Community v. HIPAA

Dr. Plummer
When I was little our family doctor lived four houses up the street; it was before doctors lived in entitled enclaves. It also was before doctors earned a million dollars or ordered CAT scans or MRIs.

One day Dr. Plummer called his wife, Ursula, and told her to go down and give Betty a hand. Betty was my mom and Dr. Plummer had just ordered the last of her five children to bed with some kind of flu or something.

We lived in a big Victorian house with long staircases and my mom was running up and down all day from the kitchen to our bedrooms. I guess she was worn out and Dr. Plummer wanted to pass the word to the neighborhood that Betty needed help.

For the past month, my bed has been four feet away from Cora’s. I listened to her scream. When I would ask what was wrong with her, the administrative staff would say HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA and refuse to tell me.

I was the closest person to her in the world. I listened to Cora scream but they would not tell me what was wrong.

John, Ernest, Joan
“Joan Baez is to be applauded for the lyrics and song, but note that the lyrics are an allusion to Meditation XVII, by John Donne (1572-1631). It is the same piece from which Ernest Hemingway took the title of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (… therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.)”

No Man Is an Island: John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

At the Iroquois Nursing Home, Elfrieda sat two seats away from me three times a day at table. She was getting increasingly high doses of oxygen, and with increasing frequency she did not show up for meals. A nurse said Frieda and Doris were dying. Thereafter, when I asked after Frieda, the staff said HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA and I was not allowed to know how she was or if she was.

Until Labor Day when a funeral director wheeled Frieda’s body out past the dining area while we were at lunch. Then I knew that Frieda was dead. Doris and David died the same week, also without acknowledgment.

The Feeding
Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:

“I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.

“Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.

“Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell–row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.

“As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?

“As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

“I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.”


No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.

I saw the people gather,
I heard the music start,
The song that they were singing,
Is ringing in my heart.

No man is an island,
Way out in the blue,
We all look to the one above,
For our strength to renew.

When I help my brother,
Then I know that I,
Plant the seed of friendship,
That will never die.

At the Iroquois Nursing Home, Nursing Supervisor Susan Greer came—with a witness—to tell me that families of two residents had called to complain about what I’d written about their relatives who resided at the Iroquois, and one was going to take legal action. Greer told me I couldn’t write about them because of HIPAA. I am not a medical care provider and I am not bound by HIPAA.

The residents did not object; the relatives who had abandoned them did, and the staff that was mistreating them did. I told their stories.

Anne Lamott
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to Community v. HIPAA

  1. Jack says:

    “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
    none of us are perfect nor do we do what we should do for each other all of the time but when this is brought to our attention by our own conscience or by the conscience of another we should definitly make a solid effort to do so the next time around (if we’re given one.)

    I’m glad you wrote what you did and how you did.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Thank you, Jack. You are a kind antidote to the previous poster, John Doe. Can you believe that we have to live with him? I really am unable to understand his worldview. I do understand yours. Let us move forward in kindness and with hope.

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