Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger Bill Ritchie!

“Help The Bombardier”

The word, ladies and gentlemen, is quango.

I listen to a lot of radio, sometimes, and sometimes it's the same old thing, and sometimes it isn't. For example, once I found this real old dude on Vancouver radio, very religious, oddly personable...even lovable, and listened to him obsessively for a week or two. He's got like a three-hour show on NW or QM or something, on Sunday nights. Resonant, droning voice. He sounds tall. Old. Responsible.

Of course he's completely out of touch with everything.

And the one and only time I met Treice's oncologist Ken, I could've sworn he was that guy.

He loomed into the suddenly-tiny little white cube of the hospital room (with the yellow curtains, I think), and nodded at Kelly, and proceeded to have an eminently reasonable discussion with Treice about her treatment. I don't know if Kelly was intimidated. I'm pretty sure Treice was intimidated. And if they were intimidated, you know I was! Jesus, sometimes I think doctors are like cops: trained to keep objections to a minimum.

My usefulness (such as it is) comes on after that sort of thing is over, generally. Ken's giant dignified body ushered itself from the room, and ten seconds later I scratched my head and wondered aloud:

"Uh...what did that guy say, exactly?"

And Treice, with tears brimming in her eyes, said "See? SEE?!"

It was kind of like being in an episode of "Yes, Minister"...only, you know, with delightful cancer.

Old Ken didn't say a damn thing. Fully analyzed, I believe his remarks actually may have taken information out of the room. One thing I remember: he mentioned to Treice and Kelly that there was an alternative to the chemo drug they were using, that he couldn't speak to the effectiveness of particularly, but it wasn't covered by MSP so if they wanted it they'd have to go private, and pay for it themselves...and the cost of it was about $3000.00 per treatment. Which, I guess, meant after the full course of treatment the price tag would come down at...what? $30,000, $40,000? I remember gulping, and thinking I would totally lose on this episode of The Price Is Right...

Treice and Kelly just looked at each other. Their expressions said, plain as any two expressions I have ever seen in my life: "so why even tell us about it, then?"

After Ken had gloomed his way out, I thought this out loud as well. "Why did he even mention that? What was the point? I mean it isn't even like he said 'good treatment, too bad you can't afford it', he said something more like 'this treatment, in my opinion meh, but y'know if you really really want it...got thirty or forty grand?"

Treice, with the eyes: "See? SEE?!"

I swear, the religious radio dude seems more upfront about things. "Well, I'm not saying it's definitely true that Amy Grant's got the voice of an angel..."

So, Ken seems like a real swell guy, but then again seems doesn't even count in horseshoes and hand grenades...or even religious radio...and poor old Ken, he probably means so well, seems like such a nice old man who doesn't have cancer and can probably put his own odds of surviving the next ten years at somewhere over 95%, why I bet he's got a terrific cottage, with one of those really big Cadillac barbeques on the deck, and I bet his kids are all grown, now. I'm just saying, I don't hate the guy. He exudes likeability, in fact. But...

He no help with curve ball, you know?

So, seriously, no offense to Ken, but if I was in a room with him again I think I would start snapping shit out. "Say, would you mind explaining just why the FUCK YOU'RE BOTHERING TO MENTION THAT, KEN? Is it some sort of contractual obligation? Does Treice's teary nod constitute a verbal contract, should a Crown prosecutor ask you if you handed out full and complete information? What? Is it the ol' C.Y.A. in the cancer clinic? I mean naturally one hates to be fucking RUDE, but we don't workhere, know what I'm saying? This isn't Barney-Fucking-Miller, for us..."

Good God, friends of Treice, I was only there for like an hour! One time!

But there was so much snowin' going on, I felt like I was watching a documentary about Studio 54.

Bah. The word is quango, in case you didn't know. It's a bit of an oldie, as far as acronyms go: Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization. This basically means: appointed people with no oversight. Not necessarily bad: you can certainly talk to them, petition them, have a free and frank exchange of ideas with them. But -- as anyone who's ever dealt with the Islands Trust knows -- after they've listened to you, then they do the talking, and there's no appeal. "Sounds great, Treice! But no." No word is ever so final. Down at B.C. Cancer, they're obviously just doing triage at this point, and it's so goddamn obvious: everybody is walking around in total denial about how much good this does. Deliriously, I imagine I see scenes from Star Trek IV swim before my eyes: "Good God, man, drilling holes in his head isn't the answer!" But where oh where is Dr. McCoy now, when we really need him?

Instead, it appears we're stuck with a very eminent and reassuring Doc Daneeka. You know, from Catch-22? And Treice is Yossarian.

And so here's the thing.

Quangoes can sometimes be good, and not just as Scrabble words. The Islands Trust, so lately impugned by me in this here blogpost, is an organization with a definite political goal (which I even mostly agree with) that carries that goal off handsomely. But there's politically good, and then there's politically good: and sometimes the people in the quango get the shit end of the stick. You know, politically.

There are people saying "thanks so much, but no thanks" to a second round of chemo.

There are people talking to their doctor about how they're going to change their diet, only to have their doctor tell them "That's nice YOU'RE AS GOOD AS DEAD THOUGH."

There are medical personnel who are, unbelievably, MEAN TO CANCER PATIENTS.

And: what's going on here, anyway?

Well, this is another political use of the quango, only it's the not-so-good kind. Because that "Quasi-" that comes before "Autonomous" makes for such lovely, lovely deniability that you can push off any old crap job into it. Because the people running the show on someone else's behalf aren't allowed to really run it, and the people on whose behalf they're running it never have to take any flak for it, and so it just keeps on rolling. Rolling over cancer patients, in this case. Why would a nurse ever be mean to, why would a doctor ever try to perform a hope-en-dectomy, on a patient? Only because that's what happens when people are forced to assume responsibility for very very bad shit that isn't actually their fault. Quite naturally, they start circling the wagons. What do you think the odds are, that any doctor or any nurse at B.C. Cancer -- Ken not excepted -- ever holds out any hope that their patients are going to live? It probably starts in the medical schools: "okay, if you happen to meet a person like this...don't tell them, but we might as well not even waste any time on them, but we will because otherwise we'd just have to straight-up start turning people away." And on into the clinics: "well, there is a treatment, but it wouldn't work, and anyway you couldn't afford it...best to keep using the treatments that won't work that are cheaper..."

Oh, sorry Ken: hurt your feelings?

I say this with complete respect for Ken, or at least all the respect I can muster: it must be really hard not to have your feelings hurt, in that job.

So, who could blame you if you took steps to avoid that?

I certainly couldn't.

Oh, except actually -- I can.

Blast you, Ken. You'd be the worst religious DJ ever. I just don't think your heart would be in it, frankly. "Odds are crap that God exists; guess we're on our own. Meanwhile here's a new one from Amy Grant." I mean I know you're a victim of the quango too, but maybe at some point it'd be appropriate to tell listeners that other stations are offering different programming? And not just say "well, you could always listen to this, but you haven't got the right kind of equipment to tune it in." Yes, we know it's a frustrating job. But why should Treice have to go and find out about DCA and wheatgrass and German clinics on her own? Why should she have to endlessly mess around with the shortwave and the Internet, just to tune in something other than your dignified Eeyore-like voice, just talking about rain all the time? Why? Why?


What kind of a show are you running, there, Aarfy? Why can't you just give her a big folder full of all kinds of information about the other stuff you're not allowed to provide, right when she walks in the door? Why can't you return her phone calls or e-mails? Why oh why won't you let her help the bombardier?

Oh God...how I wish a quango was a type of fruit.

Although I'm pretty sure I already know how it would taste.

Dear Treice: hi. I sort of wanted to trust B.C. Cancer to cure you, but they seem to have fatally screwed that particular pooch. So would it be all right if I just put my confidence in you, now? You, after all, have never let me down in the cancer-fighting department. You always keep swinging, somehow. You are a person a person could have faith in to actually do their job, and so...y'know...

I think somebody ought to give you a medal, or something.

Mushy stuff enclosed under separate cover,


1 comment:

bill said...

Hmm, there were supposed to be a couple italics in there, as I recall...

But oh well!