Recently, I went with a family member to a hospital near her apartment in NYC. She had a bad bout of the norovirus and needed IV fluids. While I was there I did my usual “shopping”. I like to take wads of all the little supplies hospitals keep within reach in exam rooms. I stock up on band-aids, alcohol wipes, rubber gloves and the like. Actually, hospitals are the only places I take things. I believe in Karma and I’m the kind that gives extra change back in stores and I don’t even take pens home from work. But in my mind, hospitals are different.
As an aside, this habit did backfire on me once. I was with my late mother in an E.R. exam room waiting for the doctor. This particular hospital had a wall of supplies all neatly organized and divided in bins stacked in rows. It made it very convenient for me to “shop”. I took what I wanted, hopped up on a table across from my mother and relaxed. About ten minutes later the biggest, scariest security guard slammed open the door, pointed at me with the antennae of his walkie-talkie and yelled, “You!” My heart started pounding and in a split second I thought two things. One, where was the camera and two, these people really took their band-aid count seriously. It turned out that I was leaning back against the panic button, which really ticked off the guard.
Anyway, the question is why I feel ok about taking things from hospitals. It is, very simply, because of my frustration with the U.S. for-profit health care system. I take supplies as my little protest to a behemoth system that is fraught with inequities and malefactions that I’m powerless to do anything about.
I started getting frustrated, once again, when I walked into the triage area of the NYC hospital. I seethe every time I see a “take-a-number” machine in an emergency room. She was screened by a very competent triage nurse quickly but my relative’s medical need wasn’t severe enough to bypass the insurance verification clerk on the way to the exam room. First, there’s the HIPPA form or as I like to refer to it the “Help Institution Pare-down Possible Action” form because there is plenty of evidence to show it does nothing to protect patient privacy. And then there’s the most important form. It’s the one that requires you to turn over all control of your health care to your insurance carrier. I used to argue that I am the decision maker and that my health care providers are but my highly paid consultants. My primary care doctor kindly hipped me to reality by saying, “Why do you think they call it managed care? Because they are doing the managing, not you.”
Lastly, there’s the health care hierarchy that is so evident in hospitals. Whenever I have to sit around waiting (mostly when I have an appointment with a doctor who’s time is more valuable than mine and who is required to see more managed people than that valuable time allows) I sadly notice the rigidity of place the system forces on employees. I live in a state that has a large number of teaching hospitals connected to prestige universities. People come from everywhere in the country and world to fill the roles that have been predetermined for them by the health care system. From the doctors to the maintenance crews, even before I get to a hospital I can guess who is going to be in what role because of economic class.
So yeah, I steal those tiny packets of alcohol wipes that are billed at $10 a pop on a statement I’ll never get to see. I’ve tried to effect change with my voice, my pen and with my vote but after many years I have to admit to myself that no one is paying me any attention. Maybe I’m hoping that some day a hospital security guard will notice my purse is bulging.