Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Security, Mediscare, Coffee


My father is guarded more closely than the National Archives, it seems. Certainly better than classified documents in general.

My father is presently resting in the Critical Care wing of Memorial City Hospital, where he has been diagnosed with severe pneumonia, complicated by the vestiges of a viral infection, along with a weak heart and his diabetes. Until this morning, I had to take their word for where he was, because I wasn’t allowed to see him. The hospital staff was worried that his immune system had failed, so only his immediate care-givers were allowed into his wing, let alone his room. After the first few hours, they relented somewhat and let Mom in to see him, but only after getting her into one of those bio-hazard suits, a bulky awkward affair that no 73-year-old woman can easily manage, to say nothing of doing so while wearing a leg brace.

This morning the rest of the family was admitted, though only one at a time, and under strict conditions. First, you show your ID to the floor RN, and you scrub up at a wash station while they prepare a code card for you. It has your photo on it and must be returned to the duty nurse every time you leave the wing. After you put on the bio-suit, which smells of ammonia and plastic, the duty nurse enters a code on the wing’s magnetic doors, which will then open when you swipe the code card through it, which registers your entry time and identity. You are also on camera while you are on the floor, and your visit inside the wing is taped. You then proceed to the room for your patient – your card will open no other room door – and swipe the card through the holder at the door to Dad’s room, which then unlocks to admit you. Then you can go in to see the patient, who may have a hard time knowing who’s visiting, since the suits all look alike. Certainly it took Dad a while to recognize me.

Anyway, to get to the point, first I’m happy to say Dad looks a bit better. His kidneys are no longer on strike, and his fever is down a notch to 101. I can’t speak to the long-term prognosis, but at least it’s better, although those geniuses at MCH still think a breathing tube would be a swell idea. But I was struck by the level of security used there. I mean wow, I’ve handled some sensitive material before, but with nothing like that kind of precaution. And needless to say, in light of our recent discussions about border security, the level of attention at the hospital certainly made an impression.

The next element is Medicare. Where to begin with those guys? I guess I started thinking about that, when it occurred to me that Dad has been in either a Hospital or Hospice for two and a half weeks, plus the various ambulance trips, and special care in ICU, Intermediate Care, and now Critical Care. I began to wonder just how big the bill was going to be. I mean, I got hit by a drunk driver back in 1994 and just a quick ER trip without even an overnight stay rang up $1,800 very fast. I can only imagine what this whole episode is going to cost. I tried asking the hospital, but as I am not the patient or his spouse (even though I was calling on behalf on Mom) the hospital refused to tell me. As for Medicare, let’s just say my calls to them enjoyed the same kind of success as my 2004 attempt to contact every member of the House and Senate on the hot issues. Sure, maybe the guys at Medicare will have it all covered. But maybe they won’t and a few weeks or months down the road my Mom and Dad will have a demand letter from the hospital for whatever Medicare does not cover. So far all I have been able to confirm is the “initial” deductible of $952.

Look, I’m not saying Medicare should always be ‘this’ or never do ‘that’, specifically. But finding out how to meet your responsibility should not be this difficult, especially when you are already under the stress of a medical crisis. Maybe that Medicare Reform, if it actually gets here before I’m old enough to need Medicare, could include better access to information?

Lastly, just on a personal note, thanks to everyone for your prayers and good wishes. And thank God for coffee.

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