Working the Cracks

These days, at the free clinic, I wear black scrubs. It’s really strange, when I got paid to work, I wore only whites. There is no hidden message of protest I’m trying to send, I guess I just don’t want to deal with all the stains that white uniforms collect. Now that I wear black scrubs, guess what? I have two white dogs.

Oh well. I still think they are super cool and different.

About the clinic, it is open twice per week and will soon be open three days a week. We can see 80 patients a night, usually. Sometimes we just don’t have enough volunteer doctors on hand. As someone at the clinic told me, “People come to this town to make money.”

It was quite a surprise to me that a free clinic even existed in this town. A friend of mine who volunteers there told me about it, otherwise I would not have known. It is not something that is advertised, but spread by word of mouth.

You might have seen film clips on the news of free clinics popping up in random cities to serve the uninsured in America. I saw one on tv that was set up in the Astrodome in Houston (I think that’s where it was), others at county fairs, some in livestock pens. Our place is in a strip mall right across the parking lot from the Democratic party headquarters for the county.

I don’t know who got there first.

Last time I volunteered, I worked as a screening nurse with my own little office. The patient comes in, I look over their medical history, check their lab work and vital signs, then ask a million questions. Some need to see the doctor, some need more labs, some just need medication refills. Some need to go straight to the hospital, they are way to sick for us. That pretty much sums up screening nurse.

Actually it doesn’t. Some of these people are not sick enough for the ER to treat them, but they are too sick for us and I don’t have the heart to tell them how sick I think they really are because there isn’t anything anybody will do about it.

And they look at me like I can really fix them, the trust they have in me, the hope they have, I can feel it, and I want to push it away but I feel terrible because that is all they have.

“Mercy” copyright Cinemagypsy


Fallen into a hospital and can’t get out

Last week Blane’s back went out while he was at the gym. He was in so much pain he couldn’t move and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I would have taken him, but he needed to be moved on a board. Sad, really, because the hospital is right across the street from the gym. No kidding, across the street. I haven’t gotten the bill yet, but I’m guessing he could have gotten a better price on a ticket to France.

His x-rays didn’t look too bad, but the ER doc insisted on admitting him for an overnight stay because he couldn’t move so well. I told the doc I’m a nurse and can do anything they can do (better, too, I promise you) but I gave up the fight and agreed to let them keep him. They wanted to do another test on his back in the morning. Fine.

They did his test while I was gone and the neurologist told Blane his diagnosis while he was so heavily drugged that he couldn’t remember that he even saw a doctor. I had to go read the chart to see what the hell was going on. That’s where I also read they were keeping him another night.

What? I was the one getting him up to the bathroom, getting him bathed, shaving his face… What? Nurses would not answer his call bell while I was gone. I was really afraid he’d fall as he is not used to taking strong drugs.

So I fight them and at the end of the ordeal they tell me he needs to be fitted for a back brace the next day and if he doesn’t get it while in the hospital, the insurance probably wouldn’t pay for it.

Dammit I’m angry and I feel like we’re fucking hostages in this place.

I walk the halls and gaze into the open rooms. This is a non-specialty medical-surgical floor and all of the patients except for Blane are elderly. I know this workload, it’s rough, the patients need loads of help for everything and there are not enough nurses, ever, on those floors because it is a shit job. I wouldn’t dare complain about a thing to one of those nurses because it is not their fault. They are some of the hardest workers in any hospital, med-surg nurses. Couldn’t pay me enough to do it.

So, the patients on that floor, some of them are watching the news, the Town Hall Granny-Gate stuff, ironically. People out there screaming about Death Panels and carrying on as if they really care about it with all their hearts while my own heart breaks into a million little pieces because not a single one of these old people had any visitors in two days.

So. Fitting for a back brace. I was thinking this was going to be something they were going to custom make right there, some gadget that involved plaster and carving, you know, fine craftsmanship.

No, no, no. This thing turned out to be a pre-made velcro powered brace. Another overnight stay for this stupid thing? Wow, no wonder insurance companies refuse to pay so many bills.

And I have to wonder if anyone realizes that no hospital in America could really keep its doors open on Medicare reimbursements alone.

So we go through stupid shit like this, round and round while insurance companies and hospital corps play their games with our tax money and insurance premiums while people like me have to make a choice between whether to leave my drugged up hubby alone for the night or go home to watch my kids.

Is this really the best way to do healthcare? Is this worth fighting for? Really?

And Granny? If people had to dig into their personal bank account to pay for her care, how quickly would those plugs “fall out of the wall?”

I’ve worked extensively with the elderly. I KNOW how much most people care about Granny, so don’t even start trying to bullshit me.

The cancer patient in the video below is alive because she is getting her treatment through Medicare (aka government healthcare). She admits she couldn’t do it without Medicare. My tax dollars. Yours. She is arguing against that same government healthcare for others, however, because she likes being able to choose her doctors (no one wants to take that away from her). She doesn’t care that there are people out there with the same exact diagnosis as she, people who can’t even choose treatment at all because of inability to pay. Working class people who pay Medicare taxes to save her life.

Wow, talk about complaining on a full belly.

I volunteer in a free clinic once a week and have seen people just like her who have cancer but no money for treatment. The clinic mostly treats common things such as diabetes and high blood pressure, so we don’t carry cancer drugs. Since cancer is not an emergency, we can’t dump them at the hospital ER for treatment.

I wish I could tell you more stories about that stuff, but I can’t.

So now Blane has a “pre existing condition” to deal with if he ever wants to just quit work and start his own business. That means we probably wouldn’t be able to buy health insurance at any price to cover his back. I feel like we’ve lost some freedom this week. I know we have. And yet, we are amongst the fortunate who have access to care. This is good fortune when it comes to healthcare in America.


This is all due to people continuing to choose fear over courage. If they really cared about their children, they’d do something about this Mickey Mouse system of ours and give us what they have. Some security in health care. I’m paying for them to have it, why can’t I get that too?

Why can’t we all have that?