Progress? (Medical records)

Last night, I ended up going to a local urgent care clinic because I had caught a bug that’s been going around here, and, seeing in others that the over-the-counter remedies have had little effect, I decided that I’d bite the bullet and go to the doctor.

The place I went to is part of a huge system in this state, although this location is pretty short-staffed. I noticed, from the get-go, that the number of questions the nurse asked about health history was pretty non-existent. Sure, I have a “record” with this system, but I don’t think I’ve had any sort of appointment with them for nearly three years, and I didn’t even get the question, “Are there any changes in your health?”

So we went through the appointment, and it turns out I have something similar to strep throat that isn’t actually strep, and the doctor and I were going over a couple of options for medication, and he left. I thought it was a little odd because with women, in particular, there are certain times where certain medications are not supposed to be prescribed, but I never got anything like any of those questions until the doctor popped his head back in to ask if I was nursing or if there are small children in the house. I told him the piece of information that I suspected he should know, and he said, “You should have told me that before!”

My guess is that as electronic medical records have taken over, doctors and nurses are getting more reliant on checking these rather than taking the time to talk to people, especially in situations where locations are short-staffed. (Furthermore, it’s the type of area where there was a poster on the wall telling people that, first of all, antibiotics will not be prescribed in most cases of cold symptoms and secondly, please don’t pressure the staff to get them prescribed to you.) To some extent, it makes sense; if the nurse and/or doctor can get an overview of health history, it can often be helpful and save time. On the other hand, to skip the formalities of asking some of these questions because they are relying on the electronic histories to tell them more that the patient can also be dangerous.

In the end, the doctor ended up changing the prescriptions completely, to the degree that I wasn’t even sure how many I was picking up afterward. I’m home and feeling somewhat better, though still definitely in the category of “sick”. I’m grateful to have available health care. I’m glad for the medicine and 24-hour pharmacies.

Yet, in many ways, where “progress” has been pushed, there’s something that’s been lost, and it’s not always obvious. Electronic medical records, for example, are a good idea in theory. They’re uniform, legible, and portable. On the other hand, when things are online, there are the issues of privacy and theft, for example. Furthermore, electronic medical records don’t necessarily get held as long as paper records did, resulting in many losing records completely. (Retention of medical record laws by state.) Not only this, but when things get entered in incorrectly – which happened to one of my kids – it’s a HUGE pain to try to get corrected, because in many cases, there is no record of who made the error in the first place, so even if the mistake is glaring, getting it changed is like fighting city hall.

Call me silly, but I hadn’t even considered issues about medical records until my 20s, when I accompanied a friend of mine (in the olden days) who was moving and who had some serious health issues to the doctor’s office. She was picking up her medical file. The thing was about 3/4″ thick, and, while most of the pages were held together by the record folder’s posts, there were also pieces of paper sticking out of it. She’d be bringing it to her next doctor in her new city. Obviously, this isn’t optimal, but on the other hand, before we all go worshipping “progress” for progress’ sake, we ought to make sure we’re not losing things unnecessarily.

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Music on Monday – Sister Hazel – Change Your Mind

Sister Hazel – “Change Your Mind” (live, 2003)

Sister Hazel is one of those bands that I never quite got around to getting the CD, though I think it was going to be in the “next order” more than once. They have become one of the lesser-remembered bands of the late 1990s, but I certainly remember more than one of their songs in regular rotation on the radio. I happened to get a snippet of this stuck in my head a couple of months ago, and although I barely remembered it, it was enough to find it on YouTube.

In any case, I was nicely surprised by this live performance. I remember Sister Hazel as having more of a pop sound back when I heard them before, say, 1997-1999. This concert seems to have a lot more of a southern rock edge which I like a lot here.

And for those wondering, this song also was used in the film “Bedazzled”.

Manufactured outrage and the end of news

There is news out there. However, a lot of what the actual “news” is doesn’t get covered. Then again, news outlets are more in the business of selling papers (figuratively) and advertising than the business of actually covering the news. Of course, news has always been a business, but for the longest time, there was actually an assumption that there were enough people who cared about it to make it a viable career.

This isn’t to say that even a hundred years ago, there weren’t major problems in journalism. The notion of “if it bleeds, it leads” is certainly not new.

A lot of newspapers around the country are what we’d now deem as “hyper-local”. In doing some research, it is amazing to see that very small communities could support newspapers. On the other hand, it is also interesting to see how much of these tiny, local papers were filled with “local” bits; so and so died, so and so was visiting from out of town, so and so had property damage from a storm, etc. On one hand, a fair amount probably constitutes as gossip; on the other, there’s part of human nature that longs to be part of community, and these types of items certainly would help in defining who a community was.

But now we are in the era of manufactured outrage, where the news, the headlines, are designed for maximum emotional reaction. Sure, there is still news out there, but it takes second position to the activist journalists and their Twitter echo chamber.

I am weary of it. I pay attention to things, and even in acknowledging and trying to resist the mania of the manufactured outrage, it is wearying to be exposed to it all the time. I feel myself withdrawing from it as well, and I don’t actually think that it’s a bad thing; I don’t feel like I’m missing much, as so little is actually being reported on what actually is going on. It’s almost as though we’ve reached the end of news, if “news” is is what journalists consider the things “worth” writing about. Certainly, there are things that we ought to be aware of and ought to be paying attention to, but these are deep, long-term issues that need to not just be “fought” in the political arena, but in the philosophical one by each person every day.

Tributes to the perpetrators of evil

I’ve been doing some family history research lately, and I happened upon a case where a distant relative seems to have been in a terrible state of mind, lured his ex-girlfriend – the mother of one of his children – to his house, killed her, set the house and other structures on his property on fire, then killed himself. What was left of their bodies had to be transported to another state for advanced DNA testing to try to identify them conclusively.

If I remember correctly, this happened in 2006. There’s still a news article related to this to be found, but the death announcement is long gone. Mind you, that’s all it was; I don’t believe that there was any sort of narrative obituary. In other words, this man’s family wasn’t going to pretend that he was a wonderful person.

This is in contrast to a couple of high-profile crimes in the last couple of years where the families of perpetrators of horrific crimes decided to run glowing obituaries of their loved ones. First there is this one, of a young man named Benjamin Morrow: https://www.ryanfuneralservice.com/notices/Benjamin-Morrow. The obituary starts out “Benjamin Douglas Morrow, age 28, went home to his Heavenly Father on March 5, 2018.” The entire obituary stresses this man’s “Christian credentials”, and paints him as a very nice guy. What the obituary fails to mention was that he died in an explosion tinkering with explosives in his apartment – what the intended use of them was is anybody’s guess. Not only that, but the explosives were deemed so unstable that everybody else who lived in his apartment building lost everything they had because the whole structure had to be burned to the ground in order to mitigate the risk of another explosion.

Another recent case of this happened just a couple months ago in Ohio, where Connor Betts, who gunned down nine people in Dayton, was glowingly remembered in an obituary written by his parents. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/14/dayton-gunman-connor-betts-obituary-removed-from-website/2010108001/) In this case, the parents ended up removing it after community outrage. However, in this case, their son also killed his sister, and his parents also thought that it was somehow appropriate to have their funerals together, until, again, the outrage forced them to change plans.

No one wants to believe that they raised a monster. Most people don’t even want to admit that people they are friends with could do horrible things. It very much feels like an indictment of one’s self.

However, it is absolutely not appropriate to celebrate the lives of people who “went out” doing things that were malicious and downright evil. Sure, these are not the memories the parents have, and they will struggle for the rest of their lives trying to reconcile the innocence that they saw these children come with into the world with the malfeasance with which they exited. For themselves, they will be working on trying to balance those two realities for as long as they live.

However, in public, it is a slap in the face not just to those who suffered as a result of their loved ones’ actions, but to the community as a whole to pretend that these were somehow “wonderful” people. It is sickening because it serves as an attempt to redeem their character after dying committing horrendous crimes. It serves to say, “Hey, this person is just as much of a “nice” person as anyone else.” That is a lie. We are not judged on the basis of “nice”; we are judged on our faith in Jesus Christ, and how that faith led us to conduct our lives.

It is in the nature of an obituary to be selective about the facts presented. Often, there is as much to read into what doesn’t get said as to what does. If there has been a divorce, unless there are children from the marriage, that spouse often doesn’t get mentioned. If someone was not necessarily easy to get along with, people will do their best either not to say anything, or to find something else positive to say.

I remember being astonished, as a young child, when a family member who was known to be a difficult person died, and how all the family around seemed to have nice stories to tell involving this person. For me, there existed a disconnect, but it also helped teach me a bit about the human condition; that we all carry in us the good things and the not-so-great qualities as well.

However, in the in cases here in Beaver Dam and Dayton, the disconnect is too much; we understand that this is evil, and it was something planned and plotted and there is nothing to be gained in pretending that this wasn’t the case. If we lose that understanding, we end up with ridiculous situations like one recently in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a cheerleading squad was denied the ability to present a tribute to a cheerleader from the squad who had been murdered in May by her ex-boyfriend, a football player from the same school. The school’s reasoning on this was they wanted to “remain neutral” on the issue, especially considering that the ex-boyfriend’s brother still plays on the football team. What the school failed to acknowledge in their “neutral” stance is that instead of being neutral, it drew a moral equivalence between the memory of the slain girl and the “right” of the family of the murderer not to have to acknowledge publicly what he did.

Acknowledging evil in ourselves and in our loved ones is an extremely painful thing to do. However, when we don’t acknowledge it for what it is, we allow it to grow. In the case of my distant relative, I think the family did the right thing insofar as they did not try to glorify this man’s life in an effort to “redeem” him for the action that caused his death. There used to be a good number of things that might lead a family not to post an obituary at all (children born out of wedlock, for example), but not only that, there were a number of things which would also make it difficult to be buried by a church (suicide is one that comes to mind immediately). I understand that much fewer people worry about their ability to be buried by their churches these days, but I do believe that part of the purpose of these rules was to reign in the very human tendency to moral equivalence, particularly when in regard to people we know and care about.

18 years later (the nightmare all grown up?)

Part I – The day itself

The morning of September 11th, 2001 was absolutely gorgeous. Sunny with almost impossibly blue skies with only the stray cloud here or there; warm, but neither with the oppressive heat of summer in the city or with the chill wind of autumn. Funny how the weather in Chicago – and across a lot of the country – seemed to be so similar to that in New York that day.

Working retail, I had the day off. I had just returned from Germany, and I wasn’t quite awake. I was thinking of the time I had spent over there and thanking God for the wonders of this life.

All of a sudden, the reverie was interrupted by a phone call. My mom was at work, and she had heard of a terrorist attack, could I please turn on the television to see what was going on.

I obliged, and I was confused, as it seemed like what they were talking about was the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Why was this being brought up now? Although I had been aware of it happening at the time, it didn’t even seem like a “big” story then, why bring it up on this particular day?

Of course, the truth revealed itself pretty quickly. In an age already marked by instant connectivity and “live” being able to be broadcast around the world, what was actually happening soon came into better focus.

Whether or not the South Tower had been hit when I first tuned in, I no longer remember. Understanding that this wasn’t a flashback to 1993, I was going between watching television, listening to the radio, and relaying back what I was seeing to my mom on the telephone, as she couldn’t watch television at work. I am thankful that I don’t think I saw this part live.

I remember the confusion, too, about who did this. There were some reports that the PLO had claimed responsibility, and there was video of people in the Middle East celebrating our tragedy. If I remember correctly, Yassir Arafat made a plea that these videos not be shown, and for the most part, they were swept down the memory hole.

I did watch the towers fall, live, a thousand miles from the event. And the Pentagon. And reports that there was a car bomb in front of the White House. Hijacked planes. Closing US airspace. A palpable feeling of fear, seeing this unimaginable tragedy unfold before our eyes, and not being sure when the next shoe might drop. Who or what was next? The Sears Tower?

I spent a lot of that day glued to the television. All there was was coverage. Every channel. The over-the-air home shopping network stopped hawking its wares in favor for coverage from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I had both televisions in the house going, and I’d run from one to the other to see if there was anything more to learn, afraid that the day had even more horrors unfolding. In New York, there were a number of buildings that were damaged or destroyed along with the World Trade Center buildings, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church being among them, but I watched World Trade Center 7 as it collapsed that evening.

Outside of New York, there was a gaping hole where a plane had flown into the Pentagon, and a hijacked plane, perhaps on its way to the White House, which had landed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.