I Steal From Hospitals

Hospital SuppliesRecently, 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.

If you celebrate a Spring holiday, I wish for you happiness and peace. Happy Easter to all who celebrate it. This is a repost of my favorite prayer.

Stop Along The Way

I love you the divine One
With all my mind, heart and soul.
I pray I will see You in the faces
Of all those I meet.
I pray I will reflect Your love
To all those I meet.
I pray I will remember as I am leaning to the left
You are on my right.
I admit my sin as a turning away from You to pursue
Let me be myself in You.
I pray I will always appreciate Your wonder
With awe and not superstition.
I love you, hear my cry.

Bayete, bayete, bayete
How Great Thou Art
All praise to your name.

I want to come to You headless
Voiceless so I can hear You
Thoughtless so I will not define
Myself, beside myself
And outside myself
But instead one in You
I want to come to You headless
Heart open so I can feel You

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Bowing At Easter

ChurchAnnually, I use the Christian time of Lent as the impetus for extended contemplation. I have mentioned before that I consider the ability to be compassionate and loving a vital part of my spiritual growth. This year I’ve been thinking about why although I seem poised in social settings and can write compositions for others to read, actual interaction with other people can be downright painful for me. I consider myself fortunate to have the concepts of different faith traditions to access for help in making sense of my definition of spirituality. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that frequently I refer back to a Buddhist article I wrote about in my very first blog entry; “Long Journey To a Bow” by Christina Feldman. (“The Bow” 12/25/10)  It’s a piece that serves as one of the guides to my personal “wandering through the wilderness”. In it the author discusses the conceit (in this context meaning the metaphor or organizing theme) of self.  She shows that for most of us (and definitely for me) the conceit of self is a stumbling block that is made of “better than, worse than, and equal to”.

I got to the point where I recognized that I had developed a serious sense of  “I’m better than, they’re worse than”. That was easy because that comparison is so prevalent in our culture and I was raised on it.  As I have mentioned before, the only way I could understand others was to evaluate their “flaws”. ( “This Month’s Stop”1/17/12 post) And I evaluated myself by things like how incredibly clean my house was and how impeccably dressed I was. I left several good jobs because “they didn’t appreciate how good I was or they were too incompetent”. When I realized the detriment of that kind of thinking I thought I was working the conceit of “better than”. Then I was prompted to dig deeper by the article. I found that the reason I judged others was because actually, I felt I was diminished and deficient. In reality I was working the conceit of “worse than”.

I spent the first half of my life putting together and putting on what I came to call “the suit”.  That was the persona of competence I thought I needed to present to others to hide my true inadequacies. Although I really didn’t wear it long, I wore it hard. It got to the point where it was my second skin, or maybe even THE skin. But it became so uncomfortable that I drank alcohol to deaden myself to the pain of the weight of it. It took therapy to teach me that I could remove it and to accept and appreciate what I was like without it. And yet I still kept it around. I was afraid I’d experience a different kind of pain without it. It was like an old friend who I suspected I might need again on occasion because I hadn’t let go of the need for comparisons. By reading “The Bow” many times and lots of contemplation, the consequences of those comparisons, even trying to judge “equal to” finally became clear to me.

Now, at this stage in my life, I see that the fabric of the suit is cheap and inferior. I don’t need a suit made of fear, self-defensiveness and suspicion to protect me. I need only to stand naked before God.  Being naked in the wilderness scares me in its potential for pain. I now think that I’m strong enough to withstand my own vulnerability but am I strong enough to endure and love the vulnerability of others?  The image scares me but keeps me mindful that there’s always pain in life. I can survive it and I don’t always need to deflect it but rather try to know it.