February 24, 2009


[PROFUSE APOLOGIES: Another update, on Saturday, March 28. I find it difficult to credit that almost a month has passed since my last update. I've been going through one of those odd periods, where each day and many nights seem endless, while I simultaneously discover that another week has suddenly gone by, then another one...and now a month. Yet in certain ways, it still seems only yesterday that I got out of the hospital.

It's been a very difficult time. For about a month -- roughly two and a half weeks before the episode that put me in the hospital, and another few weeks afterwards -- it was exceptionally hard to get a good night's sleep. As I would get into bed, I would think there was a serious possibility I would never wake up. It's more than slightly unnerving. The worst of that seems to be gone, although I still have those feelings fairly regularly, especially since I have no idea exactly how badly damaged my heart is.

I only realized after I'd gotten home that no one ever told me the results of all the tests they did, although one nurse mentioned as an aside that there was some thickening of the heart walls in some areas. She added that my heart wasn't enlarged, however, which is good. But they took x-rays, did a lot of blood tests, etc., and I don't know what those results were. They knew that I had no insurance and no money, so once my heart returned to a normal rhythm, they were only too delighted to get rid of me.

I've now received what I think are all the bills for this business. I say, "I think," because I only received the Fire Department bill for emergency medical services yesterday. The grand total is a little over $14,000, for a day of medical attention (and, obviously, no operations or anything that major). Since I can't possibly pay any of it, I felt bad about it for a little while -- but then I reminded myself of the untold hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars that our government is currently throwing around, on wars of conquest and as gifts from taxpayers to the criminal members of the financial class (who are already vastly wealthier than most of us). After thinking about that for a moment or two, I concluded: "Aw, fuck them." Thus ends our lesson in philosophy for today. (That lesson is strongly reinforced for me when I consider that, for the last several years, I've sometimes managed to survive on $14,000 for eight or nine months at a time. No, you didn't misread that. I live on about $22,000 a year.)

I'm terribly sorry I haven't been able to do any writing during this period, but I honestly haven't been able to do much of anything. In addition, over the last two or three years, I've even found it increasingly difficult to read, a problem which has worsened over the last few months. I often get very bad headaches after spending several hours on the computer or reading a book. It's been almost ten years since my last eye exam, and if I ever have an extra several hundred dollars, I'll get my eyes checked again and get a new prescription for my glasses. At the moment, I have to spend a lot of time constantly adjusting the distance between my head and whatever I'm trying to read.

Nonetheless, I've started pulling together material for several new essays, some in the Tribalism series as well as some standalone pieces (although more and more, almost everything I think about writing appears to be connected to the tribalism themes in one way or another). I hope to start publishing them in the next week. Meanwhile, I have to pay another month's rent by the end of this coming week. Pathetic to say, but I'm about $600 short of the rent and just enough money for food for another week or two. (I did get my major heart medication refilled again yesterday, so at least that's taken care of for another month.)

I'm also very sorry to have to make another plea for donations, especially since I've been completely out of commission. But it's been a truly rotten time. I hope the worst is over, at least for the time being. And I very much want to write more of the Tribalism series, for which I have notes and material for at least another ten to fifteen installments. That series doesn't appear to have much interest for a sizable audience, but I expected that; any other result would have surprised me considerably. But the lack of interest in those subjects has been apparent to me for as long as I've been writing about them, which is now more than five years. Perhaps more people will find those ideas as important and full of explanatory power as I do at some point, but I honestly don't expect that to happen until long after I'm gone. But I would like my own contribution in that area to be more extensive than it is now.

The cats are fine, and they've been wonderful company through all this. Cyrano and Wendy have both always been very affectionate, but they've been noticeably more affectionate over the last month -- always taking turns in my lap or sitting right next to me, and we always sleep together, at night and when I take naps during the day (not an infrequent occurrence now).

Many thanks still another time to all of you who are so thoughtful and generous. Without you, I'd have been out on the street a long time ago. And I deeply hope I'll be back with some new essays very soon now.]

[UPDATE, Monday, March 2: A multitude of thanks to all those who have been so kind and generous. Bless you all. I've paid the March rent and gotten my prescriptions filled. So I'm all right for the moment, at least in financial terms.

But I'm finding the aftermath of this emergency much more unsettling and difficult than I had expected. Among many other things, I have to adjust to the reality I was warned about by one of the doctors: that I may go in and out of these episodes. To try to lessen the possibility of a recurrence, I'm having to make major adjustments to my diet: no caffeine, no alcohol, as low salt as possible, etc. Most of it is fine with me and hasn't been a problem -- except that I used to take in lots of caffeine all day long. How on earth do people wake up without two or three large cups of strong, strong coffee? I'm learning how.

And it may be true, as one of the cardiologists told me, that the glorious LA County Health System "can't turn me away." But that's only true in the narrowest sense: they can't turn me away because I don't have insurance or money. Obviously, however, the fact that I don't have insurance or money means that there are many procedures and preventive measures that they simply won't offer to me. To put it simply: I will never get anything remotely like the treatment Dick Cheney gets for his heart condition. So I'll basically be restricted to calling for help when emergencies strike. Ironically and somewhat horribly, the cardiologist who trumpeted the wondrous nature of LA's public health system (to which I was "entitled") proceeded himself to prove how empty such claims can be for those with no resources. After delivering his encouraging platitudes and examining me for about 15 minutes, he said he was going to look at my test results. And, he stated emphatically, "I'll be back in 10 to 15 minutes at the most to discuss all this in more detail with you." I never saw him again. I even told one of the ER doctors what he had said, and indicated that I very much wanted to have that followup talk with the cardiologist. They tried to locate him and said they couldn't. A "shift change" or some such, they thought. Oh, well.

All of it is deeply unsettling. There is a lot of writing I want to do, and developments every day suggest at least two or three posts I'd like to put together, in addition to all the pieces I've already planned (including many more in the Tribalism series). But I still find it very difficult to focus on that for more than a few minutes at a time. I hope and trust it will pass in another several days. So please bear with me in the meantime. For my own sake, I want to get back to writing as soon as I can.

Many, many thanks again for your kindness and support. I'm deeply grateful.]

I won't keep you in suspense, as I myself was for a little over two weeks. Among other things, I have been suffering from atrial fibrillation (an irregular, rapid heartbeat, as many of you undoubtedly know from the teevee). Through some unknown combination of factors, my heart resumed normal function sometime early Tuesday morning, although my heart is damaged (exactly how damaged isn't at all clear to me).

I was only in the hospital for a little more than a day. Over the last two weeks plus a few days, I went through five or six episodes when I felt variously very dizzy, nauseous, incredibly weak, and had odd pains here and there (but no major chest pains). I found it much more difficult than usual just to walk around my apartment (and it is somewhat difficult almost all the time now). On Monday, I wasn't feeling well by any means, but not too terrible. So I thought I'd go to the bank, which I only do twice a month now in connection with getting ready to pay the rent. But my most pressing reason for getting some cash was that I only had four dollars in my wallet. I was fairly certain I'd need money for cabs to and from hospitals in the very near future. The bank is only three blocks away, but walking even that far takes a lot out of me these days; I only make the effort when I absolutely have to.

I got to the bank, took out some cash, crossed Wilshire Boulevard to walk home -- and I couldn't do it. I sat down for a few minutes, thinking the feelings of dizziness, weakness and nausea would pass. They didn't. I waited still longer. The feelings didn't lessen even a little. I thought about the writing I still want to do, that I desperately wanted to see my cats again, and about the people I wanted to talk to at least a few more times. In effect, I said to myself: "Well, Christ. Fuck all the bastards running this country. I may have dropped out of the system almost completely, but I need some help now. They can give it to me. I'll never be able to pay for it, but screw that too. I deserve the best goddamned medical treatment available!" Or words to that effect, but that's pretty close to what I was thinking.

I've never had a cell phone, so I asked a woman who was very helpful if she'd call 911 for me, which she did. The Fire Department emergency personnel arrived 10 to 15 minutes later. Two very attractive young men, which was wonderfully distracting. They took basic information, asked a bunch of questions, did a few tasks, and called some more "official" paramedics to the scene. I didn't get the distinction between the Fire Department guys and the two other paramedics who then showed up, and didn't feel much like inquiring about it. But oh, my friends. Paul the Paramedic. Wonderfully competent and kind.

And hot. So, so hot. These emergency personnel must be hired direct from Chippendale's or some damned thing. I am incredibly proud to have learned that, even when "the big one" might be about to hurl me into the dark void of nothingness, I am so deeply perverse and unredeemable that I will still be noticing hot men and thinking how we might entertain each other, in rather different circumstances. Hooray for me!

So Paul the Paramedic and the other paramedic (sorry, I didn't ask everyone's name, I was, you know, trying to focus on business to the extent required) did some more stuff, asked a bunch of the same and additional questions, and after ascertaining that I had no insurance and no money, took me to a nearby hospital's ER.

I was in the ER from about 1 PM until midnight, when I was admitted to the hospital itself. I got a bed in the ER immediately because of my overall state and symptoms. While I was in the ER, they did a lot of tests -- several electrocardiograms, an Echo exam (they called it an Echo exam, although it wasn't a stress test, I was lying down through all this), lots of blood tests, etc., etc., etc. I have to give the ER personnel pretty high marks, although there were several points in the proceedings when I almost lost it totally, mostly when people said such and such would be happening within 10 minutes, and then it didn't happen for an hour or two. Or three. And I had to tell the doctor who first told me about the atrial fibrillation in very dire terms that he had scared me to death, before he explained in more detail what was involved in my condition and that, since I was in the hospital, I wasn't going to die that day. So I calmed down a little. (Oh, that reminds me: I suggested in the late afternoon that perhaps an anti-anxiety drug might be a good idea, since I sometimes felt in the midst of the ER madness that the anxiety itself might kill me. I finally got one -- at 10 PM. They had kept saying they couldn't give me an anti-anxiety drug until the heart, blood and other test results were back, which I readily understood. But they had all those results long before 10 o'clock.)

From what several doctors and nurses told me -- and I could never have imagined such a parade of different doctors and nurses, even after being admitted to the hospital, I rarely saw the same person more than once -- I gather that in some cases drugs (two of which they gave me after formal admittance) will cause the heart to resume normal function. But it usually takes the drugs a couple of days at a minimum to do that, in those cases when they work that way. Other times, some zaps will be used to get the heart back to normal. (Zaps like from those paddles you see on, you know, teevee again.)

In still other cases, the heart will resume normal functioning, seemingly fixing this part of its mechanism itself. That's what happened in my case sometime early Tuesday morning, much to the doctors' own surprise. So I was discharged late this afternoon (using some of the cash I had gotten to pay for the cab home!), with some pills and prescriptions, and orders to go to various doctors in the LA County Hospital system (they can't turn you away!) to follow up on the heart problems, as well as on several other problems that surfaced during the tests (including one that I was already fully aware of, since it's incredibly painful, but apparently not terribly serious...well, except for the pain).

So, yeah, I'm now one of those worthless moochers who want medical care for nothing, and who will never be able to pay for it. To which I say: tough shit. When I was still part of the system, the government took a fortune in taxes from me. In that sense, I'm only getting some of my own back. Beyond that, if our government -- which is bankrupt, I remind you, and in debt for trillions of dollars -- is going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars it doesn't have, I would much prefer that those pretend billions of dollars be spent on health care instead of on killing people around the world. So sure, I'm happy to be part of that rearrangement of our rulers' spending priorities. Patient power, baby!

And after all this, yep, I've gotta hit you up for donations once again. As I said above, the writing I still want to do was one of the major reasons I decided to enter into the morass of our health system in the first place. I still expect I'll only do so again when I feel it's truly necessary (although not desperate in a final sense, if you will). But I do have to get those prescriptions filled in a few days; the hospital only gave me pills of each of the three drugs for three days, since I'm such a deadbeat and all. So that will cost money.

And I have a little less than half what I need for March rent. But it appears I'll be around for a little while yet, and there are essays to be written! Need to keep the lights on and so forth while our endeavors proceed. And Cyrano and Wendy can always use a new catnip toy. Or four. (Where do they go? This apartment isn't big at all, and I know there are at least 50 toys around here somewhere. But exactly where they are, I have absolutely no idea. Crafty little folks. I was so happy to see them again, I can't tell you. In just a little while, we will all curl up in bed together. That's the kind of medicine I like.)

As always, I'm deeply grateful for the kindness, support and generosity of many of you. My profound gratitude, still one more time.

I hope to be back with some new posts in a day or two at the most. But first, I think some rest is indicated.