Note to my readers: This is a fantasy entitled “The Ice Floe Theory: Health Care in the Newtonian Age” (One has heard that the Eskimos, lacking the ability to care for their elderly, typically will at some point transport the elderly person onto a distant ice floe with sufficient food and water for three days and leave him or her to die.)
Scene : a nursing home in the year 2020 in southeastern PA, USA. An administrator approaches an elderly man tied to a respirator and bedridden:
“Good morning, Mr. Smith. I am Jeff Gordon, the home administrator. I don’t believe we’ve ever met. It’s very nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Smith. How are you feeling today?”
Well, that’s a start. Actually, Mr. Smith (may I call you Joe), I have some rather bad news for you today – although there may well be a bright side to it
Oh, you have heard that we’re putting out another lot of seniors on the street. Yes, I’m sorry that you had to learn of it in this way. We started doing this three years ago. A series of Republican governors had slashed more and more of our subsidy until we had to learn to subsist on what our patients – and their insurance providers—were able to give us. We’ve had to lay off most of our staff. You may have noticed there is only one nurse per floor.
You have noticed . You say you have several times needed a bedpan but the nurse was not able to get to you in time. We’re sorry about that, Joe. Very sorry. Are you feeling upset about this latest development?
A little bit, you say. Well, I can offer some comfort perhaps. There will be others, Joe. You will not be alone. We have had to put residents out on the sidewalk these last three years as their vouchers ran out. You know $15,000 doesn’t cover much these days. Normally a three-month stay in our facility. But let me try to ease your mind to some degree. You will be provided with three peanut butter sandwiches, a blanket, and five bottles of water. Each of your fellow former residents gets the same. You may need the blanket, as it is March.
I don’t know how to respond to your tears, Joe, Mr. Smith. Here take this tissue.
It isn’t all totally bleak, Joe. Try to look on the bright side. Many times a passerby will stop with reinforcements – bread, a cup of coffee, another sandwich. This can happen time and again over a period of days, even weeks.
Oh, I’m terribly sorry. You say you are a veteran. You served your country in Vietnam, were wounded but came home unlike many of your companions. Then your only child was sent to Libya, blinded by a roadside bomb and later died in a traffic accident. And now there is no one to whom to turn except a cousin in California who seems uninterested in assisting you. Well, that’s terribly sad and most unfortunate. You know the US stopped caring for veterans some years ago . There just was no more money for that kind of thing, what with three wars, the continuing demand for oil subsidies, coal subsidies, wheat, corn , and ethanol subsidies, tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, tax breaks for corporations shipping jobs overseas and so forth. It’s a darn shame. It really is.
You know your friend on floor three is good for another two weeks. Her insurance doesn’t run out until sometime in April. Oh, and another bit of good news. Your prescription voucher of $2000 will not run out for another month. As part of your survival package, you will receive enough cholesterol and blood pressure medicine as well as your dialysis pill for another whole month. Yes, Joe, you are one of the luckier ones, you sure are.
By the way, Joe, you and your fellow former residents are truly not alone. Let me just mention two things. One, the Hope Rescue and Salvation Army people are still active in our community and doing things. Some of these folks may well pay you a visit and give you either a blessing, a word of good cheer, or a bite to eat. And another quite promising piece of good news. Several of the churches, mine is one, have made it a practice in these last few years, to hold a special prayer meeting to offer petitions for you older folks caught in this terrible financial squeeze. Our pastor assures us that these prayers go straight up to God who is sitting on his throne and to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, who watches over the poor, the indigent, the crippled, the friendless, the homeless, the sick and offers them His Grace and Salvation.
So, Joe that’s about it. My time is rather limited. We have 20 going out tomorrow , and I must get around to each of you. My best to you, Joe. It’s been great having you. No one could have asked for a better patient.
Here’s another tissue, for you, my man. . May God continue to bless you and keep you in His care.