “Julia Waldbaum” plastered on the label, smiling at you.

Sometime in the 1980’s our neighborhood declined.  I have written in the past about how an entire city block went out of business.  The local bakery, an aromatic piece of heaven, where my grandfather would buy onion rolls and jelly donuts, has been shuttered and graffitied for over fifteen years!


Despite the closing of these stores, there are three supermarkets within seven blocks of each other.  It is a crowded neighborhood, and people still need to eat.  As more immigrant families moved into the neighborhood, the three supermarkets seemed to care less about the quality and upkeep.  The first time Sophia came to visit, she thought that I lived in the “slums.”  Waldbaum’s changed into a Pathmark, and this supermarket was super sucky.  The vegetables were always rotting, and the cashiers were high school kids who really didn’t give a shit.  The management was so cheap that during day hours, there would be three counters open, and the lines would reach up to twenty people each, snaking into the cereal aisle, and blocking those who wanted to pass.  My mother still shopped at this supermarket, mostly because it was the closest, and the other two markets in the neighborhood were even worse.

Two months ago, this Pathmark closed and an Associated Supermaket took over the spot.  The owners spruced the place up, and even put in a wood floor.  The store was Korean-owned, and everyone, including the checkers are Korean, and the store runs as efficiently as a new Hyundai.  The vegetables are beautiful, and because fish is an essential part of the Asian diet, the fish department has doubled.  They have sushi, gyozas, and soba noodles!  You do not understand how revolutionary that is for this neighborhood!



This new supermarket has had a domino effect throughout the neighborhood.  Everyone went there, despite the higher prices.  They had ten checkout lanes!  Organic foods!  A real deli!  And the help actually HELPED YOU!

Two weeks later, one of the other supermarkets in the area went out of business.  A new owner bought it and promised to make it better than ever.  Today, I walked by the third supermarket in the neighborhood.  They are closing until November for a complete renovations.


My socialist aunt would hate to hear me say this, but “F**k Yeah, this is Pure Capitalism at Its Best!”  Without the competition, the neighborhood had three shitty, uncaring supermarkets.  Once, ONE stepped up the game, the others had to change for the better or die.  And that is good.

I’m still for health care reform, by the way.  You don’t treat people’s health like a supermarket.

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