Despite my pessimism over the state of general medical care in this country, watching Sicko recently reminded me that there are certainly times when the American medical system works well, and saves lives.
Back in the late 70s, I saw the system save the life of my grandfather.
I must have been about 14 years old when my grandpa had what I think was his first heart attack. He lived next door, and I happened to be visiting when he began experiencing extreme pain in his chest. He laid down in bed, while my grandmother Evelyn called for an ambulance.
I've described my grandpa many times before as "eccentric," and that's a fair description, I suppose. In the objective reality, though, the term probably doesn't fully describe his unusual perspective on life, his compulsive behavior and his obsessive thinking. His obsessive-compulsive personality was sometimes maddening and sometimes amusing, but was always present. He became anxious around clutter, cleaned constantly and could never figure out why others didn't.
About 45 minutes after my grandma called for the ambulance, the paramedics arrived. (Their station, in Summersville, WV, was more than a far piece from our home.) They quickly concluded grandpa was having a heart attack, and set up an IV line into his arm. Being 14 and rather curious, I stood at the foot of the bed, watching the men do their work. Even while I was really worried for my grandpa, I was really impressed at how the emergency workers performed their job.
Suddenly, after a few moments of the IV, my grandpa yelled out in a weak, but very urgent, voice:
Grandma was just around the corner, giving the paramedics room to work in the small bedroom. She heard him yell her name, and peeked into the bedroom. She was sure he was dying.
"Evelyn!" He said it again, and this time his yell carried a bit more urgency than the previous call. "Evelyn, come here."
As she rushed to the bedside, he reached up and touched her softly on the arm:
"Evelyn, get these gentlemen a bucket. They're dripping IV fluid all over my carpet."
I started laughing, really loud and hard. There was just something damn funny about a man staying true to his obsessive compulsive nature even when facing possible death. The paramedics were not amused.
"Mr. Summers,' the lead guy said, very calmly, 'we're here trying to save your life."
"I know, and I really appreciate it." My grandpa's voice sounded better, fuller. "I really do. But you don't have to ruin my carpet in the process."
Evelyn brought him the bucket. She always did.