Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care Debate

I told myself I would not belabor this issue. I have posted my thoughts before, here and elsewhere. But watching C-SPAN and feeling the urgency of the upcoming vote on health care reform, I am caving in to my impulse to voice my conviction that this measure is long overdue. I am telling a story because I believe in stories. When my husband Ron was being treated for cancer at MD Anderson, he had a network of supporters who were there to help with counseling, pain management, physical therapy, and any other needs he might have. At one point we spoke with a financial counselor. Ron's fear was that his health insurance might run out and then that the expensive COBRA might run out after that. This is the fear of any cancer patient who does not have unlimited resources and is under the age of 65. At that time Ron had an apartment in Houston where he stayed during the week, and then he was with me on weekends. This lady told him to get rid of his Houston address immediately. Why? Because if they could say he lived in Houston, and if he ran out of insurance, he would have to be treated at Ben Taub. Our Montgomery County address meant there was not at that time a cancer clinic available so he could go to MD Anderson. Ben Taub is a great emergency hospital, but is the end of the line for folks who are out of insurance. Before we concluded our interview, the social worker told us a story about another man she was working with. This unlucky fellow was 64 years old. He would not be 65 for several months. He was in the position that Ron feared. His insurance and his money were running out. He actually only needed to hold on for three more months until he was 65 and would have Medicare. They had tried every possible plea and ploy to somehow get a concession so he could continue his treatment at MD Anderson, to which he was responding well. No dice. She said the bottom line was he would have to go to Ben Taub for three months, where the therapy was not available. He would probably die much sooner as a result of this interruption in his treatment. How many people have to find themselves in similar predicaments? How many is too many? I lived through the debate and passage of Medicare, when all the same dire predictions were made. They are no more true today than they were then. Ron died before his insurance ran out, but it still makes me mad that he had to worry about insurance as well as his cancer. Shameful.

And now I am back at MD Anderson. Yesterday I had my blood tested in the same lab where Ron used to get his done. That was a strange feeling. I have good insurance, and I also have a very good prognosis. I am not worried about the same things that Ron, with stage IV lung cancer had to face. But still...

Another Reason Why Librarians Make A Difference

Last week I spent a considerable amount of time in waiting rooms at MD Anderson Hospital waiting rooms at the Mays Clinic Breast Cancer Center. Anybody who has been through a big hospital like this knows to expect waiting, and I was well prepared with gizmos. I was witness to a very compelling little drama at one point. I kept noticing a young boy who looked about 10 and was wandering around, appearing a bit lost. I thought maybe he was with one of the volunteers because he never seemed to be talking to anyone who was seated in the area. Finally he concentrated his wanderings to the area where the volunteers had a plate of cookies and some heart shaped pillows, which they give away to patients. One of the volunteers smiled at him and said, "Would you like a cookie?" I could not hear what he said but it was clear that they then engaged in a conversation, and that he was worried about his mother, who was back in one of the rooms. The lady was offering him some tips on how he could help her by cheering her up, giving her support, helping out with chores, helping her with healthy diet, etc. Then another lady came up and started talking with him too. The librarian in me could not be restrained. I went up to the first lady and said, "I see your friend has questions." She said yes. When she asked him if he wanted a cookie he said "No, but I have a question...How can they make my mother's cancer go away?" I said, "You should tell him to talk to his school librarian. She can find him books on his level that help answer his questions and also help him deal with his mother's illness." She did ask him and he said that he did know and like his librarian and that he would do that. Then one of the ladies took him downstairs to the Learning Center for some written information. He had been researching on the Internet, but clearly wanted to TALK to someone who could give him the information he sought. He was 9 years old. I commented on his maturity and spunk for coming up and asking them questions. She laughed and said he told her, "I may be little but I have a BIG HEAD." She said, "Are you trying to tell me you are smart?" and he said YES. She told him that she was sure he could help his mom just by being himself and being there for her. If you are a librarian you know that children of all ages come in with questions about their loved ones' health issues, and about their own health as well. They need and deserve to have a caring adult who will not only hand over the right book but also be there as someone to listen and give support. This is one of the many things school librarians do very well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Spring Break

Here I am in a lovely hotel with every amenity you could imagine...nice restaurant and bar, snack cafe, Starbucks, free chair massages, pool, exercise center, lovely gardens, and more. Some of the people staying here are very rich and powerful. There are some sumptuous suites upstairs, or so I have heard. Yet I am paying a bargain price. And I am here with mixed feelings. I would much rather be home in my crooked little house. So where am I? Well, I am in Houston. And while I have a nice view out my window there are drawbacks. What I see is Texas Children's Hospital. And St. Luke's, and MD Anderson, Alkeck Building. So maybe you know where I am...The Rotary International Hotel at MD Anderson Cancer Center. I will be having tests tomorrow and then will see my surgeon on Wednesday and, I hope, set a date for surgery. The sooner the better. I have had the best bad news a person could want, because I have very early detection and a good prognosis. I expect to be around for a long time.

Anyway, here's the technology tie-in. MD Anderson has a killer website! Oops maybe that's a bad choice of words. It is a really great site with all kinds of services. There are step by step instructions for everything, including walking directions INSIDE buildings to help you find your way. All kinds of FAQ's...I appreciate that stuff because it is really helpful and also because I know how hard it is to do all that. We try to tell students what they need to do in our program, and yet never seem to anticipate all the questions they have. And their online social network is great. You get all your appointments there, get your forms to fill out, check on prescriptions, and access support groups. The user-friendly factor gets a 10.

So overall I am going to do my best to enjoy my stay. Unless they add to my schedule I will be free tomorrow afternoon and have promised myself a treat. maybe a museum trip or the zoo. I do like this part of Houston. And truly, MD Anderson is a hopeful place. People come here from all over the world to get the very best care. I was in the elevator with a couple from France. I parked next to an Escalade with Michigan plates. I feel lucky that all I have to do is get in my little Honda Fit and tool down the road from Huntsville. But I will close with a bit of editorializing that I cannot resist. Suppose I didn't have health insurance. Suppose I was under 65 (well I AM under 65) and I ran out of insurance. Then, I could not come to MD Anderson. I would be sent to the charity hospital, Ben Taub. Ben Taub has a great ER, but it is not the place for cancer treatment. So even though I could SEE MD Anderson from Ben Taub, I could not be treated there. People who think we don't need health insurance reform have never had to face a situation like the one I just describe, but it happens every day. Here. Today. Think about that while our "representatives" embarrass themselves and us with their childish behavior in DC this week.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Goldfinches and Dragons!

The biggest reason for this blog entry is to demonstrate the Dragon speech recognition app that available on iPhone -- I am talking into my phone right now. Then I'm going to send the text that appears, and e-mail it to myself and then post at my blog! I'm very excited that I finally took time to try out this app, Dragon Dictation.

And by the way, what a great day I'm having! First of all two of my favorite people are withme this weekend--that would be Dr. Laura Sheneman and Dr. Joanna Fountain, and they're staying with me over the weekend because of a faculty meeting tomorrow. It's sort of like a nice house party! The other thing I wanted to say is that my goldfinches are thriving. I put extra seed and feeders just now, including the thistle sock that goldfinches really love. I'm watching the goldfinches crowding around my feeders right now. I have a regular congregation out there in front of my house! I hope everybody else is having a great day, and I think I have one coming to me!

OK...What you read just now is the edited version of the speech to text file that I emailed myself. The original version is posted below. You will see that a good deal of editing was needed. Still, I think I will be using the app, and will probably buy the more sophisticated version for my computer. It claims to be 99% accurate, regardless of one's accent or dialect. I really think it can help my productivity. If you want to read the unedited text, keep on reading below. Some of it is funny. The app evidently had trouble the word "goldfinches" and turned it in to girl friends at one point and then claimed the goldfinches were driving. There are some other funny phrases too--the best is about us all "suffering together" which seems a bit Freudian and hauntingly accurate. I would love to hear from other Dragon product users. Here goes the original text:

The biggest reason for this blog entry is to demonstrate this Dragon
speech recognition app that available on iPhone because I am talking
into my phone right now then I'm going to have that appears text and
I'm going to e-mail it to my seven posted at the blog posts what a
great day. I'm having first of all two of my favorite people are with
me this weekend that would day Dr. Laura Sheneman and Dr. Joanna
fountain and their staying with me over the weekend because of the
faculty meeting tomorrow and working all have suffered together so
it's sort of like a nice house party and the other thing I wanted to
say is that my goldfinches are driving I put out extra stage at the
associate and I have on my way great day. I'm having the girls, ages
are crowding around my theater and I just adapted so as well and we
have a regular congregation out there and from my house so I hope
everybody else is having a great day and I think I have one coming
first time for me and I have to say I'm very excited that I finally
took time to try out this app that more I wanted to just say what a
great day