July 29

Medicare Helps us Face the Future

I knew something was wrong when my father didn't want to have dinner with us on his birthday, July 8. My mother explained that his colon was acting up again. He had a colon problem years ago, and had surgery to remove part of it. He could only eat certain things as a result. However, this time, the problem was not getting better. After 2 weeks of being miserable, he decided it was time to go the the emergency room. What the doctors found out is that he didn't have a colon problem at all; instead, he had a greatly enlarged prostate gland which was making his bladder swollen and, well, difficult to use. I am still puzzled about how he thought it was a colon problem.

My father is 84 years old, and my mother 82, so health problems are too be expected, and I am beginning to wonder whether or not they will be around much longer, which is sobering, but we all go through that. My father and mother, however, have been relatively healthy and while they don't exactly look young anymore, they look young for their age. However, my mother told me that my father became very weak, perhaps apathetic and "suddenly looked 10 years older." It's pretty scary stuff for the baby of the family, which I am. My father is himself a retired doctor, a radiologist who ended up spending most of his career working for the California state medicare program, before retiring 6 years ago at the age of 78. Yet, my mother kept telling me that, father didn't seem to know what the treatment program would be, and didn't seem to be asking questions of the doctors. They say that doctors make the worst medical patients. Maybe that's true.

It turns out that the treatment program involves having my father go to a convalescent center for treatment for one month. Why one month? It turns out that Medicare pays for one month of treatment, which is about the amount of time that the treatment is supposed to take. Of course, it would be far better if the Medicare never ran out, but it's far better than nothing. By the way, my parents have good health insurance, which according to my mother paid for all of the hospital treatment (unlike my wife and I who are on a plan characterized by "Don't get sick, and if you do, rely on trained medical professionals in the family to treat you").

By chance, I was listening to NPR while coming home from stepdaughter Isabella's house yesterday, and the topic of the program was caring for aging parents, which is a growing issue with the increasing number of elderly persons and declining birth rate. I am not sure I heard this correctly, but I think the guest said that family members in the United States did an astounding $550 billion dollars worth of care for the elderly last year, and this number is growing annually. Since my wife is trained in physical rehabilitation -- along with psychiatric nursing and her MBA -- she has often mentioned that she would be willing to take care of my elderly parents if need be. Bless her heart, as usual! I know that she means it. However, my parents are typical, rather proud Americans who like to be as independent and youthful as possible. Consequently, I have been afraid to visit my father in his current condition. I wouldn't like seeing him feeble and weak, and he wouldn't like me seeing him feeble and weak. However, my mother told me that he would like us to visit him after all. Love overrides all else. Better yet, my father seems to be improving. Isabella, my wife Eunice, and I spoke with him yesterday, and he said that they are giving him medication which is making his prostate gland shrink without resorting to surgery. We are planning to visit my father Sunday or Monday, but since Eunice and I are going to Taiwan (and its well and purposefully designed public health care system) on Tuesday, I didn't think there would be enough time to write about my father between visiting him and going to Taiwan. We are already busy preparing for our trip, which will also include some serious discussions with Eunice's family, and probably some resulting blog posts. (However, Isabella says that Eunice wants to "show off" her husband to her friends and relatives in Taiwan -- such flattery.)

Anyway, I have suddenly realized how crucial Medicare is for helping us as a society, to face our future. If only we could stop spending trillions of dollars we cannot afford on foreign military occupations and military operations, and instead spend the money on helping people and building physical and social infrastructure (such as education) as we should, maybe we would have the public health care system that we deserve. Even our doctors, such as my father, know that. In fact, our doctors especially know that. To think that the assorted nuts finding their way into our government want to replace Medicare with even more for-profit, private enterprise, makes me heartsick. It also makes me think more seriously about leaving my nation of origin for a more rational place. But for now, we owe our parents our gratitude and the best care we can give them.