Eye… Eye Who Have Nothing…

eyeballIt’s somewhat ironic that, less than 48 hours after stating how I’ve not been to the doctor for anything meaningful in almost twenty years, I found myself being driven to the ER at the local hospital, just after midnight. Things began to unravel as I finished up on the ‘puter and, wearily, rubbed my eyes. [Ping] The vision in my left eye grew blurry, as my rubbing had knocked the contact lens off the center of the eyeball. No big: this kind of thing happens two or three times a week, and is a peril of wearing lenses. Go to the bathroom, push lens back to center of eye, blink ferociously for a bit – problem solved.

Except, this time, I couldn’t find the lens.

Oh, it was in my eye somewhere. Of that I was fairly sure. But normally, it’s just tucked up in the corner somewhere. Or at least, visible on my eyeball, with the aid of a mirror. Now, not so much. I rubbed, prodded, tweaked, pried, massaged, manipulated, squeezed and thesaurused my eyeball: nothing. Maybe it wasn’t in there at all? My eye was feeling pretty icky, and looking kinda grim, but given I’d just put it through the opthalmic version of eight rounds with Mike Tyson [and the bad Tyson, not the coke-snorting, strip-club patronizing parody of himself he turned into], that was no surprise.

There followed a brief period of crawling on hands and knees around the floor of the office, with a flashlight, hoping to catch the glint of something small and shiny. 38 cents richer, and with fluffy knees, I emerged, still in a state of contactlessness. Even the intervention of Chris, armed with a maglite torch, failed to reveal anything in the depths of my eye, and the decision was made to fling myself on the mercies of the American healthcare system. Now, we did so with some trepidation, a) possessing no health insurance [frankly, there are many better things to do with the $250 per month it costs] and b) having seen Sicko, in which Michael Moore shows how health-care in the US for the uninsured is abysmal, and far better in places like Cuba, Canada and the UK, where it’s “free”.

maddoctorWhile, for the purposes of this story, I’m being driven to the ER at Paradise Valley Hospital by Chris, I’d like to go on a rant. The National Health Service in the UK costs over 100 billion pounds per year. Where the hell does Michael Moore think that comes from? Donations by Janeane Garofalo? No: there is no such thing as ‘free’ health care, contrary to what he claimed, approximately one million times in the course of Sicko. There is only health care funded by taxation, so that the rich or healthy [and I fall into the latter category much more than the former] are forced to pay more than their share, subsidizing the sickly. Here in America, rather than having National Insurance taken out of your pay before you see it, you are at least given the choice of rolling the dice and taking your chances. Which is how we came rolling into the car-park at PVH.

It was quiet. Eerily quiet, compared to my previous trip to casualty, which happened after I went down while in the mosh pit at a Brixton Academy Cramps concert, and ended up needing stitches put in my lip. I still have the bump to remember that night at King’s College Hospital by, back in – and I’m going by Google here – February 1990. I do recall having to wait a while, and the med. student who sewed me up very clearly not believing that I was actually sober. No such issue here – not, not the question-marks over my sobriety, the waiting. Up to the front desk, fill in the basic paper-work and get taken into the back where a rather dykey looking nurse took my blood-pressure. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but let’s just say when you Google Image search for nurses, that isn’t what you get. [Link very NSFW – like you expected anything else?]

Then it was off into the depths of the hospital – the eerie quiet continued, to the point where I expected to go past a room and catch a glimpse of some unspeakable atrocity, or zombies munching down on a patient, that kind of thing. We were finally parked in a room, and cooled our heels gently waiting for the medical professional to show up. A cleaner mopped the hall outside – until her pager went off, and we debated whether a cleaner in a hospital made a good wage or not. Chris didn’t seem to think so, but I reckon, given the “stuff” they are going to be involved in cleaning up, they would deserve a good deal more than someone cleaning an office. The speculation was brought to an end by the arrival of Dr. Geares. Or George. Or Geesas. Look: it was a doctor signing my release slip – you really think it’s going to be legible?

qtipThe actual medical procedure part of the evening was, to be honest, an anti-climax. Some numbing drops in the eye, and Doctor Whatever began to operate. Well, it was more a question of peeling back the eyelid and getting me to look in various directions. That allowed the offending contact lens to be located [phew – at least it was in my eye], and removed with the most precise of surgical instruments: a Q-Tip. My saviour was thanked effusively, and he swept out to the next stupid idiot emergency case awaiting him on the night shift.

More documentation followed, with an orderly asking me my medical history, etc. – which seemed like it was a little too late, but there you go. My blood pressure was taken once again too, and we filed out, towards the most painful and tricky part of the procedure: paying for it. Chris’s estimate was three to four hundred dollars, but it turned out they give you a hefty discount for paying on the night. I imagine they have a lot of “undocumented immigrants,” whom they are obliged to treat, but from whom they have some difficulty extracting payment – me, not so much. You take credit-cards? Perfect. Total cost $140, which is about what two weeks of medical insurance for Chris and I would cost.

Final tally: one hour. 30 minutes hanging around; 25 minutes bureaucracy of some form; five minutes actual medical treatment. Still, I felt a great deal better leaving than coming back, though it took a couple of weeks before I was brave enough to put my contact lenses back in. All told, my first experience of the American medical system was a pleasant surprise: efficient, effective, and you pay for what you need, not a penny more. And that aspect certainly appeals to the libertarian in me.

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Shock Treatment

Dir: Jim Sharman
Star: Cliff De Young, Jessica Harper, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn

shock2In the early 80’s, it became clear to the makers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that their creation was not quite the box-office bomb it initially seemed, but was developing, literally, a life of its own at midnight screenings. Inevitably, they saw the opportunity to cash in and do the same kind of thing again. After all, what was Rocky, except a bunch of cheesy songs, OTT acting and lurid content: how hard can it be to put that sort of thing together?

Well, if ever anyone thinks it’s possible to go out and deliberately make a cult movie, they should be strapped down and forced to watch this abomination, Clockwork Orange style. Which is pretty much the only way anyone will be able to get through it: our tolerance for bad films is near-unparalleled, but inside about 10 minutes, Chris was suggesting we should cut our losses and bail out. The setting is Denton, the small town in which Rocky opened, but centers on Brad (De Young) and Janet (Harper), now not-so-happily married. Matters come to head when they attend a TV taping of The Marriage Maze, a game-show hosted by the blind Bert Schnickt. He “wins”a stay in Dentonvale, the local loony bin run by siblings Cosmo and Nation McKinley (O’Brien and Quinn), while she is turned into a singing star by Farley Flavors, the head of a local fast-food company. He’s also played by De Young because, it turns out, he’s actually Brad’s long-lost twin, with designs on Janet, and the whole things is a set-up to this end.

Technically, the above would be a spoiler, but when the original product is as rancid as this, there’s not much that can possibly be spoiled. In the documentary accompanying the recent DVD release, several people make the claim that the film was simply ‘ahead of its time,’ foreshadowing the rise of reality television and shows like American Idol, which manufacture celebrities. Even granting that may have been the case (and it’s a stretch), it has achieved the remarkable feat of going from ahead of its time, to past its sell-by date, without ever actually passing through “relevant” at any point. Every aspect of the script now seems completely toothless, the satirical equivalent of a bout of constipation: there’s a great deal of straining going on, with nothing to show for it.

shock1Certainly, it’s no Rocky Horror, with the key difference being the cast. Instead of future Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon, and Tim Curry bestride the entire movie like a corsetted Colossus, we get a Who’s Who – or more likely, just Who? – of eighties B-list British celebs. Barry Humphreys! Ruby Wax! Rik Mayall! Where’s Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear when you need them? [In fairness, Curry was offered the role of Farley Flavors, but declined, apparently due to being unsure about whether he could do the necessary American accent] Jessica Harper looks particularly out of place, and appears to be be rather less comfortable than when she was being stalked round a school in Suspiria. One can hardly blame her: crawling through a room filled with razor-wire would probably be as pleasant an experience as watching this film.

Then there’s the songs. Oh, dear: yes, then there are the songs. Here is one particular lyrical nugget which stood out, from the all-time classic, Bitchin in the Kitchen:

Dear knife drawer
Now won’t you help me to face life more
Oh, trashcan
Don’t you put the dirt on me
Oh percolator, why are we always sooner or later
Bitchin’ in the kitchen or crying in the bedroom all night

I have known eight-year olds who could come up with better doggerel than that. O’Brien has certainly done his fair share of genuine classics: not just Rocky and The Time-Warp, but also the wonderful Name Your Poison, sung by Christopher Lee in Captain Invincible. As a contrast, here’s a sample of its lyrics: “There’s nothing sicker in society / Than a lack of liquor and sobriety / So, down the hatch / Here’s mud in your eye / Take a bracer with a chaser / Wash it down with rye!” In contrast, the songs from Shock Treatment feel, at best, half-finished, as if they had gone straight from the back of a napkin onto the soundstage [the entire film was shot in the UK, a strike in the US having prevented any location work there].

shock3So, the story is uninteresting, the performances poor and the songs utterly forgettable at best. Is there anything that salvages proceedings? Well, the look of the film is somewhat interesting: the set and costume designers were the same as in Rocky Horror, and do quite a good job of capturing the hyper-realistic feel of the televisual world. That’s it. Otherwise, it’s almost impossible to agree with the participants who claim this was not a “prequel” or a “sequel” to Rocky, but an “equal.” That’s a completely ludicrous claim, without any merit: this is a shameless cash-grab, possessing none of the sense of fun and transgression that propelled the original into immortality. Rocky Horror was as clear an example of capturing lightning in a bottle as could be imagined, and this misguided attempt – complete with painfully-obvious pauses for ‘audience participation’ – should have been strangled at birth.

The other kind of “shock treatment,” the one involving electrodes and high-voltages, would be a good deal more enjoyable.

E
[March 2009]

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The Days of Swine(Flu) and Roses

swinefluThere’s nothing the media likes more than a good pandemic panic. I recall the one that swept Britain back in 1994, about necrotising fasciitis – the ‘flesh-eating bug’ that was going to make the legs of everyone in the United Kingdom fall off. Needless to say, I type this with a count of fully-functioning limbs that does not stop at three, and that’s pretty much the way these panics work. A disease gets its 15 minutes of fame, far out of proportion to the threat it poses to the general population, and then fades back to the obscurity from which it came. See also SARS, which reached Illness of the Month status in early 2003, but worldwide killed under 800 people. To put that number into perspective, that’s rather less than die each year from being struck by lightning. Anyone remember West Nile Virus? Thought not.

And so we turn to the latest candidate: swine flu, which at the start of the week, was being promoted like with all the fervour befitting the viral equivalent of Susan Boyle [who is also viral in her own way, I suppose]. Here in Arizona, we are in a state of near-panic, being on the front-lines, and right next door to the epicenter in Mexico City. Er, ok: so Mexico City is actually over 1,250 miles away from Phoenix, and we are in fact closer to Medicine Hat in Canada. But Mexico is just over the border. And all those illegals who sneak over the fence at night, as well as bringing in crime, anchor babies and leafblowers, are now also infected with something that borders on Ebola? Little wonder the talk-radio attack-dogs on the right-wing are frothing. Witness this quote, from probably the worst of them, Michael Savage, on April 24:

Make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico. If we lived in saner times, the borders would be closed immediately… Could our dear friends in the radical Islamic countries have concocted this virus and planted it in Mexico knowing that you, [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano, would do nothing to stop the flow of human traffic from Mexico?

Now, even as someone who favours immigration controls [dammit, I went through the proper channels to get my Green Card, so have little tolerance for those who opt to ignore the law], that’s pure bullshit, and is just being used by rabble-rousers like Savage to whip up xenophobia. There are many things for which illegal immigrants can be blamed [the inability to scan FM radio without hearing mariachi music, for one], but swine flu is not one of them. It’s reminiscent of the way, in medieval Europe, Jews were blamed for the Black Death – with the resulting pogroms also conveniently canceling the money owed to them. What brought swine flu to the US was tourism, not immigration: the infected aren’t thinking about starting a new life, they would be quite happy just to hang on to the one they’ve got, thank you very much.

There is, admittedly, a good deal of truth to the idea that immigrants carry diseases, and potentially lethal ones at that. Just ask the Native Americans: a decade after Hernán Cortez arrived in Mexico, some sources estimate that the native population had been reduced, mostly through smallpox, by almost three-quarters, from 25 million to 6.5. Things were little better further North, with smallpox – whether deliberately or unconsciously – a major factor in clearing large tracts of land for colonization. Frankly, in the unlikely event that Jose and Raul are responsible for the ‘flu, it’d hardly register a tick on the Karmic Payback scale. Thus far, Montezuma’s Revenge it ain’t.

swineflu2Yes, technically, swine flu is a pandemic – since that just means an infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region. Basically, in the modern world, just about any infectious disease will qualify, since with modern travel, the chances of any kind of quarantine being successful are slim to note. As a result, what was lurking in Kowloon Harbor on Sunday afternoon can be getting coughed up in your local pub 24 hours later. However, modern technology has also brought us much better weapons with which to fight such diseases: anti-virals such as Tamiflu and, of course, a vaccine can also be developed against the particular strain. That’s where catching this in its early stages is very helpful.

On the other hand, Vice-president Joe Biden…not so much. Here’s his quotes from the Today show on Thursday: “I would tell members of my family – and I have – I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now. It’s not going to Mexico, it’s you’re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway… If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing. If you’re in a closed aircraft or a closed container, a closed car, a closed classroom, it’s a different thing.” Way to maintain a sense of proportion, Biden – it’s almost enough to make you wish Sarah Palin was the Veep instead. The truth is, “deadly” and “easily transmittable” tend to be mutually exclusive, for good evolutionary reasons. It’s just not in the virus’s interest to kill the host, or do anything that stops them from being mobile and capable of spreading the disease.

Despite the basically trivial nature of the ‘pandemic’ to date, the media has been all over it, because there’s nothing they like more than generating hysteria and fear in the population. Something like, “After the break: it’s coming from Mexico, and it can kill you. We’ll be right back,” keeps people watching, in an increasingly-fragmented media world, where there is more competition for eyeballs than ever before. But, let’s be honest: what kills people in Mexico is not what kills people in the United States. Studies have conclusively shown that, there, it’s spiders, drug cartels and breathing air with the consistency and organic content of chunky salsa. Here, it’s obesity, spree killers and NASCAR accidents. And if you go into an American hospital with the belief you have swine flu, you may well die – but it’s more likely to be medical malpractice that’s to blame, rather than the virus.

Look, folks. I am a card-carrying hypochondriac. Even though I haven’t visited a doctor since graduating college in 1987, save required medicals for mortgage and Green Card purposes, I have at varying times convinced myself I am suffering from: multiple sclerosis, AIDS, diabetes, and three different kinds of cancer (skin, colon and lymph node). And I still don’t find myself in the slightest bit concerned about swine flu. Really. You people…