Burton on the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 35
August 30 - September 5, 2001
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Walk Carefully;
You Don’t Want to Be Where I Was

Health care doesn’t cure headaches, it gives them. You ought to know that by now.
– Marjorie Brush, 1908 - hopefully forever

Ms. Brush, better known to Bay Weekly readers over the years as my Aunt MiMi, sure knows how to tell things as they are. That’s a trait of Vermont Yankees.

The observation came over the phone in one of our recent daily chats upon my announcement that I was about to try to return to column writing - if only I could get by all the health-care paperwork, scheduling doctor and therapist visits and all the other assorted time-consuming things that accompany recuperating from surgery.

So, for what it’s worth, despite all the irritating inconveniences, my regular column returns to Bay Weekly. Basically, it’s written with one hand, seeing as the right hand remains in a sling more than a month after a surgeon repaired a destroyed rotator cuff.

Of course, seeing that I’m right-handed, it had to be the right shoulder that fell apart. Were I left-handed, it would have been the left shoulder. I guess it could have been worse: Had I been ambidextrous, it would have been both shoulders.

That’s the way things go - at least for this writer who sits at the computer with right hand in a sling and propped up high while pecking out letters with a left hand the dexterity of which has always been suspect. Worst of all, the mouse that’s inherent in the Windows program has to be controlled with that same awkward portside wing, which of course means doing everything with said mouse just the opposite - and upside down.

So, it goes without saying, what better time to take the advice of MiMi - and editor Sandra Martin - with a column detailing assessments and happenings when subjected to health care in this day and age?

Don’t get me wrong, It wasn’t all bad. I had a great and compassionate surgeon, Dr. Edwin Fulton, who 20 years ago when I was much younger and more physically resilient performed less complicated surgery on the same shoulder. Thanks to him, I’m mending slowly and surely from his latest endeavor.

But, as they say, had I known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. But one can never look back; shouldn’t even try.

My Downfall
The downfall of Burton came about when, in late April, I was rushing into a drugstore. Out of nowhere a boy of about five or six darted into my path. I tried a fancy sidestep to avoid bowling him over. Next thing I knew, my head was on the pavement, my shoulder lodged against the curb, my Omega watch smashed. I hurt like hell - and that’s what the startled kid ran off like.

Of New England country stock, I opted for self medical care and healing. Having long dealt with the formal health care system, I have learned the more it can be avoided, the better the patient is. If the illness or injury doesn’t get you, the numerous printed forms will.

So, through May when the trophy rockfish season was in high gear for a couple of months, then in June when Bay fishing left much to be desired, I stayed dockside hoping the pain and discomfort would mend. I’m the eternal optimist, but this old body that dates back to the days of Calvin Coolidge’s presidency didn’t live up to expectations.

By July, it was obvious that outside help was needed. Instead of fishing, I was filling out forms, answering questions, being prodded, poked, X-rayed and who knows what. Those were just tedious inconveniences. Soon I was to get my first solid reminder of how the health system works.

I’ve never been accused of being a hypochondriac, and I won’t show you scars, but there are a few things appropriate to go into as part of a briefing on our contemporary health care system. Beware, they can happen to you.

The first shocker came when the X-rays showed nothing broken or otherwise visible in the shoulder complex. An MRI was ordered for a more detailed look. I was dispatched to an MRI laboratory outside Glen Burnie, where I was encased in one of those contraptions not too unlike a casket.

I’m not claustrophobic, so being laid out didn’t bother me. But to get the image needed of the shoulder I was positioned in such a posture that the pain was excruciating. And I couldn’t move a muscle for 45 minutes. I could live with that. Once.

I left, assured the resulting image would be forwarded to my doctor within several days. But when I visited the doc, I was informed there was no record of my undergoing an MRI. The laboratory didn’t have Bill Burton in their books.

I was flabbergasted. I insisted I had been there: Who could have forgotten the pain? Several more calls were made, but by double-checking date of birth, address, social security number and such, still no record was found. Another MRI was suggested.

I wanted no part of a repeat; I’d rather spend the rest of my days with a bad shoulder. The doctor made one last effort; records showed that a Billy Burton, aged 49, with a different address and social security number had had a shoulder MRI that same day. It showed a severed rotator cup, which fit my preliminary diagnosis. But nothing could be done, no decisions made, until the records were cleared up and the doctor was assured the MRI was mine.

Five days later, still no confirmation, and at home the phone rang. It was the MRI outfit, calling to verify my address: They needed it for billing. No kidding, my doctor was still waiting for final results and confirmation, and here’s this sweet lady impatient to send a bill. I confess my response was not fitting for this publication.

Finally things were straightened out. Then came the surgery, and a right arm strapped and useless. Things like food left at my bed, and no way to eat it; forms to sign and no right hand usable.

I could have lived with that, it’s routine in hospitals these days, but then came the clincher.

The third day, while I writhed in pain, the IV slipped out of my left arm. Wife Lois called for assistance. A nurse or technician or whatever (you can’t tell one from another in a hospital these days) arrived cradling a cell phone between her shoulder and chin. Still on the phone, she made an unsuccessful attempt to reinsert an IV, which meant one less option. You don’t hit the same location twice.

The right arm or hand wasn’t a possibility. I was told by another attendant I had one more chance or the insertion would have to be in a leg - and I shuddered. Moving my legs freely was my main source for coping with the pain.

The care-giver was ready for another effort, still with phone between shoulder and chin - when it dawned on me she was involved not in a conversation about Burton and his IV, but a personal call about a planned social event. That’s when push came to shove; many hospital staffers wander about talking on their personal phones, but it wasn’t about to be the one jabbing a needle into me.

I prevailed, the IV connection took, I left the hospital that evening. Now I am mending slowly and surely, accepting the pain of therapy - anything to avoid any more MRIs or hospitals where staffers walk around with lips glued to cell phones.

I’ll walk carefully from here on. You do the same. Enough said …

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly