Monday, June 29, 2009

What is that bright, yellow thing in the sky?

OK, so now it's a monthly. I'm going to try to do better. Really.

For the past couple of days, the sun has come out and it really seems as if summer, or at least late spring, has come.

It's pretty sad when one is walking along and the clouds split for a moment, and one realizes that it's hot and takes a few minutes to realize that it's officially summer. The clouds, rain, dreary mist is not what we signed up for.

They never learn

Last week, my wife and I had the signal honor and pleasure of being in attendance at an event honoring Rabbi Henry Okolica. This man has done it all--held together an Orthodox Jewish congregation in New Britain, where the Jewish community is a shadow of its former self; been a chaplain for state and local police, for the New Britain fire departments, for state and federal veterans' hospitals and homes. He was a television pioneer in the 1960s with a television program that lasted decades on WVIT-Channel 30 and its ancestors.

He so inspired students at the yeshiva in Waterbury that they drive twice a week to attend morning services at his synagogue, Cong. Tephereth Israel, located in the inner city of New Britain, to assure there is a minyan, a necessary quorum of 10 men needed to read the Torah.

It was at a fund-raiser for that yeshiva, held at a banquet hall in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, that Rabbi Okolica was honored. Rabbi Judah Harris and his wife, Rona, rode down with us and Rabbi David Avigdor and his wife, Suzanne, and son Yakov, to honor the memory of the Harris' son, Mitchell Elliott, who passed away years ago at a teen-ager, as well as Rabbi Okolica.

Rabbi Okolica was my rabbi in New Britain so many years ago. I told him about my six grandchildren. He told me about his 104 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I guess when you live into your 90s, you get to have a lot of grandchildren.

But to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, I didn't come to talk to you about dinners, I can to talk to you about health care.

One of the people who showed up at this event was Nancy Johnson, who represented Connecticut's sixth and then fifth district in Congress from 1983 to 2007, when she was defeated by Democrat Chris Murphy.

She's now a lobbyist trying to keep President Obama's health-care reform from being any kind of meaningful.

We talked for quite a long time about the subject, and it became clear that her focus was to keep the playing field level, or, if I may extrapolate, to keep any kind of government-run or even government-sponsored element from coming into the health-care plan.

She was worried that insurance companies would be at a disadvantage because they would not keep up their level of profit if they had to compete against the government.

Disclaimer: I am the beneficiary of a government-run, single-payer health care plan, the same as Ms. Johnson when she was in Congress and perhaps even now. Not the same plan, but the same idea. You go to your doctor, Blue Cross does the work and the government sets the guidelines. I love it.

Anyway, it was an interesting conversation. Nancy was a good pothole congresswoman, you know, you have a problem, you go to Nancy and she solves it as best she could. But I don't think she gets it as far as health-care is concerned. Too much money goes into corporate coffers.

Another problem is the high cost of delivery of medical care.

I had a conversation with a friend who happens to be a doctor. I won't identify him more than that.

I told him about my primary-care physician, and an infected cyst I had. My doc drained it, and gave me some antibiotic and sent me on my way.

My friend was shocked. My doctor should have sent me to a surgeon, who should have done an ultra-sound to make sure this was all it was and the rest. I should have been in pain for a couple of extra days before a specialist could see me.

At the same time, my friend was complaining about how insurance companies repay doctors. He gave a for-instance: Let's say a patient has a hurt arm. The patient goes to his doctor, who takes an x-ray and determines the injury is out of his area of expertise and sends the patient to a specialist. The specialist wants his own x-ray, being that a couple of days have probably past before the specialist could fit in the patient.

The rub for doctors is that insurance only will pay for one x-ray, so the specialist must eat the cost of the second x-ray and a radiologist to read it. Nobody should have to work for nothing, my friend says.

He right. But at the same time, you can't have it both ways.

There may be, in I hope there is, a sea change coming in the way medical service is delivered and paid for in this nation. I think Obama is on the right track, as long as he keeps on it. Lobbyists like Johnson are working overtime to be sure their clients' interests are protected.

Johnson said that's the way the system works and it's a good thing. If we keep the same system, she's right. But I don't think we should be keeping the same system.

One think on which Johnson and I are agreed: We have to develop a patient-advocate system. Too often, a patent is confused by dueling diagnoses. The heart specialist says this, the lung specialist says that and the patient, who in most cases does not have an MD, is left to figure things out. That's all kinds of wrong.

A couple of things to end. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We have a pretty good health-care system here. It's too bloated, too profit-centered, too costly.

But it works most of the time. We know some wealthy Canadians who talk with pride about their health-care system but keep a residence in Florida just in case they need health care.
I remember a bus trip through the Jordanian desert with the guide going on and on about how great their health care is. At the same time, the former king would check into the Mayo Clinic every time he had a hangnail.

We can fix this. We should fix this. It's more important that just about everything.

This passing didn't make the headlines.

This is a tough week for celebrities. The deaths of Billy Mays and Farah Fawcett were eclipsed by Michael Jackson's demise.

But there was a passing that didn't make the headlines. Rebecca Lazarson passed away last Tuesday.

She was a woman in her 80s, 82 to be precise.

Here's what the obit said: devoted wife of nearly 61 years to Eli Lazarson died at Yale-New Haven Hosp. on June 23 2009. Born in New Haven June 2 1927 she was a daughter of the late Nathan & Ida M. Kaplan. Beloved mother of Norman (Audrea) Lazarson of Stevens Pa. Paula (Jose) Pagan-Rosas of Smithtown N.Y. & Loretta (Julius) Rubin of Middletown Ct. Dear sister of Ruth Polek of West Haven Saul Kaplan of Fl. Goldie Cohen of Holbrook N.Y. the late Ned Kaplan & Rose Cohen. Cherished grandmother of Elise Joshua Jason & Eric.

What the obit didn't say was that she was one of the bravest women anyone could ever know.

She suffered badly from the ravages of diabetes, lost a leg to it. She had an artificial leg but didn't allow her disability to keep her from going around. She complained little if at all about the hand she was dealt medically.

She was a synagogue board member who brooked no baloney. You didn't try to put something over on Rebecca.

You knew where you stood with her. No question. She had a lovely laugh that she exercised every time she could. She raised a lovely family, was a pillar of her secular and religious communities.

I guess you can't ask for more than that.

A wish for Bernie

Bernie Madoff got 150 years. The judge threw the book at him.

I have a wish for Bernie, who ruined the lives of millions directly or indirectly.

May you be taken to an old, rotten prison where the heat doesn't work in winter but works in summer.

May your roommate be a man with liberal halitosis and body odor who snores loudly and brooks no interference with his perverted habits. May he be big and brutish enough to make every waking hour, all 23 a day, a living hell.

Until next time...

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