Friday, June 15, 2007

"Sick" is too kind an adjective

A break from our relentless pursuit of definitions to recommend that, if you didn't hear/see it yesterday, you really should listen to the Democracy Now! stories on Michael Moore's new film, "Sicko."

I mean, you gotta love a movie that uses this for a trailer:

GEORGE BUSH: We got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many ob-gyns aren't able to practice their love with women all over this country.


NARRATOR: When Michael Moore decided to make a movie on the health care industry, top-level executives were on the defensive. What were they hiding?

EXECUTIVE: That's not on, right?



EXECUTIVE: The intent is to maximize profits.

MICHAEL MOORE: If you denied more people health care you got a bonus?

WOMAN: When you don't spend money on somebody, it is a savings to the company.

POLITICIAN: I want America to have the finest health care in the world.

MICHAEL MOORE: Four health care lobbyists for every member of Congress. Here's what is what it costs to buy these men, and this woman, and this guy, and this guy. And the United States slipped to 37 in healthcare around the world - just slightly ahead of Slovenia.


HEALTH CARE WORKER: I denied a necessary a man a necessary operation and thus caused his death. This secured my reputation and it ensured my continued advancement in the health care field.

NARRATOR: In the world's richest country...

WOMAN: I work three jobs.

BUSH: You work three jobs?


BUSH: Uniquely American isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic.

NARRATOR: Laughter isn't the best medicine.

WOMAN: I get a bill from my insurance company telling me that the ambulance ride wasn't pre-approved. I don't know when I was supposed to pre-approve it. After I gained consciousness in the car? Before I got in the ambulance?

NARRATOR: It's the only medicine.

MICHAEL MOORE: There's actually one place on American soil that had free universal health care.

MICHAEL MOORE: Which way to Guantanamo Bay?

GOVT OFFICIAL: Detainees representing a threat to our national security are given access to top-notch medical facilities.

MICHAEL MOORE: Permission to enter. I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They just want some medical attention - the same kind the evildoers are getting...Hello?

NARRATOR: Michael Moore's Sicko.
I say "stories" because that link will get you to the remarks made by Mr. Moore to the California State Assembly. This link will take you to the people featured in the film, and their comments on the state of American healthcare. It's worse than being 37th in the world; much worse:

DAWNELLE KEYES: On May 6, 1993 my 18-month-old daughter Michelle became very ill. She was vomiting, had diarrhea and was having trouble breathing and a very high temperature. I called an ambulance, which took her to the nearest emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center in Los Angeles. The doctors believed she probably had a bacterial infection, which could be treated with antibiotics. But he didn't conduct a simple blood culture or treat her with antibiotics because our health plan, Kaiser, told him not to. You see, Martin Luther King hospital was not a Kaiser facility. Kaiser said the simple test and treatment had to be done in a Kaiser hospital. But Michelle became sicker and sicker. She became lethargic and unresponsive. I pleaded to them. I pleaded for her treatment. And no one would give her antibiotics. Over two hours later Michelle had a seizure. Only an hour after that Michelle was transferred by ambulance to Kaiser. Within 15 minutes of arriving, she died.

I went to court to hold accountable those who were responsible for Michelle’s death. As my attorney put it, Michelle died, not because a doctor didn't know what to do, but because of her health care coverage status. We won our case but, sadly, the jury award was cut to a fraction of what they felt was fair because of a horrible California law that caps damages in these kinds of cases called MICRA. This law has been on the books since 1975 and should be re-appealed. My case is a good example of why we need guaranteed and universal health care in California and in America. No one should ever have to go through what my family had to go through. I hope the movie Sicko, which I am proud to be a part of on behalf of my daughter, helps achieve that goal. My daughter was not treated and died because she was in the ER that was not affiliated with her health plan. This should never happen in America. Had it not happened, my daughter would be 15-and-a-half years of age and enjoying high school. Thank you.
No, no; don't stop now. Tip of the iceberg. Let's hear some stories about hospitals dumping patients on Skid Row in Los Angeles (the increasingly inaptly named):

Three years ago, my predecessors found that a woman had been dropped off by a hospital. She walked in with an IV in her arm, sat down in our guest area and died 10 minutes later from pneumonia. We set up what is now called a hospital dump can out in front of the building. And in the fall of 2005, we had a gentleman show up in a gurney, having seizures and the hospital attempted to drop him off, but the captain of the police force, Andy Smith, happened to be at our place in a meeting, he ran down, intervened, made the man – the ambulance driver - put him back in the ambulance and sent him back to the hospital. Shortly after that, in December, an undocumented day laborer showed up covered in blood. He’d just been released from a hospital in Arcadia, brought all the way to downtown Skid Row, walked in, we took him back to our guest area and shortly thereafter, he became so ill from the beating he had taken right before he went to the hospital, that we had to call the medics and haul him back to the hospital. He stayed there for several days.

That was publicized. I think eleven hospitals were documented as doing drop-offs. It was somewhat publicized. But in March of 2006, I was standing outside with the moms from the Mission, waiting for their kids to return. Their bus had been in an accident, so I was out much later than I normally would have been. I couldn't believe my eyes as the cab pulled up and did a u-turn. And a little lady in a nightgown stepped out of the back of the cab, unassisted, was given no directions to our door. She's several hundred feet from our door. She started walking northward on San Pedro to some of the meanest streets in the United States. Fortunately, I was there. I called the Captain, Andy Smith. I sent a staff person to rescue the lady that I later found out was Carol Reyes. Hospital document showed she had high blood pressure, a low-grade fever, had dementia so bad that she didn't know time or place. Yet she was brought 20 miles to be dropped off on to the meanest street of our city.
Absorb all of that: it started three years ago. It go so bad, so frequent and constant, the mission set up a camera to videotape it. It took almost three years for this to get bad enough to gain public attention, world-wide attention. We are the richest country in the world. We consider ourselves "compassionate."

We lie to ourselves so we will sleep better. Because even the attention to Carol Reyes didn't stop anything:

Unfortunately, there have been over 35 hospital drop-offs since Carroll Reyes made the news. One man, a paraplegic, dropped off without a wheelchair without a walker, dropped himself out of the van onto the curb with his clothes in his mouth and colostomy bag ruptured. Fortunately, one good thing that came out of this was that twelve homeless witnesses stepped forward and said enough is enough. No more of this kind of treatment for human beings.
We don't have human beings in this country anymore; we have economic units. We value people based on what they produce for the GNP, based on what the Dow-Jones did today, based on the value of someone else's stock portfolio. Don't tell me we don't, because after three years of dumping patients on Skid Row and no one asking questions, even after it becaume an issue, 35 more patients were dumped. And if that doesn't bother you, listen to Dr. Linda Peeno:

LINDA PEENO: I should say right from the beginning that when you see the film this afternoon, you’re gonna think that I’m an imposter, because when Michael's team called me about a year ago to talk to me about the film, I was actually so despondent about health care that I couldn't give an interview. So they had to use the old material. And so it was just so exciting for me to see all those nurses today. I just cannot tell you. After twenty years of trying to get people to pay attention to exactly what Michael said, and what shocked me into this and the thing that will be the focus in the movie is that as a young, naive physician twenty years ago, I realized that with just a flick of a pen I could condemn a person to death and did, all because he was expensive. And I have already seen references to the fact that that case is too old, it is a mere anecdote, all the things that came out when I testified eleven years ago before Congress. But, when I testified in 1996 in May before Congress about this case, I realized just the other day as I was thinking about this, I could give exactly the same testimony again, exactly, word for word, I would only have to add that things have become unimaginably worse. I think the thing that had begun to defeat me over the past couple of years is the thousands and thousands of e-mails I would get from people every week, to the point where I couldn't even stand to turn my computer on.
This system is of our doing, our manufacture, our making. This is no force of nature, no hurricane from the Atlantic, no earthquake or drought or famine; this is entirely human-made, and we are the humans making it.

I can't wait for this movie to come out. But I don't have high hopes it will even start a national conversation on this topic. I've seen people deny responsibilty for their own actions before. It's so reflexive, I'd almost call it an instinct.

In the Church, we call it "original sin."

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