When the Medical Debate Becomes Personal

07/05/2011 05:50 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2011
  • Stu Kreisman Author and Emmy Award-winning Writer and Producer

The past week a member of my family had a medical emergency. We brought him to the UCLA Reagan Medical Center Emergency Room and after he was stabilized, he spent five days being treated and recovering in the hospital. One gets to thinking and reevaluating priorities when faced with family crisis like this. Being very chatty (along with the rest of my family) we got to know most of the medical professionals who helped us. A few observations:

Under no circumstances should we be looking to or be in the position to cut back medical care and schooling. Let's get some things straight. Contrary to the belief that doctors are making a fortune, most of the medical staff are just like you and me. They have families, mortgages and hopes to pay for their kid's college education. Doctors are in school and in residence for over 11 years before they are finished with their apprenticeships. During these years they work strenuous hours and make an average of minimum wage. They are far from elite, upper-class millionaires.

The medical professionals don't go into the business to make money. They go in because they love the profession and care about people. (For those of you on the right, that's called empathy.) In fact, despite the long hours at the hospital, most donate what free time they have helping the less fortunate in our society, here and abroad at free clinics. Why? Because they care about their fellow human being's welfare. I realize that's currently a sign of weakness in certain political circles, but I see it as a weakness in the dogmatic thinking of extremely selfish people.

Unlike any corporation that is deemed "To Big To Fail" medicine is the only business where nobody in need is ever turned away. If you can't pay your mortgage, the banks will gleefully throw you out into the streets. If you can't afford your car payments, it's repossessed. (Try getting to work now, sucker.) However, if you're in dire need of medical help, you'll get it. Nobody in critical condition is kicked out of an emergency room. General Electric and Goldman Sachs may laugh and think that's a bad business model, but success is not always defined by bottom line profits.

The current trend of cutting staff and pensions of medical personnel is forcing some to "Moonlight." "Moonlighting" is when you don't have enough money to support the family and doctors and nurses take a weekend or overnight shift at another hospital just to make ends meet. It's extremely exhausting but they have to feed their families, too. Instead of making cuts, we need to pour money into salaries and medical funding. Period.

Whatever nurse's make, they are way underpaid. Nurses and their assistants are modern day Saints. They work in 12-hour shifts doing everything to make patients comfortable, check vital signs, dispense medicine, keep patients and their family's spirits up and everything else. By everything else I mean everything. Things that you would never dream of assisting another human being in. Think of the worst kind of bodily function possible. Because the patients are sick, now multiply the ick factor by about 10. That's what they do for 12 hours a day, always with a smile on their face. When you're in the hospital, they're the ones that watch over you and keep you alive. They do the dirty work. Yet Republicans can't wait to slash their pensions and salaries. Guess what Republicans? You're going to need their help one day. It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. You will be at their mercy one day and they will treat you with the kindness and respect you refuse to give them because they care about you regardless of your political ideology. Hopefully then the bulb will go off in your brains and realize why people are fighting so hard against your medical cuts. Maybe then you'll understand why they're so valuable.

At the hospital I noticed a lot of rooms and wings are dedicated to donors. Turns out that most of these people who gave so generously were former patients who realized during their stay how important good medical care is. I thank them for putting their millions to good use instead of buying a baseball team, a race horse or an extra yacht. So do the thousands of patients that use the hospital each year.

In regard to the people on the right who live by the theory that if you can't afford it, you don't deserve it, I'd like to share with you something I witnessed last week. As I was making a call in the hallway one afternoon, a mother walked by with her six or seven year old daughter. The girl was dressed in Winnie The Pooh pajamas and walked slowly, clutching her mother's hand. With her other hand she pulled along her rolling IV fluid dispenser, which she was attached to. It broke my heart watching them. What made me ache even more is the fact that there are thousands, if not millions of little children who are just as sick as this young girl, yet they are being denied access for the chance to regain their health. I dare the lawmakers and pundits who deride "Obamacare" and the notion of health for all to go to a children's hospital and see these faces in person. Then go back and try to take medical care away from them and slash nurse's salaries and pensions.

These lawmakers and conservatives are living in denial. Money isn't everything. More and more Americans are living longer. As they age they are going to need more medical care. It's a fact that is never going to change. Wall Streeters who play games with people's pensions have no idea what devastation they are bringing to innocent people. As are Republicans who want to cut federal funding for hospitals so the rich can get another tax cut. It's inhumane and disgusting. Shame on them.

On a personal note I'd especially like to thank the doctors (The GI team members, GI Fellow and Attending GI Physician along with the fantastic internists, nurses, volunteers, medical students and staff at UCLA Reagan, fifth floor east. You all are truly beautiful people doing amazing work. My family thanks and celebrates your determination, attitude and work. I just hope the people who see your work as expendable also begin to celebrate you it before it's too late.


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