Thursday, October 25, 2007

California on Fire

I just got back from El Toro High School, which is an evacuation shelter for victims displaced from the horrible Santiago Canyon fires. It's a scene that etches into one's memory like an overly bright light bulb. We've all seen the images of people sleeping on cots, having nothing but the clothes on their back, but nothing does those pictures justice other than seeing it firsthand. The parking is filled with cars, motor homes and pop-ups. Pets on leashes wander around with their owners – each looking dazed and worried, while others lie around, waiting.

My daughter and I arrived with three boxes of books – “hurts” that didn’t survive the book signing process. We can’t sell them for retail, so we’ve been donating them to the Wounded Warriors in Camp Pendleton. As I drove past the high school yesterday, I got the bright idea to give these poor victims something else to think about. How better to do that than escape into the pages of a good book.

The Red Cross folks told us they won't accept books, but their faces changed when I said I live right up the street, my intent was to give these poor people something better to think about other than whether they still had homes, and that I was Stan Chambers' publisher. Hearing Stan's name, they brightened right up and welcomed us into the gym. It was surreal to see the gym where we'd watched countless basketball games while my daughter bounced around as a cheerleader years ago. It was a place of action and excitement.

Not now. It's eerily quiet. There are cots everywhere and the lights are low because most are trying to get some sleep. Everyone speaks in soft tones. Even the television is barely audible. Inside and out, the school looks like a war zone. Those we spoke to were upbeat and grateful for the books.

We had a small crowd around us as we unpacked the books and stacked them around the main television. It was a thrill to watch them paw through our many titles. Many touched our arms and gave us a soft thank you before wandering off. It was hard to keep a dry eye.

I'm so glad we did this.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes

Once again, California is on fire. I couldn't figure out why I kept seeing ash and smelling smoke so strongly while walking the Pound Princess this morning. Our paper stated that the Irvine fire had been put out. Wrongo. #1 son just called to say that his work was evacuated. They're about fifteen minutes away from us. Hmm. The fire just moved and is about ten minutes away and fire trucks are blasting past our neighborhood. I might not get a lot of work done today...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Fox is Watching the Hen House

Boy, just when you think the Good Ol’ Boy Club can’t get any dumber, they up and pull a new trick out of their rectums. I see that one of our local ob/gyns, Andrew Rutland, who was accused of negligence in the death of two babies, has had his license reinstated by the Medical Board of California after only five years.

Mind you, the state investigated him for two years and accused him of negligence, misconduct, and incompetence in the treatment of 20 pregnant women. What’s worse is the guy admitted responsibility for the death of a baby who suffered a torn spinal cord and died a week after she was delivered by forceps. Furthermore, he decided not to contest the other accusations of the death of another baby, scaring patients into having unnecessary hysterectomies, botching surgeries, lying to patients, falsifying medical records, over prescribing painkillers, and having sex with a patient in his office.

During his little “time out,” Rutland completed courses on ethics and record-keeping. Just to show how tough the medical board is, they’ve thrown a five-year probation at Rutland, he has to pay $37,000 to the Medical Board to cover the costs of their investigation, he has to pass an exam, he won’t be allowed a solo practice, and a monitor will be appointed at Rutland’s expense to “periodically” watch over his practice.

So there you have it, folks. In California, you can kill babies, lie, cheat, be incompetent, and immoral, and be granted a free pass back into the medical world. With “help” like this from the Medical Board, I have to wonder why the fox is allowed to watch the hen house?

Go Trojans

I had the honor of speaking before a writers' group yesterday. I love rubbing elbows with fellow word benders. But it was tempting to call in a no-show so I could watch the USC-Notre Dame game. As soon as the seminar was over and I'd shaken my last hand, I beat feet into the bar where hubby was already tipping back a beer and hooting over SC's first touch down. Way to go, Sanchez, fellow Mission Viejo-ite. Hope Coach has you playing next week.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Uh, Doc, it hurts right here...

I read in my morning newspaper about how our Govornator is stabbing about how to pay for his "broad health care plan," which is double speak for giving everyone in California health insurance. He needs $37 billion for this dalliance with idiocy, but can't find the money. Isn't this just like a politician to sign a bill and then wonder how they're going to pay for it? What I found to be most humorous is that they're considering leasing the lottery to a private operator. Wait, wait, it gets even better. Finance Dept. spokesman HD Palmer said that the administration is convinced that a private company could make the biggest improvement in lottery revenue. This is as close an admission as we're ever going to get that they understand how inefficient and inept they really are and need private enterprise to bail them out.

This is who you want governing your medical care?

In light of this, here is how those lucky Canadians are enjoying the medical care that certain parties seem to envy. Thanks M.D.O.D.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Needle Point

A great article in this morning’s newspaper forces me to don my tie-dye shirt and dance around the campfire in my Birkenstocks while singing “Kumbaya.” The headline is, “Acupuncture Cuts Post-Surgical Pain.”

The gist of the article is that researchers at Duke University Medical Center analyzed the results of 15 clinical trials on the effectiveness of acupuncture and found that the patients receiving acupuncture before or during various types of operations had significantly less pain, nausea, and dizziness afterward than those who didn’t receive acupuncture. This also translates over to the fact that they needed less pain meds such as morphine. Boy, I remember puking my guts out on that stuff after my hysterectomy. Bring on the needles, baby.

NIH scientists don’t understand how acupuncture works because they can’t scientifically measure how needles affect pain management. Thus, as my med buddies are all too happy to point out, there is no proof. My only counter is that if the acupuncture patient isn’t experiencing any pain, then something must be having an effect.

As a writer, I keep thinking of the great chapters and subsequent controversy that’s ahead for my beleaguered surgeon, Kim Donovan, if I dare to allow her to bring in her clinic’s acupuncturist. Between her Reiki and acupuncture, I’m betting the new chief of surgery, (coming in book 3) Erik Behler, will start referring to Kim’s patients as being fried and skewered. But more importantly, think of the impact patients could have by not having to ingest powerful pain meds for certain surgeries. Oh my holy liver!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Science, schmience, pass the chocolate

Scientists are taskmasters at reducing all our guilty pleasures into lackluster techno babble. For instance, I used to chalk up my weak knees and breaking out into a cold sweat whenever Tony Massey took off his shirt during our tennis matches to being horny. Not so, sez the science geeks. It’s all about hormones, the laws of attraction, the pituitary gland and some other very dull stuff. Puhleeze. Tony had a killer chest and amazing abs. ‘Nuf said.

Now they’re messing with my love affair with chocolate – and it has nothing to do with Tony’s rippling chest. Scientists have linked a type of bacteria living in our digestive systems to our chocolate cravings. Bacteria? Ewwww. How gross can that be? Do they mean to insinuate that the haunting voice who whispers to me whenever I pass a See’s Candy store, “Price. Must. Stop. For. Chocolate,” is really bacteria rumbling around in my gut?

How can I possibly unsee this article? Next thing scientists will tell me is that integrative medicine can’t be clinically proven…Piffle, pass me the choco covered caramels and let me think this over.

And between you and me, I think Tony took off his shirt just to make sure he’d win.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Illogical Laws of Diminishing Returns

I weep for my doc friends. Seems as though the insurance industry is painting yet another target on their collective backs. I spent a lunch hearing my friend, who is a family practitioner, explain how Medicare is planning on cutting docs' salaries by ten percent to…wait for it…make them more efficient. Hoo boy, now that’s what I call running a company of thousands on one brain.

My friend groused over a glass of white wine the other day. “I don’t know about you, Price, but decreasing my pay is not an incentive to work more efficiently. What’s more,” she said, stabbing what is probably her last bite of lobster for a while, “is our esteemed Governator wants to tax me, run my money back through the government, then pay me back with my own freaking money so that everyone can have health care!” She looked up at me with tears of frustration pooling in her eyes. “Is this why I studied my ass off in medical school? To have my own government tell me how much I’m allowed to make? This is damn scary. How much longer before I can’t stay in business?”

She went on to tell me about another friend of ours who decided to specialize in cosmetics and weight loss in order to compensate for his loss in earnings. Another left medicine all together and took up engineering.

“Want to know what the insurance asswipes did to me three months in a row?” she said. “They deliberately changed the insurance codes and didn’t tell my bookkeeper. That way they didn’t have to shell out reimbursement to me. Now, you take what they’re pulling on me and multiply that times thousands, and I can tell you who’s making the money. And it ain’t the docs. Oh sure, they said it was all a mistake. Mistake my lily white butt.”

I drank my chardonnay in one solid gulp.

“Oh, and you’ll love this," she said. "Ted Grapply, you know, the internist with the hairy ears? He had an insurance company deny payment because they needed to know if the patient was on birth control pills. The patient was a freaking man, for goddsakes. Want to know how long it took him to get that little disaster cleared up?”

"No," I said, fearing the answer.

"Four months."

I poured more wine into my dear friend’s glass, knowing I’d drive her home and help nurse her impending hangover.

“An’ you wonder how this affects you?” she said, slurring her words. “Well, lemme tell ya. Time, baby. And quality. Where I used to spend twenty five minutes with a patient getting their history and discussing health issues, explaining different meds an' such, I’m cramming ‘em in every ten minutes. My exam rooms are stacked up like LA International Airport at Thanksgiving. Is this the future of medicine? The only ones gettin’ the big bucks are the insurance CEOs as they collect record profits. And let’s not forget the bonuses. How is it that the gove’ment can tell me I’m makin' too much money but it’s okay for the insurance guys?”

“Politics?” I ask naively.

She pointed her salad fork at me. “Exactamundo! You don’ think that money doesn’t trickle into our benevolent politicians’ pants and bras? My mentor from med school just retired. At fifty-five years old. Told me he was sick of the whole mess. My building mates want to do a Nancy Reagan and just say no to accepting insurance all together. And you know what, Pricey? It’s up to you guys, the patients, to speak up for improving medical care. If you don’t, it’s gonna be some twirly headed bean counter who will decide just how desperately you need that liver transplant or heart valve replacement. We docs are being taken out of the equation.”

I felt my heart sink into my gut. This was supposed to be an afternoon of laughter and fun as she, as my medical advisor, helped me with my new novel. Instead it morphed into watching a dedicated doc grapple with thoughts of leaving a profession she’s dreamed of since the first grade when she stuffed dirt and grass in my bloodied knee after a rousing dodge ball session. God, how I wanted to just hug her 'til she stopped hurting.

She finished the conversation off with a final lament. “I should have listened to my first boyfriend and become an exotic dancer.” She did have the boobs for it.

As I watched her drain her glass, I thought about my next novel and thought about how easy it would be to weave this sickening topic into the plot. For not the first time that day, I held my bestest bud's hand and said, "Who is John Galt?"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Atlas Shrugged at 50

Happy birthday, Dagny, Hank, and most of all, John Galt. You are an inspiration to my world view.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Craziness Abounds – Who’s Lookin’ Out for You?

Just like the pendulum that swings from side to side, ideas also swing from side to side. Eggs used to be good for us, but then they turned bad, before it become a hesitant okay. How about caffeine? And dark chocolate? Heck, it used to be grease for my hips, but now it’s a soothing balm. And what about books that have unhappy endings?

Think I’m kidding? Take a look here, and you’ll get an eyeful. Seems that there is a group of good people in Britain who have appointed themselves the literary police, and it is their mission to burn children’s books that have unhappy endings. I quote: “The Happy Ending Foundation is planning a series of Bad Book Bonfires for later this month, when parents will be encouraged to burn novels with negative endings.”

As a publisher, I find it abhorrent that there are people out there whose rose-colored glasses are so fogged up that they will censor everything that doesn’t fit within their narrow field of vision. As a writer, I’m appalled that these people are so ill prepared to handle a pesky little thing called “Reality.” These are the same folks who cluck at PTA meetings and strong arm schools to ban childhood favs of Tag and Dodgeball.

I’m a parent and took pains to insure that my kids read age appropriate books. The idea that I need to enlist the services of busybodies who have nothing better to do than invade my life is a travesty every freedom loving person should reject.

“Yes, yes, Price, ease up on the rising blood pressure. See how we’re all laughing?”

Of course I do. We’re all doing the collective eye roll. On the other hand, it’s gradualism at its finest. What seems insane now could one day become acceptable because they’ve worn us down through attrition. That’s how freedoms are lost and groups like this are able to propagate.

What’s too crazy to think about now could very easily become the norm in the future. Publishers may be ordered to only publish happy-happy stories and think joy-joy thoughts. We writers could one day be forced to take a look at our work and decide if we’re ready to see it go the way of Tag and Dodgeball.

More on FDA's OTC drugs

I started to comment on feedback on my previous post, but then I decided to make it another post since there were other issues I wanted to think about out loud. I really appreciate my doc buds' feedback since you guys are the ones in the trenches. My knowledge could fill the head of a pin. But since I write medical fiction, I have a natural interest.

Given my involvement with integrative medicine, I see people every day who toss aside common sense and abandon their docs in the belief that alternative meds are the only game in town. I see this move toward making strong meds OTC as an equally dangerous move.

I know we can't legislate stupidity, but why enable it? If the FDA thinks statins are a viable OTC candidate, what else are they going to decide is okay? And where does this put us in terms of responsibility when patients too dumb to breathe overdose or underdose?

Lastly, what's the criteria for deciding what should be an OTC drug?