Reality Truck: First, Do No Harm

I just heard it was National Nurses' Month. Gosh, and I missed it? Again?! Darn it! Well, I just hope nobody expected my friend Babs or me to burn up the phone lines to 1-800-Flowers, because I think you can safely count us out of the celebration. Not that health care isn't a fine, honorable profession, but Babs and I have had more than our fair share of bad luck with a select few practitioners. For example, I was just reminiscing about my recent unfortunate hospitalization and the draconian punishment I endured at the hands of some nurses who confused me with a pincushion in their incompetent attempts to install an IV. (And boy, did I have a good time filling out that "patient satisfaction" questionnaire that arrived at my house a few weeks later.) Before that, I may have mentioned (a time or two) that it was a nurse who broke up my last relationship. At one point, this particular Florence Nightingale and her coworkers were so vigorously pursuing the attached and married men in our social circle that my friends all joked about it being union rules (and there's certainly nothing I enjoy more than public humiliation at my expense). I was pretty sure Hippocrates had said something about "First, do no harm," but my friends tried to console me with the suggestion that perhaps these young Clara Bartons were absent the day they covered that. But then, my friends are all liberal arts grads (i.e., unemployed), so I knew they couldn't speak with any degree of authority about our nation's fine community college and vo-tech curricula. Meanwhile, the rest of the "incumbents" and I just fervently prayed for continued good health--knowing how easily an embolism could be induced by a couple of quislings with access to hypodermics (at least according to *ER*). I could go on (and believe me I will), but I recap all of this now simply to make the point that I had wrongly assumed that my bad luck with health care professionals was somehow unique. That's when Babs, my best friend from college called me from her hospital bed in Brooklyn. I quickly learned that, as difficult as it is to find yourself at the mercy of the medical establishment, it's infinitely worse in New York City. I first wrote about Babs in last year's summer vacation column. Her postcard recklessly bragged about how she and her 25-year-old West Coast boyfriend had sex 17 times during their *long* (so to speak) weekend in the wine country. I got a lot of requests for her number after that column, and I bring it up again because it was just this sort of show-off behavior that landed her in the hospital. But first, you need a bit more medical background. Bear in mind, this is from a lay person (i.e., someone who's dated a few doctors) and should not be confused with genuine medical fact. But as I understand it, for a certain percentage of the female population (like Babs), too much sex (to be defined on a purely individual basis) can result in chronic urinary tract infections-earning these women the affectionate acronym, CUTI. Stop me if I'm getting too technical. Anyway, she'd just been to the Left Coast to visit Mr. *Summer of 42.* And...how to put this delicately? Let's just say that the two of them enjoyed each other's "company" so "frequently" that fellow passengers felt compelled to rub her foot for luck on the plane ride home. She returned to New York in some discomfort. This discomfort steadily escalated to unbearable agony until, with the best of intentions, she was misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated by the nurses in her doctor's office (who was out of town). By the time he got back, she had to be hospitalized. Of course, in a New York City emergency room, renal failure is *not* exactly a big deal. As the nurses did triage, Babs landed somewhere between the gunshot victims and the guy who'd been brained in the head with an iron by an irate girlfriend. She was a trouper though, and quickly sizing up the situation, immediately realized (as any single woman in New York would) that a potentially life-threatening situation could, if handled properly, result in an opportunity to meet prospective dates. The first (attractive) guy she met offered to give up his place in line for her. That's when she glanced down at his finger for the telltale wedding ring (or tan line), and noticed the HANDCUFFS. Turns out he was just waiting for a bed in detox. The next charming prospect struck up a pleasant conversation...until the DEA guys hauled him off. When Babs' friend Demeris showed up to lend moral support, she inadvertently encountered the detox guy who (confusing her with a nurse) began pressing her insistently for a needle. Finally, Babs was admitted around 7 a.m. Saturday-and cooled her jets in an exam room until someone died at 4:30 and freed up a bed. A litre of barium, some dye-injections, and a multitude of cruel indignities later, she was finally diagnosed and treated. To give you an idea of the true severity of the situation, she was hospitalized for five whole days--and everybody knows that no HMO would allow a patient to stay in a hospital that long if the condition wasn't life threatening. Sometimes even if it is. And just so you know, her urologist has banned me from giving out her phone number anymore. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending though. Babs is slowly recuperating (in Italy), and (perhaps more importantly), Demeris got a date with one of the DEA agents.

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