Archive for September, 2010

Why Emergency Rooms Drive Away Families with Cadillac Plans

29 Sep
Hospital Road SignMy fourteen year old stepson has a 103 degree temperature.  The glands on either side of his neck have risen up hard like two rods with infection.  His breathing is shallow, his cough deep.  He looks at me with his big brown eyes for answers.  He’s looking at me for relief.

I make an appointment and take him to our general physician.  We live in Lake Arrowhead, a resort community in the San Bernardino Mountains that has a hospital so small and ill-equipped that any critical patient is immediately airlifted by helicopter.

After careful examination and a chest x-ray, my son is diagnosed with pneumonia.  It’s recommended he be hospitalized and fed oxygen through a tube.  My husband and I decide to take him to the flat lands, to Loma Linda Medical Center, the best hospital in the area. But we need to take him to their emergency room otherwise our medical insurance won’t pick up the tab.

The emergency room has people spilling out the front, loitering by the parked ambulances. The soda and candy machines are out here, as well as a couple of benches next to a security guard’s station.  A man and woman stand near a trash receptacle sharing a cigarette.

Upon entering the emergency room my stepson is given a mask to tie around his mouth and nose.  A Hispanic teenager in pajamas and a Dodgers baseball cap is hunched over in a wheelchair rocking with pain, an IV drip sticking out from the top of his hand. I wonder why he’s back in the emergency room after he’s obviously already been seen.  On a bench in the corner a middle-aged Asian woman extends her left leg bandaged in a bath towel, seeping darker with fresh blood.  It’s as if she no longer seems to notice.  Her face is drained, pale and strangely peaceful like she has reconciled to slowly bleeding to death.

With my stepson’s hot forehead against my shoulder, I tell him to close his eyes and we sit, along with my husband, and we wait.  We wait for more than seven hours while elderly patients who already have the benefit of extra oxygen easily wheel their tanks and are quickly admitted.

Kids still in primary school sniffle, sometimes skip, past the same nurse that continues to call their names, all of whom have arrived with their parents well after us.  None of them appear as sick as my child. I’m frightened for my stepson.  I want him feeling better.  I rise from my seat and complain yet again to the frenzied hospital worker who’s on the phone behind the admitting desk.

“Listen,” the worker says, putting the person he’s speaking with on hold.  He points the receiver at me.  “You have to understand something.  We don’t go by who came in before who or who’s sickest.”  He explains that typically patients younger than seven and older than sixty-five are seen first regardless of the severity of illness or injury.

At fourteen my stepson is in the same lingering predicament as the Hispanic boy suffering in the wheelchair, as the Asian lady losing blood on the bench.

Emergency rooms, I quickly learn, are run by a different kind of discrimination.  My best friend’s father experienced a second stroke hours after he’d arrived in the emergency room waiting area seeking treatment for the first stroke he’d had at home. The list of the ignored and the ill goes on and on.  Recently in the news I saw that a man dropped dead in a local emergency room begging for treatment.

Cadillac plans like ours as well as Medi-Cal and Medicare don’t take precedent over those with no health insurance.  If you’re in dire need of care, you get it.  That’s one of the privileges of living in the United States.  But too many times these clear cut rules are dangerously broken by hospital staff as well as prospective patients.

The worker behind the desk, not unsympathetically, advises me the next time to call 911 for an ambulance.  Although far more expensive, at least my son would be instantly escorted through those double doors.  So we drive home, this family with their so-called Cadillac plan without our son ever being seen by emergency room staff.  That night, my husband and I take turns watching his labored sleep.  We hear how hard his chest is working to breathe, prepared with a cordless telephone at our side to do the only thing we can do should it stop.


Hide the Screwdrivers…Kevin Cooper is Still Living it up on Death Row

25 Sep

In 2006 I wrote an essay in the Los Angeles Times Magazine that received an incredible amount of support.  It was  about my family living in terror after Kevin Cooper had escaped the local prison in Chino, CA  less than three miles from our home.  I wrote about how in under 72 hours he had bludgeoned a family in the hills.  He stabbed and struck the father’s head and chest so many times that one of the man’s fingers was later found inside the closet.  With a knife and hatchet he slaughtered the mother who had only made it so far as the foot of the bed.  Next he killed the young daughter and a young neighbor boy who was staying over at the house, both of whom must’ve heard the screams and came into the bedroom.  There was one survivor – another little boy.  He was the son of the slain family, who with a slashed neck, lay there in his parents’ bedroom for eleven hours plugging the wound with four fingers until help came.

It was one of the worst mass murders in San Bernardino County history.  Cooper had invaded the home and caused such carnage simply to steal the family car.  He was later arrested off Pelican Cove near Santa Barbara for rape.  He’d been working under an alias as a deckhand and was accused of sexually assaulting a woman on a nearby boat.  Initially the local police had no idea who they’d just caught.

Much has been said about this rape – how Cooper was never tried for the crime and therefore must be innocent? First off, Cooper had raped before.  Back in Pennsylvania he had been doing time for raping a woman with a screwdriver against her throat before he escaped from that particular institution and came out to California.  Secondly, the reason for not trying him for the new rape charge had nothing to do with his guilt or innocence.  It had to do with the overwhelming physical evidence left at the murder scene and inside that family’s car that would put Cooper away far longer than any rape conviction.  Cooper has lived the majority of his adult life on death row in San Quentin.  He gets hours of fresh air every day with his fellow inmates.  He gets to watch TV, listen to the radio and have access to the prison’s law library.  And yes, he still has his own website (you really should check out “Paula’s Plea”).

But in late 2009 Cooper finally suffered his own deafening blow.  The US Supreme Court refused to hear his case.  All of his appeals have officially been exhausted.  Recently a California judge ruled that lethal injections are not cruel and unusual punishment and can commence again.  Whether they will or not is anybody’s guess (we do like to keep our prisons overcrowded here).  Out of the hundreds and hundreds of condemned killers waiting their turn at the needle, I do know, however, who deserves to first feel the sting.


“‘Shyster’ is a Jewish Word You…You..Greek!”

22 Sep

The title of my forthcoming memoir “The Shyster’s Daughter” is apparently as insulting to the thin-skinned politically correct as the dirtiest four letter word.  At the time my book was about ready to be sent out my agent emailed me asking if I was sure I really wanted to go with the title I’d chosen.  Just as fast as he’d emailed me he followed up with another one stating it was okay.  He’d take the verbal blows in the name of my artistic integrity.  He’d already taken one earlier that day after he mentioned the title of my memoir to someone in passing.  Just the sound of the S word chased that particular editor away from ever reading my manuscript.  At the time I didn’t understand what the big deal was about.

My father was a shyster.  He was a crooked lawyer who cheated his clients out of money.  Everybody called him that word from my mother in the heat of one of their blowouts to the men who in the past used to call the house politely asking for my father but now left furious and oftentimes threatening messages on our answering machine.  One even cased our house and vandalized it.  Therefore it didn’t occur to me that for some just by me calling my Greek father a shyster this somehow made me insensitive to Jewish cheats everywhere?

At a book party an older female Jewish author tried to explain it to me.  She said that because it was a Jewish derived word (actually the origin is unknown) I was only allowed to have it come out of the mouth of a Jewish person.  “Were any of your father’s clients Jews?” she asked.  Because I didn’t want to start any trouble since it was her book party, I simply didn’t answer.  I just let it go.

But it got me thinking and I did a little research.  Approximately 80,000 words from the English language are taken from the Greeks.  Not to mention actual Greek letters are used in modern day science and mathematics.  And let’s not even get into the roots, the prefixes and suffixes.  Should I also add in the names and symbols for frat houses and sororities?  In fact that woman writer shouldn’t worry herself with lecturing me over one word (the meaning of which is the same for everyone who is called it) that may or may not come from her ancestral background.  Instead she should be thanking me and my people for our profound contribution to such a rich and complicated language that she gets to utilize every day when she sits down to write one of her books.


Pilates and Herbal Teas do an Aging Rocker’s Body Good

20 Sep

Recent Picture of Billy IdolI have to admit when my friend and I recently attended a Billy Idol concert at the Pechanga Casino in Temecula, I was expecting an emaciated Keith Richards type in dated leather pants.  I was expecting the same spiky peroxided hair, having no longer any need to dye it now that he was old enough for it to naturally grow in white.  I was also expecting to be cursed out good.

In high school, still too young enough to drive, my same friend and I attended one of Billy Idol’s concerts in the open amphitheater in Irvine, CA.  Back then, just before he came on stage, a gigantic mechanical fist lowered down from the rafters and promptly flipped all of us off in the sell-out crowd.  This was near Halloween, shortly after he recovered from a near fatal motorcycle accident.  We all screamed as he came limping out with a silver-tipped cane, shirtless in leather pants, a heavy leather trench coat.  “Trick or Treat, Motherf***ers,” he sneered loudly as he shed his coat and chucked his cane, launching into one of his most popular hits Rebel Yell.   My big Greek father, who heard it all waiting by his diesel Mercedes in the parking lot, must’ve been beside himself with concern.  What had he willingly driven his daughter to?

But this night is different.  We’re decades older now, both my friend and I are teachers – I’m a college professor, my friend teaches kindergarten.  We think ahead and instead of driving to the concert and leaving late at night, we book a room at the hotel.  There’s no need for either one of us to have to lose any sleep.  The casino’s concert hall is clean and modern with controlled air.  There are mixed drinks served at the bar yet nobody actually appears to be drunk.  My friend and I with our bright green Midori Sours are escorted to our seats by a man in a suit with a light stick.

Instead of a mechanical fist, the lights simply dim, then flash indicating Billy Idol and his bandmates are about to come out on stage.  I am shocked by what I see – a rocker who looks twenty years younger than his fifty something years.  We are five rows from the stage so I have an accurate view.  The leather pants are gone.  In their place are tight black jeans, a dark t-shirt with thermal sleeves.  He’s even added a tinge of color to his hair.  He looks like he should be playing a gig in a local pub back in his Generation X days.

Later I’ll read an interview online on why Billy Idol looks so healthy.  He’s stopped using speed and instead requests herbal teas and water backstage.  He’s also taken up pilates.  My tough husband laughs when I tell him this.  As a former addict of practically every illegal substance, he oddly doesn’t believe another user who’s lived such a hard life could change.  But then I tell him, oh yeah, how would he know when he wasn’t there to witness Billy Idol “Scream, all night, all night long….”


A Burning Question

17 Sep
Bethany Storro in Bandagings

The bandaging of Bethany Storro's face.

In her quest for her fifteen minutes of “face time” in the media (she was booked to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show), Bethany Storro purposely splashes herself with acid (the tip-off to cops should’ve been that she thought ahead to wear sunglasses) and then conveniently she blames it on a black woman?

Storro should not be treated as a victim of her own so-called mental illness.  She should be treated as an accessory to the horrific copycat crime that happened to the mother of five in Arizona.  Where is that poor woman’s justice?

Derri Dias Velarde graciously doesn’t want to point the finger at Storro for having influenced her own attack claiming that the deranged woman who came after her would have hurt her anyway.  There’s probably truth to that.  But would the means of attack in the parking lot really have been chemical if the initial fake acid assault hadn’t made all the morning news shows?  If Storro hadn’t selfishly sat at her press conference peeking and sobbing from the holes of her bandages, soaking up such public sympathy, maybe Velarde would’ve come away from the attack on her with something less dramatic, more common in such cases like slashed tires or even a quick slap to the face – something that could easily be replaced or in no time completely heal.


Starring Amazon

16 Sep

Why do some authors obsessively read and actually believe all of their five star book reviews when so many are clearly written with the vague verbiage of an in-house publicist, an underling…or maybe even a higher-up with too much time on his or her hands?