by Gilles d'Aymery
"Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."
—John Howard Payne, (1791-1852)
"If you trust Google more than your doctor then maybe it's time to switch doctors."
—Jadelr and Cristine Cordova, Chasing Windmills, 8/21/06
(Swans - February 12, 2007) VERY SAD DAYS FOR AMERICA: First, Lisa M. Nowak, our NASA astronaut poster girl, got caught in a web of diapers and assassination galore somewhere in Florida, the land of misbehavior par excellence. NASA mourns and washes its hands of the private matter, but will review psychological profiling in the future as the great space experiment continues unabated. Lisa flipped, NASA flopped. Then, oyez, oyez, Anna Nicole Smith, 39, of the great state of Texas, got cold feet and joined the paquerettes (also in Florida, by the way), leaving a bunch of money to be fought over among self-proclaiming heirs. Money? Florida, Texas? Jeb, Georgie? Shall America survive? Stories to be followed, without any doubt. We are so saddened by the evolving events. Thank you so much for joining us.
WE NEED TO CONVERSE: America, we need to talk. We need to converse, we need to discuss. We are a conversationalist society. We need perspective. We need Lou Dobbs and the CNN folks. We need MSNBC and Hardball and Endball, and Noball. We want balls. We are Americans. Nothing can stop up. Welcome to Obama.
ENORMOUS CHALLENGE: Iran. Iran. Iran. Alimaheahida, or whatever his name is, said it: He wants to destroy Boonville (we have a Jewish minority here -- Hi, Mike Shapiro), and Israel, which as we all know is part of America. Alimajeadhahihihad, or whatever his name (could we have a translator, please) is on the path to destroying America. We cannot let this horror happen. Lou Dobbs knows the truth. Aliens are up to no good. Close the borders. Stop the Mexs, and nuke the Iranians. Yes, I want to survive in Boonville. Thanks, Lou, for saving me.
OF COURSE, I could replace my water heater with a heater-on-demand (tankless). I could have solar panels installed to generate free electricity. But free electricity is anathema to profits. Profits come from Iran and Iraq and the Greater Middle East, and everywhere that is not my where. So, let's go for it. Iran, Iran, Iran. Thank you, Lou Dobbs. I needed clear thinking, which I couldn't get on my own volition. How lucky I am that people think on my behalf!
POOR ANDRÉ AGASSI and Steffi Graf have taken a $3 million hit on their Tiburon estate, which has been on the market for almost four years. The 3 1/2-acre property with a 10,500 square-foot main house, a 2,500 square-foot staff/servant quarters, garages galore, two swimming pools (why have only one pool when you can have two?), a stream, and the indispensable tennis courts. The happy buyer is one Stuart Peterson, the president of the San Francisco hedge fund Artis Capital Management, which was a major investor in YouTube, the video sharing Web site recently bought by Google for $1.65 billion. Peterson paid "only" $20 million for the dream place and has enough money left to embark on a full remodeling plan. But that's just an appetizer. I hear that our great defender of American widows and orphans -- and supporter of the troops -- delightful Senator Dianne Feinstein (D. CA) is salivating with envy about a single family house that has come on the market just about two blocks from her own modest abode in Pacific Heights.
YOU RECALL that Feinstein and husband Richard Blum bought a $16.5 million, 9,500 sq. ft. house just over one year ago, in addition to the modest retreats in Aspen and Washington D.C. the couple owns. It turns out that a 20,608 sq. ft. "traditional single family home," located at 2845 Broadway in San Francisco, a stones-throw away from Feinstein's dwelling, is for sale at $65 million (that's $65,000,000.00). According to the online brochure this is a "Once in a generation opportunity to acquire an extraordinary Gold Coast masterpiece in the making...Clad in French limestone, an exquisite Neoclassical style villa with stunning Golden Gate and Bay views, garden and a guest house with 19th Century Italian tile roof comprise this unique compound spanning two lots from Broadway to Pacific... One of the world's finest residential addresses..." It was built from scratch in 2006. The utilities costs are subsidized by the city of San Francisco and the US government, courtesy of our much-supported troops...
SAY YOU PUT $13 mil down and take a 30-year mortgage at 6%, you'll have a puny monthly mortgage payment of $311,766.27 to house the family. Personally, however, I'd rather live on the other side of the Presidio, in Sea Cliff. Chance would have it that indeed a tiny 9,436 sq. ft. single-family gem is on the market, at 300 Sea Cliff. Says the brochure, it's a "World-class oceanfront, romantic architecture of yesteryear and a cutting-edge renovation. 300 Sea Cliff is the crown jewel of this elite ocean-view enclave. Set on an incomparable approximately .44 acre point with Pacific Ocean to Golden Gate Bridge views. Newly renovated. From the baronial grandeur of 14-foot ceilings in the living room, to the new top floor master wing overlooking the ocean, every renovated nuance has been sensitively integrated with the original European aesthetic."
EUROPEAN AESTHETIC, just what I need for my retiring years, a bit of Old Europe. It's offered at $25,900.000.00. Jan and I have it all figured out. Let's put $5.18 mil down, take a 30-year mortgage at 6%, and we'll pay just $124,226.86 every month, which we'll easily raise through the wealth of monthly donations Swans supporters are so diligently sending our way.
GET THE POINT? Not yet? Well, let's keep going on...and take a look at a contrasting example.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: On January 21 (a wonderful spring-like Sunday), we trekked in the Golden Gate Park with our two dogs, Mestor and Priam, and visited once more the de Young museum to behold for the fourth and last time the magnificent exhibition of Ruth Asawa's life and work, "The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air," that closed for good on January 28. That evening, around 8:30, we walked the dogs around the block, armed with plastic bags to let nature take its course. Young Mestor is still not fully under control and walking him unleashed can be a bit of a challenge. When approaching an intersection, I extend my arm, palm flat down, and tell them in French -- yes, being a strong proponent of the canine ever-expanding cultural literacy, I speak to them in French -- Attendez ("Wait"), Attention aux voitures ("Beware of cars"), Soyez gentils ("Be nice"); and when no car is in sight, I move my arm forward, tell them Allez, on y va ("Let's go"), and walk briskly or run across the intersection with the dogs in hot pursuit.
IT DIDN'T GO according to plan. Mestor jumped the gun and rushed across the street. No car in sight still, I called him back. He obliged. We went though the drill once more, quickly, all the while telling Mestor Ce n'est pas gentil ("That's not nice"). Priam agreed with me and began growling at Mestor. I encouraged Priam to tell Mestor that, yes he was not being nice (dis lui, Priam, dis à Mestor qu'il n'est pas gentil). A commotion ensued. We had a big canine fight on our hands. Jan began shouting. So did I, in the middle of a street in San Francisco. Would the cops show up next?
FORGET THE COPS, get the dogs off their claws, and live long and happily ever after. So, I thoughtlessly got my hands down to stop the hullabaloo, and Priam inadvertently took one for game. Blood flowing, I am now screaming at the top of my lungs and spreading blood all over the perimeter. The dogs assuage. Life goes on, but for my hand.
BACK HOME, the canine side of the family wants respite. Jan does not. In a frenzy, she checks the phone book to find the closest hospital around. It's St. Mary's. "Let's go," she says. I oblige. We drive thereafter with a badly mangled left hand, wrapped in paper towels.
WE DRIVE TO the hospital through the dilapidated streets of San Francisco. The paper towels are soaked red. I am silent. We reach the hospital. The place is dark as dark may be at 9:30 in the evening. Where's the Emergency Room (ER), damn it? We drive around the block, find it at last. We walk to the door, press a button, the door opens. We walk in. It's dark and dirty. A woman is at the front desk. She's talking to two cops. "What happened?" she asks. "It happened," they answered. What happened is not said. What is talked about has to do with filling forms and following procedures. I show my bloody hand. "Hold a while," the attendant says. "I'll be with you in 10 minutes. Take a seat." We take a seat. We look around us 360 degrees. The ceiling is filled with holes. Everything else is concrete-filled. We have company: A man sits watching a color TV set hung there high. Total despairing setting but the latest color TV show. We wait. We walk outside so that I get a smoke. My hand keeps bleeding. Back in the ER welcoming room, the nursing attendant tells us it will only be a minute. Be patient. The clock is running. My hand keeps bleeding. A door opens in the lackadaisical amphitheater. I am asked to fill forms. I fill forms. Name -- first, last -- Social Security number, address, telephone, and all, insurance, ID if any, and on and on and on. Pages are filled. I'm asked to sign. I don't know what I am signing except that for sure it includes that I am financially responsible for anything and more that will happen from there on. I sign. "Please, have a seat." I sit, and wait. And wait. Jan too. Another half an hour goes by. The blood has dried. It only hurts. The nurse calls us. We walk to the desk. She is in her young thirties. Her name's Pauline. Her auburn hair and accent are from Ireland. An Irish girl at St. Mary's. She checks my oxygen level and my blood pressure. Everything's fine. She then opens a folder -- a folder! In there, possibly already in, are the files I signed earlier on. She asked about my insurance, and Social Security number, and date of birth again... "Have I not answered those questions already?" I ask defensively. "It's the way we do it," she says. "Is the way you do it -- the bureaucracy, you know -- worse than it is in Ireland?" Yes, I am afraid it is," she answers. "How long will it take before someone takes care of my hand?" "Maybe 45 minute, or 1 hour and 45 minutes or more," she answers. "Some people are much more in danger than you are." Her phone rings. She picks up the receiver. "Yes, Patrick?" ... "No, Patrick, we are overwhelmed. We've can't accept any new emergencies. They need to be dispatched to other hospitals. We are on Divert. Yes, Patrick, sorry Patrick." She hangs the phone and turns her attention to us again.
"I don't know how long it will be. You can try another emergency room. The wait elsewhere is typically 4 hours. It's up to you. Just let me know, I have to move on. Also, by law, we need to file a report regarding your dog bite."
"Jan, let's go home," I said. "Thank you Pauline."
I WAS STONE-FACED, thinking about all the wealth surrounding us in this city, all these mansions, the millionaires, the billionaires, the good life, but not enough medical personnel to take care of someone's hand though plenty paper-pushers to fill up forms and file reports.
We went home; cleaned the wounds thoroughly with peroxide and alcohol. Jan wrapped the fingers with gauze, and we went to bed.
EARLY MORNING, I drove back to Boonville. Once there, I called the local non-profit health center. "Can Dr. Mark Apfel tend to me?" "Sorry, he is overbooked," was the answer. "Err, my hand is in a mess. I've been bitten by my dog..." "Oh, come right away. What about in a couple of hours..." was the immediate answer. Within minutes the good doctor gets to my case. "The wounds are really clean," he says, "but it's too late to stitch your ring finger. Let me bandage it as well as I can and give you a prescription for antibiotics. It's expensive medicine. Let me give you part of the mix. It will save you money. Go get the other part in Ukiah." That's 20 miles away. I'm tired. "Can I wait till tomorrow?" I ask. "If it were my finger, I would not wait," he answers. I did not wait.
IN SAN FRANCISCO, Pauline, as friendly as she was, could do nothing. People were worse off than I was. Choices have to be made time and again. Mauled hands compete with bullet wounds and car accidents. The budget is simply not allowing hospitals to have sufficient medical personnel. When the hand gets gangrene, call again. You'll move to the top of the list.
ONE WEEK LATER, I stopped by the health center and ask whether Dr. Apfel could take a quick look at my hand, all the while apologizing for not having an appointment. Fifteen minutes later he examined the wounds, said the hand looked fine and that it would take two to three more weeks to heal. I remember expressing surprise that he had talked about saving me money. He looked at me with almost beaming pride and said that he was not in the medical field for the money, that he was there for taking care of people and saving them as much money as possible. In my almost 25 years in this country it's the very first time I've heard a doctor making such a statement.
I wish there would be fewer mansions in America and many more Dr. Apfels. It would make for a kinder and saner country.
Take a minute to review the quality of US heath care (scroll down).
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can. Supporting the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.