Reflections while visiting my mother in the hospital

The Florida sun and swaying palm trees are lovely, but I’m in Sarasota because my mother is in the hospital, and I don’t have much time to enjoy them.  The plan was to help my mom around the house after her hip replacement surgery. For two days, I felt like the dutiful son keeping busy with errands, laundry and house cleaning. Then, on the third day, disaster struck— we treated ourselves to breakfast out, and as we left the restaurant, mom’s walker slipped and she tumbled down two small steps, landing with a cry of pain flat on her back. We spent the day being seen by the doctor, getting X-rays and a CT scan that found she broke her femur, non-displaced, but excruciatingly painful and that night she was back in the hospital, unable to walk. Not the worse thing that could have happened, maybe, she’s alive and sharp as ever, but looking at another six weeks of rehab, it was a depressing setback.

Listening to ourselves face palm side-by-side was darkly funny, we blamed ourselves, her: “that was so stupid of me! Why did I do that??” and me: “If I hadn’t left her side..this was my fault..”  As I get older, I notice  more similarities between our temperaments. We fuss at each other a lot, but I love my mother very much. She raised me as a single parent and in many ways made me the man I am today. She has always been there for me. It was difficult to see her in pain, but I was glad that I was there, able to call the insurance company, arranging getting the mail with her neighbor. Now I was alone in her small house, somber and reflective.

How anyone without an advanced degree can navigate our fractured and dysfunctional healthcare system is a mystery. After mom fell, we went back to her house to figure out what to do. She was in pain. The simplest thing would be to take her to the emergency room, but it was not really an emergency. As a physician, I’ve rolled my eyes at the many people who come to the ER when they should really be in a doctor’s office, and I thought we could easily avoid misusing the ER that way. I called her primary doctor who told me my mom was so recently post-op (two weeks) that we should call her surgeon. So I called her surgeon’s office, and they were great—they saw us two hours later with barely any wait, we got X-rays and then were sent for a CT scan. But after the scan, my mother was still unable to walk. There was no way she could take care of herself once I left. The surgeon’s nurse practitioner, who did an amazing job diagnosing the fracture, said that their office would not admit her to the hospital, we should go home or go to the ER. Ugh. With both doctors refusing to direct admit, we were forced to go to the ER where we waited for hours until she was evaluated..the CT scan on the DVD that we brought with us showed a broken femur, thank you we knew that..and finally her primary MDs office sent someone to admit her to the hospital. The on-call internist freaked my mother out by saying that he could not imagine that she would not have to go back to the operating room. He didn’t look at the CT and had no idea what he was talking about, she did not have to be re-operated on. The hospital where she was admitted was another unnecessary stop, they could do nothing for her except get her readmitted to the rehabilitation facility.

I also spent several hours going over my mom’s insurance coverage, and while I’ve written here about Obamacare and thought I knew a thing or two about how health insurance works, I could not understand her coverage without talking with a visiting social worker. It turns out she was sold a Medicare replacement plan..which I had confused with a Medicare extension plan. Rather than covering costs above and beyond Medicare, her lousy private coverage replaced her Medicare coverage, and surprise surprise my mother was frequently told that they would not cover services. The idea of such coverage is that a private plan should be so much more efficient than Medicare, they can make money, but guess what, it does not seem to work. With the help of a social worker, we were able to change her back to straight Medicare which was cheaper and at least easier to understand.


Madame Germaine de Stael, a public intellectual and foe of Napoleon. My mother wrote and acted in a one-woman play based on her life. Germaine de Stael held a salon in her home where artists and intellectuals would discuss ideas and events of the day. When she was arrested for inciting political opposition, she said, “But I just like to throw parties!”

While alone in her house, I loved looking over mom’s vast collection of esoteric out-of-print books, a repository of a lost intellectual subculture that I grew up admiring but which has disappeared from the popular consciousness. Mom’s a leftist and an old school feminist, and her shelves are overstuffed with the Bhagavad Gita, “A History of the Labor Movement,” “Studies and Further Studies in a Dying Culture,” “Women of Ideas (and what men have done to them)” as well as more more familiar books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Who gives a damn anymore about the passion and sacrifice that went into the US labor movement?

My grandparents were literally card-carrying communists. Russian jews. With my mom a devoted socialist, I grew up thinking thinking myself a conservative, like the Michael J. Fox character on Family Ties. Politicians these days it seems run the gamut from center to right, and what I always thought of as conservative-leaning centrism has been recast by a country that no longer has a left wing of significance. I can only shake my head in disbelief when I hear people call Barak Obama a socialist. This makes absolutely no damn sense. If Obama is a socialist, then Lady Gaga is an astrophysicist.

In closing here, I had a little thought reading about Charles Schumer (D-NY), recently stumping for his party to grow a pair, advocating for the positive role of government.

Michael Tomasky is right that Democrats should stop being scared of their own damn shadows and start advocating for good government. The view that government can do no good is ridiculous and yet widely held. The conservatives have branded Democrats as being the party of Big Government. Democrats, or anyone for chrisssakes, should rally around the idea of small.  Pro-small government. Pro-small business. Big can take care of itself. We need advocates for the the small.  Small government, small business. The little guy.

Big is bad. Big government, Big Brother, the Big Bad Wolf… Little is good.  Little Red Riding Hood, the little guy, little slice of heaven.