Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hospital Cat Scams

I had to have a Cat Scan this week.  It’s no wonder health care costs are crazy high, when invariably, the first thing that’s recommended, when you’re sick, is an expensive test to scan you for cats.  The statistics are not readily available (surprise), but I suspect that fewer than one in ten thousand Cat Scans comes back positive.  Just because there’s a machine that can do it doesn’t mean it should be done.  This is a perfect example of big medical corporations marketing products that hospitals don’t really need.  All an aggressive salesperson had to do was convince one hospital administrator to invest a few hundred grand (which, I understand, a hospital can make from one day’s mark-up on Acetaminophen) for the “latest technology,” and every other hospital had to follow suit.  No hospital wanted to be the only one in town without a fancy new Cat Scanning device.  Did any administrator pause to ask, “How in the world would the cat get in there in the first place?”---Evidently not.  Now that universities have cracked down on fraternity cat-gulping parties, abdominal cat diagnoses are actually relatively rare.  Are we supposed to believe that thousands of kittens are wandering into their owner’s open mouths at night, attracted by their snoring?   I know kittens are curious, but that sounds a bit far-fetched.

Furthermore, it seems to me (and granted I don’t have a so-called “medical license”), if a cat were present in the intestinal tract, there would be some indicators apart from the occasional growling from the stomach---for example, fur in the patient’s urine, or cat litter in the stool.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we go back to detecting abdominal cats the old fashioned way, by approaching the patient with a Rottweiler on a leash, which, you’ll remember, had some unintended consequences for the patient when the test results were positive, but couldn’t the presence of a cat be revealed by a much less expensive X-ray?   Wasn’t it a simple X-ray several decades ago now, that helped recording artist Cat Stevens?  A week later, after a relatively simple felinectomy, he was just plain old Yusuf Islam again.

Yes, I know, thousands of cats and kittens mysteriously disappear each year, but shouldn’t we be looking at other, more likely causes than cat-gulping first?  We don’t hear much about cat burglars anymore---are we to assume they all just found honest work--- in this economy?; and what about witches and vampires?   It’s common knowledge that they need cats for ceremonies and potions and such.  But in this environment, where witches have their own lobbyists and vampires have representation in Congress, it’s just not politically correct to say so.  How many more millions of dollars will we have to waste on Cat Scans for the sake of political correctness?   I may be shunned in some circles for saying it, but when cats disappear, I say, check the witch’s house first. 
Once big medical companies saw how much they could make selling Cat Scan machines, it was just a matter of time before someone showed up in a hospital administrator’s office with the next big thing, a “Pet Scan” machine.  Apparently the sales pitch was, “Why administer an expensive test that only scans for cats, when our machine will scan for all pets?  Hamsters, gerbils, puppies and parakeets go missing too.”  

Which reminds me:  we lost a parakeet in the Overlea/Fullerton area of Northeast Baltimore when I was a boy of 7 or 8.  Somebody (probably Kenny) left his cage door unfastened.  Fluffy was green with some black on his wings.  You may have seen the flyers we tacked on some telephone poles.  He would be about 55 years old now---which may be quite a bit older in parakeet years.  By now he might be using a tiny walker, which should make it easier to identify him.  If you’ve seen him, please call Northfield 7-0708. 
But getting back to my story, this week I was in an Emergency Room complaining of intermittent abdominal pain that persisted for a couple weeks.  (Complaining at home and at work didn’t seem to bring any long term relief, so I tried complaining in a hospital).  After the obligatory blood test and a “time out” in a room with just me and an empty cup, the doctor on duty recommended a Cat Scan.  By the way, I noticed a small printed sign at his work station.  I couldn’t read all of it, but as I recall, the first three items were:

  • Have you washed your hands with soap for 15 seconds?

  • Have you greeted the patient warmly, by name? 

  • Have you recommended a Cat or Pet Scan?  

Of course I was reluctant to go through with it, but the doctor implied that it was the only way to get my clothes back, and I wasn’t about to drive home in that hospital gown they loaned me, which was missing several snaps.  I protested:
“I haven’t even owned a cat for at least ten years.”

“Can you really own a cat?  Don’t you mean I haven’t been the caretaker of a cat for at least ten years?”

“Alright, have it your way.  I haven’t been the caretaker of a cat.  The point is it’s extremely unlikely that my abdominal pain is cat related.  If you scan my abdomen you’re as apt to find an abdominal snowman as an abdominal cat.”

“There’s no such thing as an Abdominal Snowman.  There’s an Abominable Snowman.”
“What I’m saying is you won’t find a snowman or a cat.”

“I see, and just how many years of medical training have you had, Mister Sukeeah.”
“Here in the States we pronounce it SaKYa.” 

“According to your chart, it’s spelled S-u-k-h-i-a, and by the rules of pronunciation, it should be pronounced Sukeeah.  Whose medical advice should carry more weight, do you think, the licensed physician with 28 years in practice, or the patient who can’t pronounce his own name correctly?”
He had a point there; I gave up and consented to the scan.  First they made me drink from a bottle of clear liquid the consistency of white glue.  I gathered that this was to hold the supposed cat still during the procedure.  Then they left me alone for about 90 minutes, as if to think about what I had done.  I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to feel bad for drinking the whole bottle (I didn’t), or they wanted me to feel remorse for swallowing a live kitten.  I felt no remorse because I simply had no recollection of it.  I don’t mean that in the sense that Pretty Boy does when he says he has no recollection of swallowing a missing leg of lamb.  I mean I really have no recollection of it.

Then they transported me by a moving bed, ala Bedknobs and Broomsticks, to a room down the hall where they kept the massive Cat Scan machine.  They had me lie on a moving pallet surrounded by the giant whirring Cat Scan wheel, which reminded me of that colossal London Ferris Wheel they call the Eye, so out of place in the London skyline.  Then it struck me:  The London Eye may be Britain’s way of surreptitiously scanning tourists for cats.  As you may know, they’re a lot more surreptitious over there---we Americans are more serendipitous.  An island nation must have strict limits on cat populations, or eventually they’ll have no more birds.  “It’s too expensive, to scan all those tourists,” you say?   Remember they have national health care, so it’s all free. 
So there I was, ready to be scanned.  The recorded voice of a British fellow told me to take a deep breath and hold it.  As I did, the pallet moved a substantial portion of me into the spinning wheel.  Then after 10 seconds or so, the voice of the British fellow told me to carry on breathing.  I assume I got the British voice because I was getting the Bedknobs and Broomsticks themed Cat Scan.  I would have preferred Mary Poppins, but nobody asked me.  I understand they used to have an “It’s a Small, Small World” themed Cat Scan but it drove too many people mad.  The whole process was painless, as well it should have been, since I knew it was a big waste of money.  Before long I was back in my ER room, awaiting the results of the scan with my lovely wife Darla, who has never been scanned for cats. 

After about an hour, a doctor came in with the shocking news.  Although they found no cat (just as I had maintained all along), there was some reason to think one may have been there recently, as the doctor said the scan revealed, to put it in plain English, “diverse ticks in my litis.”  The technical name is, I think, “Diverticulitis.”  I was shocked, both because of the creepiness of internal ticks, and also because before that moment, I wasn’t even aware that I had a litis, or exactly where it was.  I can tell you this: the presence of diverse ticks didn’t make my denials of kitten-gulping any easier for the hospital staff to swallow.   We had to endure some uncomfortable stares on the way out. 
At least Darla is standing by me through all the accusations and innuendoes (although not as close as before).  She says she believes me when I say I have no idea how those ticks got in there.  The doctor prescribed some Oxycodone to ease my pain (just a handful---not enough to make it worth your while to break into my home) and some antibiotics to kill my ticks.  But in my medical opinion, antibiotics kill not only bad bugs, but good bugs, and with ticks, I’ve always had good results just touching them with hot match sticks and flushing them down the toilet.  I’m presently trying to access them through my belly-button.  Wait---maybe that’s how they got in there!

Actually, I’m taking my antibiotics, and I’m grateful for modern medicine, and for the privilege of serving a generous church that provides good health insurance.  While we’re on the subject of medicine, the Bible says,
“A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) 

God designed us with the ability to laugh, and he expects us to use it.  Humor is His gift to us.  From time to time, it may even come across in the preaching of God’s Word.  There are of course grave truths in Scripture, and they are to be proclaimed with earnestness, and seriousness, but preaching is the communication of God’s truth by and through an individual servant, and if the preacher is authentic, and he should be, his personality will come through. 

The great 19th century Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon was once challenged for allowing his humor to seep into the pulpit on occasion.  He responded with something to the effect that if the complainant knew how often, while preaching, something humorous occurred to him, and he refrained from saying it, he would commend him.  Spurgeon’s preaching was God’s Word communicated through his unique personality.  Zeal and compassion and earnestness and depth and pathos and energy and boldness and yes, humor were all aspects of that personality.  
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…”  (James 1:17)   I believe that humor is one of those gifts.  Without it, things could get a bit overwhelming here, because we face bigger problems than ticks.   Sometimes things may look as black to us as they do for a kitten in a colon, and if we could, we’d hop in a big British bed and fly away, like a parakeet.  At such times, a little laughter can do us good---like medicine---or like a leg of lamb.


  1. No kittens or cats were actually gulped or harmed in any way in the writing of this article---as far as I know. However the leg of lamb and Fluffy remain unaccounted for.

  2. I have Fluffy. If you want to see him alive, put two crisp hundred dollar bills in a plain white envelope---no, wait, make it 3 crisp hundred dollar bills in a red envelope---you know, the kind you people use for Valentine cards, and send it to Tom Hum---er, just tape it to your mailbox---I wouldn't want you to strain yourself, you being so sick and all, and so unaccustomed to manual labor.

    1. Dear Anonymous, I put 3 hundred dollar bills in a red envelope and taped them to my mailbox, but it didn't work. I didn't see Fluffy alive. I'm thinking maybe the bills weren't crisp enough.

    2. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. Those bills were old and limp. When I ask for crisp bills, that's what I expect. Now you will need to put FOUR crisp hundred dollar bills in a YELLOW envelope and tape it on your mailbox. Time is running out for Fluffy. My assistant, Liz has been removing one feather each day our demands have not been met. Fluffy's wings are starting to look as thin as your hair.