Minnie and Me


Where were we?

Her name is Minnie. She’s twelve years old and we’ve been together since she rolled off the Toyota dealership showroom floor. I know every inch of her silver full-size body. I like to think the ease with which she handles is because she knows me.

She’s a twelve-year-old hybrid that still gets great gas mileage. She and I, just the two of us, have taken so many fuel-efficient round trips from DC to Boston and back that I could do it with my eyes closed. (Actually, that wouldn’t be a good idea.) Most times we leave at 4am so we miss rush hour traffic on both the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (too early) and the George Washington bridge (too late) and make it to New York City in three and a half hours. Flat. We get behind the fastest car on the New Jersey Turnpike, crank up the tunes and roll. We listen to The Allman Brothers Band’s “Blue Sky” to cruise to as the sun comes up. Then we do some reflecting to Santana’s “Song of the Wind” during the long straight stretches. We use the high energy of Tupac’s “California Love” and Beyonce’s version of “Before I Let Go” to get us through to the end. (There are lots of tunes in between.) I’m sure other drivers see my gray braids bouncing and my lips moving to the music as we fly down the highway at I-don’t-want-to-tell-you mph and think, “What is up with that old lady!” Whereas all I’m thinking is, “Get out of my way!” We get to Boston by lunchtime if we’re lucky on the Mass Pike. Sometimes we’re not so lucky. We did the trip in a blizzard one year. It took us ten and a half hours, but we made it.

Minnie has her issues. Her last name is McSqueaks because one of her sounds is an intermittent squeak that she refuses to let Keith at Franconia Service Center hear. She usually does it after we drive over any raised surface. I told my grandkids that it’s the way she talks to me. On the rare occasions when they hear it, they always squeal, “What’s she saying, Memu, what’s she saying!” Squealing and squeaking. I have the most interesting car rides.

Another of her sounds is the flapping noise under the bumper on the driver side when we go over sixty. That one is my fault. I used to hit things. A lot. I hit concrete wheel stops regularly. Consequently, the front of Minnie’s undercarriage resembles Swiss cheese. The flapping sound is the bit hanging down as it moves in the wind. I once hit my own moving van. That one cost me termination by my insurance company. It also cost me very expensive coverage with another. I was the DMV’s poster child for how not to drive. I haven’t had any accidents since moving to the DC area. (She looks around for wood to knock on.)

So, Minnie is, justifiably, showing signs of age, wear and tear. But then, so am I. I know the time will come soon for me to think about getting to know another car. It will feel a little like a betrayal, though. My husband bought Minnie for me after he was diagnosed with cancer. He wanted me to have a good reliable car that wouldn’t require much maintenance. Minnie is all of that. I’m grateful for his gift and I appreciate her. I don’t have to think too much about it because I can’t afford another car for at least another year. So, for now, it’s still Minnie and me, two old girls rollin’.

Stress Test

I told people I was having a simple medical procedure today. I was vague for a couple of reasons. If I’d called it a test I’d be risking being asked for specifics. Procedure sounds serious and personal, requiring a bit of indelicacy to press for details. Details were the last thing I wanted to talk about. This isn’t the kind of test I had as a young woman. Those were often tied to issues of sexuality and/or fertility. This is a different time and a different test. I’m uncomfortably close to the age where I’ll mark life passages by my medical record.


As I sit here in the waiting room, I listen to the nurse give each patient the same information as we check in at fifteen-minute intervals. I have enough time before the test to wonder what health care would look like if our system wasn’t for profit. I understand that because of the costs of resources there would always be expenses involved. But what would it look like in a Utopian culture? Would nurses hold our hands? Would there be space for empathy by the practitioners and dignity for the patients? I think about this as a nurse younger than I am calls me “dear” while peering at a monitor. She asks me the same questions their office has asked me four times since they scheduled this appointment. I realize I’m in a bad mood. It’s because I’m about to be charged my entire insurance deductible for the privilege of having someone look up my butt.

Hospital Supplies

I am now awake from the anesthesia. Thirty minutes of blessed unconsciousness. The older woman to my left wobbles as she struggles to get dressed behind a curtain. I’m glad I brought flip-flops to replace my heels for the walk out. The African-American man to my right laughs loudly like a comedian on stage, while recounting an improbable anesthesia dream about being on Leave It to Beaver. Later, he speaks softly and tenderly to his wife behind his curtain. Each of us here in the recovery room attempts in our own way to deal with the reality of this stressful test. We use these thin, narrow curtains as shields to hide our vulnerability.  Right now, having by backside exposed and vulnerable seems like a metaphor for my life in 2018 America.


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.