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Works and Days

The Unforgiving Moment

May 18th, 2014 - 10:50 pm

Again, I feel very fortunate. The ER personnel offered tales of lesser bike falls where the victims ended up paralyzed, or with cranial bleeding — or dead.

But when you are lying flat and cannot read or talk or eat, your mind wanders into retrospection and memoriae temporis acti — dreaming of the sort that one must be careful about, lest it devolves into the depression of should have, could have, would have done this or that.

I offer a general thought from the ER and subsequent last five days: we live in a weird postmodern/premodern world. Never have Americans been so blessed and never so ungracious.

The ER trauma center was postmodern: even a plastic surgeon was on duty, who did wonders with my hanging lip and crushed nose. The triage team was top-notch. The equipment, nursing staff, and regimen were stellar. Without them I would be infected, disfigured, and bedridden. (Though I may hold off entirely on that optimism until May 30th,  when I am back and the gambit of not canceling has been proven wise. How do you tell your guests that you were stupid enough to endanger their entire trip?)

For five hours, I watched the worst imaginable cases wheeled in — the wages of burns, wrecks, shootings, stabbings, falls, drug overdoses, heart attacks, shock, etc. — all met with an upbeat, can-do staff professionalism.

The clientele, however — metal detector required for entrance — was premodern. Many were foreign nationals. Some appeared to be gang-bangers. Police were ubiquitous (not all the injured were virtuous or harmed by accident). English was rarely spoken by the patients. It was a world away from the ER crowd of rural California circa 1960.

Gurneys were parked in hallways that were almost blocked with sick patients, most of them texting in boredom. Relatives were arguing with other outpatients’ relatives. It reminded me of the bottom floor of the Evangelismos Hospital at Athens about 1973, where I once had a sliced finger tendon; on another occasion a shock reaction to a bad Greek plague/ typhus/yellow fever/small pox/typhoid all in one vaccination. Or Luxor circa 1974 (a case of malaria) or Libya 2006 (ruptured appendix). What was different in the American hospital circa 2014 was not the chaos, or the swarms of violently injured, but the superb quality of the care.

In a word, some of the most violent gang-bangers on the planet are accorded some of the most sophisticated trauma care in the world, and for free. I say that not so that it should not be that way, but note it only in hopes that there is some gratitude offered to our health care providers. Do any of our leaders in their various grievances against the society ever express thanks that a man can cross the border, get into a knife fight, even while committing a crime, and in extremis receive free health care of the sort comparable to that accorded to our president?

Only in America? And as it should be.

Spending five hours with those who clean up the mess of one too many beers or a drug OD gave me a strange sense of tragedy. The more spectacular the efforts of 21st century America to ensure equality, the more the effort is expected and critiqued than appreciated as an object of wonder.

Other reflections from five days on my back: Almost half of the patients around me in the ER seemed to be suffering from moribund obesity. Diabetes is a California epidemic. Latest reports suggest that well over 40% of Hispanics, to take one especially at-risk group, admitted to the hospital for all causes are diagnosed with it,  higher than the general rate in other populations. Given huge influxes across a porous border, health care in California in the next 10 years will largely center on diabetes. It will have far more social effect than even the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. It will kill more people, more adversely tax the health care system and require a Marshall Plan-like effort to enlighten the population about diet and exercise.

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Top Rated Comments   
My dear cyberfriend, VDH...I am so sorry to hear of your injuries and wish you a speedy and full recovery.

I've had a few of these unforgiving moments. I once tried stretching a single into a double and slid into second base, thereupon discoverin that someone the week before in the field maintenance division had left a steel base spike in the ground a foot in front of the current base. I tore off a filet mignon hunk of my calf. Sewing it up with a mountain of stitches wasn't the problem, scrubbing ALL the dirt out with a wire brush was the test of the moment. The medical staff was a joy to deal with.

At our age (I'm born the same year), I see runners and bikers on my walk past the dive bombing pelicans along the marina. Our fathers would not have jogged, biked or done yoga exercises in neon spandex. They had chores to do and then a family picnic or visiting the older generation.

Forced to buy inferior insurance, forced to accept neighbors who don't have the manners of even a pack of coyotes, forced to be ruled by's not a hidden spike or fracture in a bike that causes the greatest fear, VDH.

At 60 it is a fracture in the very foundations of this land of ours. At 60, our fathers would have considered it a solemn duty to fix it. For this is an injury to our freedom from which we may not recover.

Fate can be cruel and unforgiving in a moment. But the collapse of liberty is an erosion.

Get well, my countryman. We need whatever fight there is left in us...for our father's memories and our children's future.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reading about VDH's accident and the ER experience makes me wonder if we are all expressing wonderment that the ocean surf is going out instead of coming in. We all know what that means, a tsunami is on its way. VDH is seeing the water recede and is amazed that DC hasn't noticed it.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
For anyone living in a border state reading about California’s problems with illegals is always difficult. Libs here dream of turning Texas into another California without the scenery and weather and illegals figure prominently in their 'calculations.' They may get their wish if our ‘broken’ immigration system is fixed by the usual suspects. But California’s problems have been made worse by a state government whose legislative mechanics and temperament is—pardon the term—alien to Texas. We might yet find a way to avoid the worst form of California’s madness.

Get well, Dr. Hanson.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (120)
All Comments   (120)
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What an awesome article! Understood as well.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dear Sir:
Please don't ride a bike with any carbon fiber components: They fail catastrophically.
Jack Guthrie
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
"For all practical purposes, one has no right to arm oneself to protect property. If I were unarmed and shot, I would be assumed to have been foolish by venturing out on my own property. If I were armed, and yet got shot confronting thieves, the media would say that I was more foolish and trigger-happy and prompted the violence. If I had shot them in self-defense, I would appear a paranoid old white male who privileged property over human life — and be sued by their families who had access to free legal help."

You have discovered why California is a slave state.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hello Victor. We've never met, but I'm a Central Valley neighbor, about 80 miles south on Highway 99 in Bakersfield. We're about the same age.

Here's a story about an accident and an attitude about healing that I had not expected.

I own a plastics manufacturing company and we need to have our saw blades sharpened from time to time. A salesman from the sharpening company comes by, collects blades to be sharpened, and returns with them sharpened in a week.

One day, out of idle curiosity, I asked "Do any of your other customers ever cut off a finger?" I was a little stunned when he answered matter-of-factly, "Oh, yes. We probably lose a digit a week."

Then he told me the story of a long-retired lumber yard owner, a man used to many types of large, dangerous saws, who recently had cut off a finger on his table saw in his home workshop. He tried to clear a sliver with his hand rather than a stick, and the sliver grabbed his hand and pulled it into the blade.

The saw sharpening man asked if the old timer had the finger sewn back on.

The answer, "I'm 87 years old. Why would I bother?"

At 58, I would still get it fixed, but I understand now there comes a time when it is too much trouble. I'm just glad I'm not there yet.

I hope that you, too are glad that you see yourself in the group that still wants to get things repaired. Best wishes in that.

P.s. I took the suggestion from your writing and hiked Kaiser Peak with my son.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dr. Hanson, I like your ruminations which so seamlessly and logically flow from your deplorable accident. Yet another great piece of writing from one of our time's finest thinkers.

I wish you speedy healing and "thank you' is indeed in order -- a thank you that matters did not turn out worse than they did.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Donna, Obamacare will indeed destroy the kind of health care that the Doc received. The VA scandal is a perfect example. It is, also, not an aberration. The vaunted European national health services have caused needless death and suffering to members of my own extended family who are back in the old country.
Naturally, the child-men who are so proud of Obamacare now will, in the next decades, simply excuse their criminally stupid and narcissistic choices by proclaiming "Well, at least my heart was in the right place." The rest of us will pay the price for their imbecility and hubris.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Like I said before: form a neighborhood watch.
Your neighbor who got shot and killed needed backup. You do as well. You can't rely on the police, as their paymasters would rather serve the local voters who are perpetrating these crimes than side with the fewer and older folks who are victims of them.
So: it's up to you and your neighbors. There's safety in numbers.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Get back up and get going. It is much preferable to burn out than to rust away.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"For all practical purposes, one has no right to arm oneself to protect property."

I hope very much that you are armed and well trained, in case someday there is no retreat. But don't publicly say whether you are.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see a lot of advice in the comments thread to "move away from California". That's hard to do when your heart is in the land. I've known people who, more than almost anything else, wanted to live to the end in the places that had been their homes for so many decades. Right after "don't let me die among strangers" was "don't let me die in a strange place." It may not be coldly rational but it is deeply human.

Good luck, Professor Hanson.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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