Linear Thinking

It’s a well known fact that 64.7 percent of American physicians spend late August on Martha’s Vineyard, and deserve to. You knew that, but may not know that this year, the percentage unexplainably reached a record 82.4 percent, causing increased pressure on the island’s fragile ecosystem and referring added weight to the ocean floor. This in turn indirectly caused the recent calamity in Italy, severely damaging the beautiful towns of Amatrice and Piscaro del Tronto, and causing tremors as far away as Myanmar on the same day, August 24.

The indisputable source of this information is a new scientific method making the rounds in the U.S. presidential elections: someone said so. You may think Candidate Trump is original in this line of reasoning. But the Dalai Lama predated him by at least fourteen years, citing it in his discourse to 3000 listeners at the U.S. National Cathedral on the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those interested can view the service here (for reasons unknown, the transcript is no longer available).

I love His Holiness the Fourteenth for many things, but not for his linear thinking. I am also grateful he does not seek to be president of the United States.

Here is my point, and I want to put it out before the memory fades: The food poisoning occurred Sunday, August 21. By Monday, I understood that the symptoms weren’t related to food poisoning after all. I began to suspect kidney stones. I went to an emergency room at 9:30 p.m., I won’t say which hospital because I can’t afford a lawyer.

They asked me the reason for my visit. I said, “Fever, vomiting, localized and general pain, nausea, and something strange in my urine. Maybe it’s kidney stones.”

“Ah,” they said. “Let’s have a look. It could be kidney stones.” Good thinking.

At midnight, the reasoning shifted to cancer. Well maybe no catheter, in that case.

After two CT scans, by 2:00 a.m. the working theory changed to kidney cyst. I was on a very enabling drip and passed through these three different phases oh so sweetly.

The ER discharged me at 4:50 a.m. August 23, with written orders to have a follow-up by a urologist preferably within 24 hours, but no later than 48 hours from my time of discharge. It included the phone numbers of two urologists, one of them on the staff of the hospital. Damn, I thought. If I’d gone in during working hours, I might have seen one quicker.

The next day from home, I lifted my gravity-challenged head and dialed the numbers, both of them incorrect. Not even close, not even the correct area code. I phoned around to numbers posted on the Urology-R-Us website, taking in two states and a district, the DMV (the Washington DC metropolitan area.)

No urologists around. They were mostly on Martha’s Vineyard as noted, a few others in game parks and some at beaches and pubs. But, Urology-R-Us did have correct phone numbers for the docs on my discharge papers. I called them, one office I counted 22 times. No answering device. A receptionist did pick up the 23rd call, and I got an appointment eleven days from the time of ER discharge. I took it gladly, but kept looking. Being a patient in DC is very competitive and demanding. Only the best succeed.

I used the word “cancer” a few times for emphasis in the following dozen calls, but it didn’t work. What they wanted to hear was, “Maybe sometime in mid to late September.”

I landed a physician referral service in northern Virginia. The desk said, “Here are three names, but they are all in pediatrics. Is that a problem for you?”

I said, “Not at all, just so you know I haven’t been a child for some decades. I hope they deal with kidney issues.”

“No problem, sir, they can surely do that. Here are three.”

I wrote them down and said, “So they are all in pediatrics?”

She answered, “No, none of them.”

“Sorry for asking,” I said.

Reader, you have been through this sort of thing and know I am not making any of this up, (okay, maybe “Urology-R-Us”).

I got an appointment from another service for August 25, the third day of my ER discharge. Not with an MD, but a nurse practitioner. The referral service said, “Will this be ok?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Nurse practitioner. Great.”

I saw the nurse Thursday morning. She asked, “Is there any pain? There shouldn’t be.”

“There is,” I said. “Right here.”

“There shouldn’t be,” she countered.

“Then I’m wondering why did I go to the emergency room Monday night?”

“You did the right thing. No pain, right?”

“Right,” I said. “I must have been mistaken.”

At that point an MD stepped in, tall, melancholic man with a drooping moustache.

“I’m glad to meet you, Doctor. The ER said kidney stones, then cancer, then cyst.”

“Don’t interrupt,” the doctor said. I would have apologized, but it would have been another interruption. “It’s a cyst on the kidney, 5.5 cm,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any pain.”

“Very grateful,” I said, figuring with my thumb and finger what must have been 5.5 cm, about three inches. I thought: Alien, the Remake.

“Is that kind of big?” I asked.

“We’ve seen bigger,” he said.

“Is it possible anything might go wrong?” I asked.

“It’s possible,” he said.

“Then what?” I said.

“Then go back to the emergency room.”


I am not at all seeking to ding the so-called “broken medical system” in the United States. If there is such a thing, it’s not because of Obamacare or socialized medicine or single payer or vigilante justice or whatever you want to blame. It’s because there lacks linear thinking in our country at this time. The same happens with power companies, banks, universities, condos, schools, phones, gravel spreaders, and kitchen supplies, as we all know.

Here is my point: people are not getting oxygen to their brain, and need to fix this: Kundalini or HathaYoga, TM, candle flames, longer vacations, or maybe just deep breathing. The oxygen isn’t getting there. It’s a well-known fact. Somebody said so.

Donald Trump is surely misleading in his obnoxious assertions. But you can’t be wrong all the time, and maybe one talking point merits consideration: America could lose its greatness if we aren’t vigilant. People should inhale more (air) and very urgently, and concentrate on fewer things at once, then there could be hope. But toot sweet, before it’s too late.

If not, then probably not.

Dan Whitman teaches Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

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