Prison Pete

Thursday, November 04, 2004
  Health Care?
One might wonder how one can get any kind of care, health or otherwise, in a place where caring is not at the top of too many people's lists.

Well, as those of you who have read all of my blog postings know (and are bleary eyed to boot), some time last year we had that fire sprinkler "mishap." Well, just this week, they fired up the old hot air heating, and that was also the day I decided to see what it was like to spend the entire day in the Day Area watching commercials.

I say watching commercials, because that is what most of the daytime TV broadcast are made up of, a few minutes of a show and then off to a barrage of messages that all are geared to convince the viewer that his or her life is all #$%# up and they, the advertisers, each have the answer to the quest for the good life.

So here I sat, bored out of my mind, vegetating away. I must say I do not know how the thirty-plus inmates that do not have any assigned job can spend hour after hour just` sitting in front of the TV.

So the point of this rambling is that after spending all day breathing the polluted air, I managed to acquire an upper respiratory infection. After being sure it was not something my ever-vigilant immune system could dispense with on its own, I went to bed Thursday evening knowing that I had to be up bright and early Friday morning to go to sick call.

Sick call occurs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 6:30 AM to 7:00 AM. That is provided there is no fog. Well, I am up before the Sun, and dressed and ready to go by 6:10 AM. The hitch is that you are not allowed to leave the unit till they call your unit for breakfast. They start at 6:00 AM and call each of the twelve units in order based on the previous weeks "cleanliness." This particular week we were seventh, which would mean we might not even be let out by 6:30 AM. Yes, the sick call does not start till 6:30 AM, but you need to get there early.

So as luck would have it this Friday morning, they were calling the units in a hurry, and by 6:15 AM they had already called our unit. This was a good omen. Well, I head directly to Medical, pass up chow, and find myself number two in line. This is really looking better.

They had made an announcement at 6:00 AM that today's sick call was for emergencies only. Even better, because to me, an asthmatic with a possible upper respiratory infection, coughing and having trouble breathing sounds like a pretty good description of an emergency. True, I was ambulatory, but so would everyone be else signing up for this sick call. Those not able to walk to medical, a heart failure, etc., would presumably merit a "house call."

So now all I had to do was wait till 6:30 AM and I would be granted an appointment card to see a PA (physician’s assistant). Yes, we do not usually get to see the one medical doctor we have on staff here. So it gets to be 6:35 AM and the RN (registered nurse) finally opens the door. The one person in front of me needed to see the dentist and was given one of the four or five dental passes given out each day.

My turn. I calmly explain to the nurse that I am asthmatic and I believe that I have an upper respiratory infection. Without any exam on her part, she says no, I am not going to see the PA today.

So I try proposal number two: I remind the nurse that I am assigned to the Chronic Care program and that I am asthmatic and having trouble breathing. The "chronic care" designation is applied by the BOP to any inmate that has a chronic health problem, and means that we get to see the PA at least once every three months for checkups. So one would think that this would move the RN (presumably a trained health care professional) to give me a coveted sick call pass.

She tells me she is not going to argue with me, and that if I expected to see the PA today, perhaps the Correction Officer in the housing unit could call and get me to see the PA. This of course makes perfect sense; since a correction officer has a much better idea of the level of sickness I am experiencing.

It is now about 7:00 AM and I drag myself back to the housing unit. The shift change occurs around 7:30 AM and then we have a census to be sure all the inmates are at their assigned job locations. So I patiently wait until the census is completed and then politely ask the CO to call Medical to see if they will accept me for sick call.

The CO was somewhat puzzled as to why he had to call when the nurse should have given me the pass in the first place. One should also understand that the veracity of any inmate's statements is always questioned, and I could have just been too lazy to get up early to go to sick call, and was trying to pull a fast one.

Well, my lucky streak continues and the CO does actually decide to call over to Medical. This is not a given, as many a CO would simply refuse to call over to Medical short of seeing blood gushing from some body part or the skin color matching the nice blue of the Crayola box. (What this means for those inmates with a dark skin color that are not spewing blood is left to the reader's imagination.)

So it is now around 8:15 AM, the earliest that I could get over to Medical without getting the aforementioned sick call pass. I get to Medical and find the waiting area packed with inmates, twenty-five or more. So I am truly puzzled as to how so many inmates could have gotten the passes when I did not. As far as I could tell, no one in the waiting area was spewing blood and most were sitting or standing up, and no one was passed out on the floor about to assume room temperature. Now comes the dilemma!

I had a 9:30 AM appointment scheduled for my tri-weekly psychology session that had already been postponed from Thursday. The reason for the missed Thursday was that at 9:00 AM they had called for a lock down census. This is when they literally lock all the doors in the institution that can be locked, and each work supervisor and housing unit CO makes sure that each and every inmate is really where he is supposed to be. These lock down censuses are called at random, usually one or two times a month. So even though we had the regular daily Monday to Friday census, this time they really meant it.

Since it takes at least an hour to clear a lock down census, I missed the appointment Thursday. So now I could sit in Medical for several hours and miss my Friday appointment also, or I could try and have my cake and eat it too.

I can see the comments now: I know I am in prison and what right do I have to eat any cake. Actually cake is a pretty big issue around here as some inmates make decisions as to whether or not to attend a meal strictly based on not only if cake is being served, but if it is the right kind of cake.

So meanwhile here I am, or is it there I was, standing at the sign in desk at Medical, having to make a decision about if I can take care of my physical and psychological well-being all on the same day. I decided to go for it!

I explain to the nurse that I have this 9:30 AM call out and I can wait in Medical for an hour (it is now around 8:30 AM) or go to Psych and see if I can get back sooner to Medical. She tells me to go ahead to Psychology and then come back. So off I go to Psychology (boy, I think I can finally spell psychology). I end up sitting around till 9:30 AM anyhow, and then spend a pleasant sixty minutes talking about my favorite subject, ME! (Kidding)

So I head back to Medical, and the waiting room is still crowded. I explain the situation to a third staff person, and this time get a positive comment that an upper respiratory infection with a side order of asthma is not a good thing.

He tells me to go ahead to lunch and come back at 12:30 PM and he would be sure to get me in to see the PA. So I go off to lunch and commissary (yeah, it was a busy day) and then head back to Medical at 12:30 PM. The good news is that by now the place is empty, and the PA sees me within ten minutes of my arrival. She gives me a fast exam and explains the bad news, that they do not have any cough suppressant/decongestant type medicines available. I knew this, and was only there to try and score some antibiotic.

The PA agrees that I could probably benefit from an antibiotic, and off I go back to the unit to return at 3:00 PM to pick up the wonder drug. The gods are really working on overtime now, because at 3:00 PM I arrive at Medical and my prescription is waiting.

So that is how I spent my Friday. It is now Monday evening. Having spent all of Saturday and most of Sunday resting in bed, and having by now received seventy-two hours of antibiotic, I am feeling better.

Thanks for asking.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the situation in the free world isn't much better vis a vis health care. If you don't have health insurance being seen by a doctor or getting into an ER with oozing blood from every orifice is a difficult task. One night several years ago my husband had a kidney stone in the middle of the night and I took him to the ER where they wisked him into the back ahead of many others because a) we had top of the line insurance and b) he was so sick he couldn't walk. As I sat in the general waiting room while they ran tests on him I saw clearly what happens when you have no insurance. The nurses kept getting very surly with a young lady having an asthma attack because she had no insurance, telling her she would have to wait until everyone with insurance could be seen first. Now I've struggled with asthma my entire life and I was frightened for her, expecting her to turn cyatonic blue at any second and go into convulsions so ill she was. It's a disgrace because everyone should have some access to basic care.
I wanted to get on my soapbox here. I really don't think it's fair that prisoners can get full healthcare and see a dentist while those of us who haven't broken any laws, contribute to the economy, pay taxes and work a full time job that doesn't provide insurance has to do without or pay an ungodly amount to have it. My son also has asthma and has been holding on to the last inhaler had when we did have insurance. (pre-divorce) So far we've been lucky going without but we're taking a huge gamble.
There are two types of hospitals. For profit and not for profit. For profit hospitals can and do turn away patients without insurance. I don't understand this, as the hippocratic oath begins with, "First do no harm."
Maybe that's why it sounds so much like hypocrite.
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