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Posts tagged ‘health care’

Birth Control Access

action-180Dear Gabriel,

The Obama Administration made every reasonable effort to compromise with religiously-affiliated employers when implementing rules on women’s access to birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

An update to the birth control benefit in the health care reform gives religious employers the ability to hand the responsibility to provide birth control coverage to a third party insurance company. But right-wing opponents led by the Conference of Catholic bishops are still balking at the plan.

President Obama did the right thing for women when he rejected the demands of rightwing activists and gave all women access to no-cost birth control through their insurance coverage. But before these new guidelines go into effect, his administration is holding a public comment period on the new rules. We know that anti-woman activists will flood President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services with comments urging the administration to overturn its historic decision.

President Obama needs to hear that the vast majority of Americans support his decision to ensure access to no-cost birth control for all women. Click here to submit a public comment in support of access to birth control.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the medical community agree that providing no-cost birth control is an essential part of preventive health care for women. And Kathleen Sebelius, the director of HHS, said that providing birth control at no cost to women should be like “covering flu shots.”4

However, before activists from CREDO and Planned Parenthood began petitioning President Obama, the New York Times reported that the president was dangerously close to caving to the demands of the anti-woman lobby by adding a giant loophole that would keep a large number of women from being able to access no-cost birth control.5

CREDO members sent over 160,000 petitions and made over 3,000 calls to the White House asking President Obama not to cave. In the end, President Obama listened to our call to protect women’s health. But that doesn’t mean our work is done.

Some right-wing organizations are already balking at the plan even though it allows religious employers to avoid providing birth control directly to their employees. These anti-woman extremists will surely use the public comment process to file reams of objections to the plan. So let’s make sure the president hears from those of us who want him to stand strong and protect access to contraception.

Make sure that President Obama hears that the vast majority of Americans support his decision to ensure access to no-cost birth control for all women. Click below to submit a comment in support of access to contraception:
http://act.credoaction.com/r/?r=14177296&p=birthcontrol_hhs_aca&id=56364-266627-5bh0wMx&t=4

Thank you for standing up for women’s access to birth control.

Jordan Krueger, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

My Son Linus

Gabriel,

My son Linus loves to play video games, his favorite food is mac n cheese, and he was born with Asperger syndrome. We take Linus to a therapist for treatment — but now our health insurance company is planning to stop covering his visits, just because he’s turning 9 years old.

I was shocked when I found out that United Healthcare stops covering Asperger’s treatment at such a young age, forcing families like mine to pay thousands of dollars a year to continue caring for our children’s conditions.

I want Linus and kids like him to grow up with the best chance for a full and happy life. That’s why I started a petition on Change.org asking United Healthcare to change its policy and cover treatment for Aspergers and other autism spectrum disorders after age 9.

Click here to sign my petition.

Linus is beginning a chapter in his life when social skills are going to become very important. He has already experienced some teasing and bullying at school from classmates who don’t understand his condition. This is not just heartbreaking for me, but devastating for a kid that doesn’t understand how to do things like everyone else.

As a mom, I worry most about the isolation and depression that many children with Aspergers suffer from. I’ve read that kids with Aspergers are about 30% more likely to commit suicide than the population at large. That is a staggering amount — and it’s why I’m determined to keep Linus and children like him in the therapies that will help them navigate through their pre-teen and teen years.

I’ve tried speaking with several United Healthcare representatives, but so far none of them has offered a solution, leaving my family — and hundreds of others — on the hook for thousands of dollars in treatment costs.

Health insurance companies can set their own policies. I’m hoping that if enough people speak up for Linus and other children with Aspergers, United Healthcare will be forced to reevaluate their policy and set an example to other top healthcare providers. Will you help me fight for my son?

Sign my petition now to join me in asking United Healthcare to continue covering Aspergers treatment for children after they turn 9 years old.

Thank you so much for your help.

Mindy Armbrust
Doylestown, OH
Change.org

California Single Payer Saves

California’s Historic Fight for Single Payer Continues BIG TIME

Dear Gabriel,

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that a man was denied health care insurance because years before he had donated one of his kidneys to save his daughter’s life. It didn’t matter that kidney donors live as long as people with two kidneys. To Blue Cross and Blue Shield, it’s always and only about the bottom line. As long as private, profiteering insurance companies are in charge, this will never change.

That’s why the California OneCare campaign will continue to fight for universal, single payer, improved Medicare-for-All regardless of the imminent decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. The Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will come this month, perhaps even this Monday.

If the justices uphold the Act, the health care system will still be broken

More than 3 million Californians will remain without health insurance and millions of middle-income families will be required by law to buy second-rate health plans that will consume up to 9.5% of their income. Insurers will continue to tell us which doctors we may use, and medical co-pays will go on wiping out the life savings of families who thought they were covered.

If the law is struck down, we will be left as we are now

Seven million Californians will remain without health coverage, medical bankruptcies will escalate and medical costs will continue to spiral out of control.

Whatever the Supreme Court decision, the fight continues: a 19-City Bus Tour starts Tuesday in San Diego, then a Summer Conference on July 7-8

Last year, we joined the new statewide coalition of single payer activist groups called the Campaign for a Healthy California (CHC). CHC will help kick off a first-ever 19-city bus tour on June 19 and then stage a two day Summer Conference on the UCLA campus. To learn more about the coalition and how you can help, you’re invited to attend the CHC Summer Conference on July 7th & 8th.

Full Care, for All for Less!

With your continued help and support, the fight for single payer will not stop until ALL Californians are covered by California OneCare. We WILL Win.

Andrew McGuire, Executive Director
California OneCare

Women’s Health Care

Gabriel

There’s no question about this.

The Republican War on Women is real, and it’s extremely dangerous.

If you agree, add your name to our petition: 1,000,000 strong against the Republican War on Women >>

House Republicans are pursuing the most comprehensive and radical assault on women’s health and reproductive freedom in our lifetime. Over just the last year, Republicans in Congress have voted repeatedly to limit women’s access to health care and reproductive services.

They voted to redefine rape in order to limit women’s access to health care. They held a panel on denying access to birth control coverage with five men and no women. They voted to give corporations the power to deny women access to contraception. And last year, they nearly shut down the government in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

As you know, Planned Parenthood is a critical provider of preventive services to millions of women in need of health care, including cancer screening, breast exams and HIV testing. Mitt Romney has already said, “Planned Parenthood, we’re gonna get rid of that.”

On the state level, numerous Republican governors have already forced through radical anti-women legislation.

We cannot back down in this fight. We must stand strong for women’s health. Will you join us?

http://dccc.org/Stop-the-Republican-War-on-Women

Thank you,

Kelly

Kelly Ward
DCCC Political Director

Unethical Supreme Court

The High Court’s Supremely Unethical Activists
Nation of Change
by Joe Conason

How the Supreme Court majority will rule on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act may well have been foretold months or perhaps years ago — not so much by their questions during argument this week, as by their flagrant displays of bias outside the court, where certain justices regularly behave as dubiously as any sleazy officeholder.

While the public awaits the high court’s judgment on the constitutionality of health care reform, it is worth remembering how cheaply Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in particular have sullied the integrity of their lifetime appointments, and how casually Chief Justice John Roberts and their other colleagues tolerate such outrages.

What is most scandalous in Washington, as a wise pundit once suggested, are the things politicians do that are perfectly legal but shouldn’t be — an observation that applies with particular force to the Supreme Court, which is not subject to the ethics restrictions applied to lesser judges on the federal bench. That was why Scalia and Thomas, for instance, could appear as guests of honor at a fundraising dinner for the right-wing Federalist Society — which was sponsored by Bancroft PLLC, a major firm involved in litigation against the Affordable Care Act — on the very same day last November that they reviewed an appeal brief on the case from Paul Clement, the Bancroft attorney whose arguments they received so cordially this week.

In fact, Clement sat at a table “sandwiched between” the two justices. Scalia was seated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had told the Federalists that he would rely on them to help undo the “affront” represented by health care reform. And for good measure, Justice Samuel Alito enjoyed the event at another table nearby.

If they were mere federal district or appeals judges, neither Scalia nor Thomas would have been permitted to attend the Federalist celebration, while Alito’s attendance would have been questionable, to say the least. But members of the right-wing majority abuse their immunity from ethics regulation without sanction. Poised to reject the Affordable Care Act with the kind of sweeping opinion that could tear down decades of Commerce Clause jurisprudence, they merit the sharp scrutiny of their motives and conduct that they have largely escaped until now, even as they drift further and further toward the corporate right.

Investigative reports have revealed partisan and ideological ties that the justices themselves have sought to conceal, dating back to Scalia’s duck-hunting trip with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who had pending before the court a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of his Energy Task Force.

No federal judge would have dared to rule in such circumstances, but Scalia dismissed the obvious appearance of conflict with an unbecoming sneer.

As Scott Horton reported in Harpers magazine, Scalia’s duck-hunting patrons in Mississippi had brought other vital matters before him to get their way, again in a manner that any self-respecting ethical jurist would instinctively abhor.

More recently, Scalia and Thomas were used as celebrity bait by the ultra-right Koch brothers, David and Charles, to draw well-heeled supporters to a secretive conference on undermining the Obama administration at a fancy Western resort. It would be hard to imagine any activity less appropriate for a Supreme Court justice, unless it was Thomas’ wife Ginny accepting huge payments from a tea party organization devoted to repeal of health care reform, which she did in 2010. The justices failed to report any of these screaming conflicts on their disclosure reports, compounding the offense with the coverup.

Read entire Op-ed at Nation of Change

Help Girls Education

Dear Gabriel,

Girls should be able to go to school. It’s something we take for granted. But around the world, nearly 37 million girls are out of school.

I want you to meet Pinki, a graduate of the first accelerated learning class in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. Pinki missed going to school as a child, but thanks to CARE’s Udaan project, she had a second chance.

Udaan means “flight,” and CARE’s program provides girls like Pinki a chance to overcome societal barriers by helping them gain confidence and skills they can use to escape poverty for good. Today, Pinki is in college and has her own apartment — a rare achievement for young women from her town.

Pinki has a chance at a bright future thanks to generous donations from our supporters. Remember, there are millions of other poor people around the world who are counting on you to support CARE’s life-changing work, such as programs that help girls and women get an education.

Please make a special gift right now to help empower poor women and girls to create a better world for all this year and beyond.

CARE’s innovative education programs help girls master basic skills, find their voices and prepare to become leaders in their communities.

And empowering young women like Pinki to succeed through education is just one way CARE fights poverty around the world. Your support also can:

Equip women with tools and resources that help them increase and save their earnings;

Help families access improved health care, including family planning services and gender-based violence counseling;

Connect pregnant and nursing mothers with the care they need to keep themselves and their children healthy; and
Deliver emergency aid to communities that experience disaster or war.

Please make a gift now to start empowering lives with CARE.

I trust you’ll join us in 2012 to defend dignity and fight poverty. Thank you for all that you do to champion new beginnings for young girls and women.

Sincerely,

Helene D. Gayle, MD, MPH
President and CEO, CARE

Health Care In U.S. Is Best?

From Nation of Change
IWatch News
by Wendell Potter

Despite GOP Claims, U.S. Health Care Nowhere Near ‘Best’ in the World

A little more than a year ago, on the day after the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives, Speaker-to-be John Boehner said one of the first orders of business after he took charge would be the repeal of health care reform.

“I believe that the health care bill that was enacted by the current Congress will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world, and bankrupt our country,” Boehner said at a press conference. “That means we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health care.”

Boehner is not the first nor the only Republican to try to make us believe that the U.S. has the world’s best health care system and that we’re bound to lose that distinction because of Obamacare. I’ve heard GOP candidates for president say the same thing in recent months, charging that we need to get rid of a President who clearly is trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing, something that isn’t broken in the first place.

Well, those guys need to get out more. Out of the country, in fact. They need to travel to at least one of the many countries that are doing a much better job of delivering high quality care at much lower costs than the good old USA.

If they’re not interested in a fact-finding mission abroad, then perhaps they might take a look at two recent reports before they make any other statements about the quality of American health care.

Last week, the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD) released the results of its most recent study of the health care systems in its member countries, including the U.S., plus six others, for a total of 40. And those results are illuminating.

If Boehner and his fellow Republicans had characterized the U.S. system as the most expensive in the world, they would have been right on target. But they would have been way off base by calling it the best.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Paging Doctor Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest

The following excerpt is from Paging Doctor Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest. Paging Doctor Leff is the biography of an idealistic boy from New York who joined the Civil Air Patrol for God and country and never looked back. Dr. Arnie Leff, MD has fought many wars, overseas and at home. He stood up to his superiors in the Air Force during Viet Nam; locked horns with corporations and state bureaucracies as health commissioner of Cincinnati; jumped into the trenches at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic; and has pulled no punches with his often controversial opinions about drugs, euthanasia, health care and medical marijuana. He is presently a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

***

In 1986, people were just starting to feel their way through the dark when it came to understanding and treating AIDS.

Dr. Leff, who had been in public health for over 20 years (as an officer in Viet Nam, director of the Cincinnati Public Health Department and Cincinnati free clinics) decided to go into private practice for the first time in his life. This was no easy leap of faith and involved a different kind of personal responsibility than he was used to.

“I found a doctor on Seabright Avenue in the city of Santa Cruz, Dr. Blackwell, who at 80 years of age was still running a large geriatric practice. He was going to retire soon and let me use his office in the afternoons,” Arnie says. “Before I even left the health department, a man named Ray Martinez walked in my door and said, ‘I hear you’re going into private practice. I want to be your first patient.’ Ray had AIDS, and he became my first patient with HIV.”

After Dr. Blackwell retired, Dr. Leff took on many of his elderly patients and an ever-increasing number of people with AIDS. “I became the ‘AIDS doctor’ and was in the trenches for over eight years,” says Dr. Leff. “It was like a war. People got tested, discovered they were HIV Positive, and went through hell trying to stay alive and figure out what worked and what didn’t.”

In those days there was little information about AIDS, but Dr. Leff scoured the literature and spoke with everyone who knew anything about the disease. “I had to learn it all,” he says. “The first report I saw was in the New England Journal of Medicine about Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia. These two diseases are very uncommon except in immune compromised people, and the Kaposi sarcoma was uncommon period. At first they thought it was a gay related immune disorder and called it GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder). It took about five years for everybody to figure out how big the problem was and that it was not restricted to gay men, even though they were the primary people affected in the U.S. at that time. It wasn’t until about 1984 or ’85 that we had a blood test to identify it.

“So, I had a lot of public health background and obtained what knowledge of the disease I could, but had no clinical experience in treating it. In fact, I had little clinical knowledge at all. I was really jumping into boiling oil when I took this on. It was like I was a baby thrown to the wolves, but in this case the wolves took me in, protected me, and helped me learn what I needed to know to survive and help them survive, as long as possible. It was quite a shift from seeing 20 people a month [his last major clinical experience, when he saw police officers in Cincinnati] to 20 people a day.

“In the beginning of the epidemic, it was primarily oncologists who saw AIDS patients, because it manifested with Kaposi sarcoma, which is a cancer. Now, that is rarely seen. After a brief period, however, the oncologists passed on their AIDS patients because they didn’t know how to treat all the other underlying symptoms. There were also a few infectious disease docs in town treating the disease, but a number of gay men had problems with their attitudes and bedside manner. Because of these realities and concerns, I became the defacto ‘AIDS doc’ in town. I kept up on the literature and frequently spoke with Paul Volberding, who is now a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, but at the time was the director of the AIDS clinic at San Francisco General.”

“We had all these young patients whose immune systems were shot, but were otherwise healthy,” Dr. Leff says. “The dying process for these patients was very difficult. We had hospice services at the time, but they were learning along with the rest of us about what worked and what didn’t. During those years, I believe I made more referrals to hospice than any doctor in the county, other than oncologists.

“The physical challenges were staggering. Histoplasmosis is a fungal disease that occurs in the Midwest. It is like a flu. Most people get it, don’t feel well for awhile, and then recover. Candida is a disseminating yeast that can effect healthy people, but is not life threatening. For people with AIDS, both Histoplasmosis and Candida were deadly. We also saw them picking up meningitis from a fungal disease, as well as lymphomas and central nervous system lesions (toxoplasmosis). To top it all off, many of those afflicted also developed dementias.

“I remember one patient who was admitted to the psychiatric unit at the hospital because he had HIV dementia. He couldn’t control himself or his bodily functions. He was a mess. We got him into a halfway house, but the mental health people refused to put him in their system. They said they couldn’t handle AIDS dementia because it was physical and not psychological. I told them the guy was clearly psychotic and had no place else to go. The nursing homes wouldn’t take him because he was psychotic, and the mental health folks wouldn’t take him because AIDS was his primary diagnosis. He wound up staying as an inpatient at Dominican Hospital for four and a half months. It was tragic; a young man living, most of the time able to ambulate, in the hospital for over four months, and dying there, too.

“That was some of the war-like quality the epidemic presented. I felt like I had to beat down some barriers, even if it took force. I spent eight years teaching every doctor in town, every specialist, nurse, x-ray tech, and health professional I could speak with, about AIDS. Some didn’t like it, some walked out, and some refused to treat them. It was frustrating and sad. I told them the truth that yes, they could possibly die from coming in contact with an infected needle, but that was already true in their profession; it was part of the risk they took every day already. I’ve had four or five needle sticks in my career. It was scary. I got myself tested again and again and again, to make sure.

“I was having enough trouble dealing with all the deaths and loss by itself, let alone having to continually confront a system that didn’t want to budge. I was having, on average, one patient a week dying from the disease. I probably had 50 or more deaths in one year. Some of those were geriatric patients as well, but it was enough to warrant a significant support system. When I first went into practice, there had only been one person who died of AIDS in the entire county.”

“People didn’t understand,” said Dr. Leff. “I was watching people die, and often there was nothing I could do about it. We had no treatment, no cure. It was the first major epidemic since Polio, which died out in the ‘60s, though in some areas it has now resurfaced. I saw myself as a soldier in the war against disease, and the reality was that there were casualties on both sides. The docs, the patients, the nurses, were all affected emotionally, if not physically. There continue to be casualties to this day.”

Rwanda’s Children

Rwanda has made incredible changes and strides in the last 17 years, since the 1994 genocide. Most people who lived in the country previously, would not recognize the advances now made in education, health care, the environment, reconciliation, security and work. They still have a lot to do and have not always had completely fair open elections, but what the government and people have accomplished after having to start from scratch (in just 16 years) is remarkable. A lot of people don’t realize it is also a beautiful country (landscape and people).

I’ve been to Rwanda twice and worked at an orphanage there called the ROP Center for Street Children, which provides shelter, food, water, education, vocational skills and health care to homeless children. There are now over 100 kids at the center (age 5 to 18). It is run entirely by Rwandans, with a sister organization in America called The Rwandan Orphans Project, which helps raise funds to keep the center going. They pay for the water, food, teachers, nurse, clothes, rent, utilities, transportation and some secondary and college costs for the children.

These children are the future of Rwanda, East Africa, the African continent and thus the world. Please consider making a donation to this non-profit organization, which started out taking in children who had been orphaned from the genocide. 100% of the money raised goes directly to the center in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). The administrative costs by the Rwandan Orphans Project in the US are completely done on a volunteer basis. READ MORE

There is a book I put together from stories the children at the center told me. It is called The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales. All of the royalties from its sale go to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project. TAKE A LOOK

Health Care’s Invisible Glue

I once had the opportunity of developing intimate relationships with people of all ages and from all walks of life. They and their loved ones often shared deep secrets and lifetime memories. Challenges arose daily, imploring me to make an individual more comfortable or free of pain or to help someone deal with an emotional crisis. As the years progressed, I found that a simple touch, deed or word could profoundly affect the people I cared for.

You may be thinking, “You must be a nurse, right?” No. “Oh, then you’re obviously a doctor or an intern?” No, but close.

I’m talking about life as a nursing assistant, better known by the pseudonym “aide,” “orderly” or “attendant.” Their work with elders in convalescent homes is legendary. Legendary because they continue to work in such facilities with little pay, dangerous under staffing and terrible supply shortages. Conditions are frequently better in acute-care hospitals, but even there they are often seen as appendages to doctors and nurses. Rare is the individual or organization that grasps the importance and necessity of their involvement in the health care system. They are the “meat and potatoes” of hands-on medical care in this country, the glue that holds it together.

Nursing assistants make a crucial difference in peoples’ lives. Frequently, they spend more time with patients than nurses and doctors combined. For some, their presence means the difference between fear and loneliness and even life and death. They are there when we hurt, sweat, laugh and cry.

Some individuals (health care professionals and the public) act superior or snobbish to aides, treating them as if they are lacking in brains or have no motivation to “move up” the social ladder of medicine. It’s not overt or cruel prejudice, it is a basic disregard for the job, the training required and the workers involved.

Let me take you inside the world of a nursing assistant for just one 8 ½ hour shift, when I used to work the swing shift on the cancer unit of a local hospital. This is the real stuff, the nuts and bolts of health care and healing. It’s what nurses used to do before they become inundated with paper work, passing medications and running madly to finish all necessary procedures and treatments and to fulfill all the other responsibilities demanded of them.

After receiving my list of assigned patients and finding out which nurse I’m working with, I begin obtaining patients’ vital signs and get an overall picture of how they’re doing.

The gentleman I encounter in the first room needs his oxygen adjusted and some fresh water and towels.

The next patient, Alice, needs an entire bed change. A 73-year old woman with breast cancer, she has become incontinent and soiled her gown and linens. She is embarrassed and painfully apologetic. As I cleaned her up she spoke of her fear that she was beginning to lose control of her life. When I left, Alice said she felt “clean, fresh and renewed.”

The third person I contacted that evening was Charles, a 60-year old man with leukemia. As we conversed, he asked if I was in training to be a nurse. When he found out I wasn’t, he said, “Oh well, this is a good job for you to start out with for your future.” Just then the charge nurse came in with a frantic look on her face and asked if I could get another patient on a gurney to go downstairs for x-rays.

After I located a gurney on another unit and got the patient ready, another nurse requested that I make a trip to the blood bank to pick up some packed cells (blood). When I returned from the lab, I found my team leader (nurse) at the medicine cart.

We sat down and looked over the “care” charts to decipher what protocol was desired for each patient. Some vital signs needed to be taken and some patients needed to walk, be turned, bathed or catheterized (a tube put in the urethra to empty the bladder). Others had doctors’ “orders” that entailed checking blood sugar levels or collecting sputum, urine or stool samples for lab tests. During report, the nurse suddenly stopped, turned excitedly toward me and said, “When are you going to nursing school? You would make a great nurse.” She looked downhearted when I explained that I had no desire to be a registered nurse or to go back to school. She said, “But you’re so intelligent!” I grimaced and said, “Thanks”. Was she implying that that nursing assistant’s are stupid?

When report was over, I finished the remaining vital signs, lifted one patient up in bed, helped another to use the bedpan and took Alice for a walk down the hall. While shuffling along we pretended we were dancing to, “Tea For Two.” Her eyes sparkled when she told me that she and her deceased husband had been prize-winning dancers in the 1940s.

I informed the nurse that a patient’s IV (intravenous bag) was almost dry and that a number of people had requested pain relief and various other medications. The dinner trays arrived and after checking to make sure they all matched each patient’s diet, we passed them out. One of my folks needed help eating (as a result of an old stroke), so I sat by her bed and slowly gave her a few mushy bits of her soft diet, so she wouldn’t choke. Meanwhile, a patient undergoing chemotherapy was throwing up just two doors down the hall. After emptying his emesis basin (vomit container), I went to supper. Believe it or not, I was famished. It had been only two and a half-hours since my shift had started, but it felt like two and a half days!

On the way to dinner, I picked up a magazine which had a feature story entitled, “What Do Nurses Want?” I got my hot, soggy food, set my tray on the table and turned on the television. The channel I selected dramatized the story of a big-city hospital. As usual, the only characters given any airtime were, you guessed it, doctors and an occasional nurse. Everyone else in the show (housekeepers, technicians, secretaries and nurses aides) were shown as auxiliary personnel who did nothing but get in the way of the featured players.

After devouring my food in the allotted half-hour supper break, I returned to the unit and picked up the patients’ dinner trays. As I walked by Room 264, I saw Sam (a patient with advanced renal failure) falling headlong towards the floor. I leaped through the door and grabbed him just in the nick of time. Sometimes I felt like I was in one of those old commercials were people dove to catch a spill before it hit the carpet. Sam was getting more confused and said he had to go get things ready for the rabbit cage. I maneuvered him back to bed and eventually convinced him to stay in his room for the rest of the night. It took another hour before he realized he was in the hospital, after frequent reminders of who, what and where we were.

Then Michael put on his call light and literally screamed for help! Michael was a young man with AIDS who was in the hospital for treatment of a lung infection. Upon entering his room I found him tense, angry and perspiring profusely. He asked various questions about medications, IVs and food. Everything was worrying him. Was this working right? Was that being done on time? Was he getting the proper nourishment? After sitting and listening a few minutes, it was apparent that he was concerned about something other than mere food. At first, I answered his questions, then I asked him if he could tell me what he was really afraid of? He began to cry. He said he was overcome with feelings of abandonment from a dear friend and the emotional loss of some of his family members as a result of his illness. Fifteen minutes later Michael and I were laughing about the absurdity of life and the beauty of loving and sincere friendships. He only rang for assistance one other time that evening, to have someone turn out his light and say goodnight.

I left Michael’s room, made a fresh pot of coffee for family members and staff, fixed someone’s bed and TV and then took Jackie her evening snack of fruit and juice. Jackie and I had known each other for a few years, as she’d had frequent admissions for chemotherapy, such as her present three-day stretch. She always called it her “dose of poison” for the month and described her hospital visits as, “A working, masochistic vacation!” We spoke of her family, hopes for a cure and her latest garden project. Then she asked about my children and work. After a pause, the familiar questions began. “When are you going to go study medicine?” “Isn’t this just a job you’re doing to get through medical school?” Patiently, I said, “No, I’m not going to school right now.” It seemed futile to explain once again that this was my profession.

The remainder of the evening involved collecting and measuring fluid totals from each patient and spending time with the family members of a man who died at 9:00 p.m. His death was not unexpected, but the grief his family experienced was far greater than they had anticipated (as is often the case). We called the doctor, minister and mortuary. I got his body ready by taking out the IVs, putting in his teeth and folding his hands on his chest with as much dignity as possible. I finished charting on all the patients around 11:30 p.m., said goodnight to my co-workers and friends and called it a night.

Another “routine” shift had passed. As I drove home in the darkness, I thought about the perceptions people have of nursing assistants. Our society says it cares about the young and old, yet it places little value on those who care for the sick and aged or teach our children. Such failure to match words with deeds is, at the least, hypocritical. Why don’t people respect and reward those providing the hands-on care of their father or mother as much as they value the doctor who diagnosis the illness or the nurse that starts the IV or hands out the pills? If appreciation for the work nursing assistants’ do is ever acknowledged by good pay, healthy and safe staff to patient ratios and mutual respect, I think I’ll pass out from the shock.

Doctors and nurses are prime assets in delivering good quality health care. Without them, many would flounder and perish. I’ve seen them work long hours with great heart and dedication. But they are not the sole providers of care, nor do they have an exclusive patent on providing expert and passionate service. They do not work in a vacuum devoid of others’ energy and skills. Without secretaries, housekeepers, laundry workers, department managers, volunteers and countless other technicians, assistants and personnel, the health care system would find it impossible to function, let alone provide adequate or quality care.

Life tends to go in circles. Who will be there when you are feeling sick and miserable or someone in your family is? A nurse, maybe. A doctor, perhaps. Most likely, it will be one of my colleagues, a nursing assistant.

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