Wednesday, March 26, 2008

111 over 69

Williamson Medical Center was established in 1957. The Hill-Burton Act provided federal funds to build the hospital, meaning its mission included a focus on providing care without discrimination and regardless of ability to pay. According to their website, Williamson’s beginning was driven by the desire to provide care, to show compassion, to help neighbors. If my experience is any indication, those ideals remain a guiding principle today.

The original idea emerged recently when my friend Fredbear forwarded a hilarious article by Dave Barry about his colonoscopy. A few weeks later, Tenkar brought home a horror tale from work and since I am 52, we decided to 'look into it'. I usually suffice on oxygen and a cup of hot soymilk until early afternoon, so when they told me I couldn't eat anything after breakfast, it wasn't too hard. The worst part was trying to drink a half-gallon of that thick flat lemon-flavored stuff in two hours. Visions of bleached animal skulls near alkali ponds in some western desert; dead from dehydration exacerbated by shitting water faster than it can be replaced.

The nurse wheeled me into the room where the procedure would take place. She was from Oxford Mississippi and used to watch old William Faulkner walk by her school as a child. She squeezed a mound of clear gel onto a tray where a glossy black tube was loosely coiled. Yellow marks and numbers in millimeters along its length provide depth readings.

"Is that it?" "Yep, that's it."

"Can it squirt water?" "Yes it sure can."

She leaned over and hooked a clear line onto a nozzle.

I had been thinking about it last night when I'd wake in the dark, but had not visualized it as black, or so thick. A meshed cable covered in latex, wide enough to contain wiring for a light and camera, a mini-pincer and yes, a water line. Two monitors, dark except for my name in the corner border the bed. I have an iv in my right arm, an automated blood pressure band hooked to a computer on my left; 111 over 69.

"Turn over onto your left side." I could feel the drug moving through me immediately and had no problem surrendering. The next thing I remember is the nurse telling me I can get up and sit back in the wheelchair. I had been unconscious less than an hour.

"So that's all? I'm done?" " Yep, you're done."

I moved from the table to the chair and she rolled me back to a room where Tenkar helped me dress. I was still a little groggy as we walked through the parking lot. I removed the band-aid and gauze where the iv had been and noticed a bright orange plastic bracelet on my right wrist which read SAFE in big black letters.

Like 50 million other Americans, I have no health insurance. But my recent experience with the Williamson County health care system was ideal. The registrar, the doctors, secretaries and all the nurses were angels and made me feel right at home and very comfortable about the whole thing. There was no hassle about our ability to pay; we will work that out over the coming weeks. I was in and out within three hours. All they asked for was $260 up front, and I will let you know the final price after we run the bill through the system. In the meanwhile, everyone seemed to enjoy their job, looked me in the eye and was very kind. You would think we already had socialized medicine in Tennessee.

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