No Veal on the Menu


Okay, I am now officially pissed off. Upstate Medical Center has just moved my nephrology new-patient appointment from July to August! I have an indwelling catheter that is the cause of my outrageously bad urinary tract infection. I went to see the primary care physician so long ago that I can’t even remember when it was. It took his office three weeks to refer me to Upstate’s nephrology clinic. Why?

Because this is poor people’s medicine, folks.

I watch all the news about veteran’s in the V.A. Hospitals not getting to see physicians and I think WTF? This is the norm for poor people.

Here’s my policy on medical treatment for veterans: any person whose life-career was in the military or any person who was injured while on military duty gets full lifetime medical benefits and full A-Class service from the Veterans Administration Hospitals. But do you know what is actually going on?

Any person who has ever worn a military uniform gets full service, and that means some 70-year-old alcoholic who was drafted when he was 19 and served one four-year tour of duty stateside working as a clerk gets the same medical care as a 20-year-old who volunteered with the intention of making the military his career and then got his legs blown off in combat.

That is just plain wrong. Why is it that nobody is talking about it? You serve one tour of duty, then move on to developing a civilian career but for the rest of your life you get first-class medical care paid for by the taxpayers? NO! How many of us, as young people, have had a job that we only stuck with for four years, then moved on? Do we have any claim on that first employer to make him pay for our medical care? NO!

Let me tell you something. A couple years ago I was working as an advocate for an old man who was one of these fellows who served one tour back around 1940 and never was in combat. He was a bit befuddled and had no desire to go to the V.A. Hospital. You know how he ended up in the V.A. system, using its resources? The Rural Metro ambulance driver saw a reference to the V.A. on the guy’s paperwork so the Rural Metro guy decided to put him in the V.A. He should have been in a community hospital.

At the V.A. Hospital, the first thing I noticed was the leisurely pace of the staff. They were kind, always had plenty of time to help, and never were too rushed to answer questions. I assume this was because there were a whole lot of them. I would like to see a study of the patient-staff ratio at V.A. hospitals versus community hospitals and state hospitals. I would bet you that V.A. hospitals have about 25% more staff than other hospitals. And those staffers are being paid for by you, the tax-paying citizen.

And what does the staff do? I sat in the V.A. hospital’s cafeteria and listened to three maintenance people talking. One was a newbie and the other two were instructing him on how to do nothing. They told him where the best places were for hanging out and not working or getting caught. They taught him about the supervisors—which ones would come looking for him and which ones didn’t care. The newbie was just sitting there eating his hamburger and wanting to read his Kindle but his older, experienced peers were inculcating him into a corrupt system.

And then one day my-friend-the-patient asked what was for lunch. I picked up the menu and read “veal.” Do you know how much veal costs? I haven’t been able to afford it in twenty years, but that’s what was on the menu for veterans who served their country as clerks once, a long time ago. I can tell you for an absolute fact based on experience: no other hospital in Syracuse has veal on the menu.

I had a good friend who served 22 years in the Army and did five tours in combat. He should get veal and anything else he wants. He injured his feet doing his job and as he ages out his feet are probably going to be the first thing that causes him major medical trouble. The fellow for whom I was providing advocacy served one tour as a clerk and then had a lifetime career as a college professor. He should have all the veal he can eat—but not at taxpayer’s expense.

So some veterans are waiting three months to see a physician? Poor people do it all the time. All the freaking time!

Now let’s keep in mind that I’m poor because I’m sick and I’m sick because of bad medicine prescribed by bad physicians. So, about three years ago, a physician prescribed an indwelling catheter for me. We knew that it was only a question of time before I would get a urinary tract infection—bacteria live in the catheter, so it’s important to get the catheter changed once a month, which I was doing until my physician kicked me out of his practice because I expressed my anger when I found out he didn’t know what he was doing.

I looked all over and couldn’t get another primary care physician so I went to an urgent care place, which changed the catheter, said they wouldn’t do it again, and referred me to their affiliated internal medicine practice. I have Medicare primary and Medicaid secondary and the internists wouldn’t accept it.

So I went to the Syracuse Community Health Center, which is poor people’s medicine. Last time I checked, the United States government would pay for you to become a physician on the condition that you worked for the government for three years. The government placed these physicians on Indian reservations, in the Appalachian Mountains, and on the south side of Syracuse: all places that are medically under-served because the residents are poor. Physicians want money and won’t work for poor people.

The physician I saw at the Community Health Center referred me to Upstate’s nephrology clinic. Poor people do not get referred to physicians: they get referred to clinics, where they will be treated by residents who have no experience. I am waiting five months for an appointment at Upstate’s nephrology clinic. Meanwhile, I have gotten an acute infection that could become fatal. That’s poor people’s medicine.

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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