I have left my family in Germany and successfully arrived in tepid San Antonio, TX for 28 days of training to become an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps (pronounced ‘core’ not ‘corpse,’ though both work pretty well).
XBox – A Medical Necessity
“Dr. SW101,” Says the curly-haired assistant, “will you sign this memo.”
I don’t look up. As usual, I don’t read the memo, reaching for the closest pen and signing as fast as possible. I look up at him, smiling cheerfully. “What’d I just authorize?”
“Oh, you just told General Forth that the unit has medical need for 6 additional XBoxes.”
I pause, wondering why I’m so morally opposed to all paperwork that I can’t bring myself to even look at paperwork unless I absolutely have to.
“Xbox,” I say, brows furrowing. “Do you get ’em at the pharmacy?”
“No!” He says, cloyingly earnest. “You’re SO funny, Dr. SW101. You should write a blog!”
“I do.” I say, feeling sardonic, looking dour. I reach for Volume I of Harrison’s Internal Medicine. I lick a thumb and start flipping through the thousand-page tome. “Hmmmm, Xbox. Nope. Nothing here.”
Assistant waits dutifully, no doubt inwardly rolling his eyes while clutching his well-typed letterheaded memo, with my signature still drying at the bottom.
“OH! Right. I’m only in Volume I. Stupid me. I should be in Volume II, where the X’s are.” I pause. “Just a minute,” I say, reaching for the second book. A few minutes of earnest searching, “Nooh. Darn. I just don’t see anything talking about how XBox is an accepted therapy for anything. Not even my favorite disease of all time – mitochondrial infectitis.”
“You’re kidding, right?” He says, now looking worried. “We can get the Red Cross to buy XBoxes for the unit if you say they’re medically warranted.”
“So, my patients – most of whom have seizure disorders, PTSD and post-combat anxiety – can sit around all day blowing each other up and staring at flickering lights? Maybe I should prescribe a Rave too, so we can add drugs to the strobe lights. Or would they be used for the Xbox version of Myst or something?”
Assistant gets all serious, fearing the loss of his beloved memo. He starts reading some of the Pulitzer Prize material, “Gaming has become a central element to the Soldier’s past time. When they return from war zones, the lifelike quality of the Xbox combat games approximate the environment they just left. For many, this represents a “return” to their former lives, thus producing a sense of calm and reassurance.”
“I said that?!” I exclaim, eyes wide. “What kind of crap-pile hash was I smokin’ when I wrote that letter?”
“Oh, huh. Um. Well, if you didn’t notice…I wrote it.” Says the assistant, looking dejected.
Short of tearing the letter out of his hands, and no doubt derailing an already fast-moving train with lots of passengers, I know I’m on the hook.
“Ok. You win. Xboxes all around! On me.”
Relief, profusion, gagging urgency and more of that I-want-to-help-soldiers-but-won’t-listen-to-reason earnestness. “Oh, THANK you! Man, you have no idea what this will mean to the guys.”
“Can we just agree that you got me to sign yet another of those goofy Army things where you’re not really asking for medical opinion but if I sign the memo about 25 people will have busy stuff to do and somebody somewhere will get something to further the impression that they’re entitled to things that the average American pays for?”
“Can we further agree that Xbox is not an accepted medical therapy for anything?
“Yep.” Confidence growing…clearly the doctor is too weak to actually stop any administrative freight trains now.
“Fine. You have your memo.”
He turns to leave. Then turns back, “Oh, and about that memo for the massage chairs…”
But I don’t hear him. I’ve crawled under my desk, looking for the Lost Thumbtack. I don’t “find” the thing until I hear my door open and close. Carefully I look up….he’s standing there, hand on the doorknob. He’s smiling, one of those serious smiles that makes perfectly clear that nobody’s fooling anybody. “Find your thumbtack?”
I sigh. The sound is tired in my ears. “Yes. But I just tossed another one down there to go look for later.” He doesn’t say anything. “Yeah, the massage chairs. Bring me the memo. Until then, take this script-” I scribble onto a piece of paper.
He crossed the room and takes the script from my hand, smiling.
1, bid. Do not swallow.
Yes, throwing a few words out there again. Can’t help m’self. Been a bit.
Living in Europe insulates the average human from goofy, over-the-top language meant to get people to do and think in ways that OTHER people want them to. So, I haven’t been very caught up in, or all that impressed by, all the politics and steamy language coming out of my home country these past months.
Now the election is finally over, we find that Republicans have “swept” themselves into a level of “power” that assures exactly zero will happen unless they work with all the Democrats and Independents that never lost their jobs. Some people think all the upcoming wrangling is a bad thing; I think it’s great. A super-active government rarely doesn’t do anything well. There IS a type of government that “gets things done” almost immediately, with little debate. It’s called a dictatorship. If you’re smitten with that idea, move to North Korea and try THAT speedy idea on and see how you like it.
Anyway, I received a link to a very persuasive and scary speech given by an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. David Janda, wherein he outlined the horrors and sneaky tricks piled into the Obama health care bill. His speech was in support of Rob Steele, a cardiologist-turned-politician likely because he was mad as hell at the terrible direction of the country (*yawn*, aren’t we all?). Presumably, said cardiologist is now back in the clinic, since he thoroughly
lost the election of the 15th Congressional District of Michigan to John Dingell something like 83k votes to 118k votes. Apparently, the Dingells have run that district for generations. If you’re looking for nutty, inflammatory, manipulative language, look no further than at a political battle between a challenger losing in the polls as s/he tries to unseat a longstanding incumbent.
The gist of Dr. Janda’s speech is how Obama intends to RATION health care. This actually sparked my interest. I don’t really care about health care system politics; I’d rather just see patients, frankly. But I have to just say to my fledgling SW101 crowd, I SUPPORT RATIONING. Of every public resource. Food. Gas. Sex (um, although I’d readily opt out of the “public” option).
So many people take the idea of rationing to be unequivocally bad…as if it’s totally wrong and even beyond debate. That’s the tack of Dr. Janda. It’s something we all KNOW is wrong. Like sticking needles in the eyes of baby squirrels or stomping on halloween pumpkins.
Incidentally, Janda is a specialist, supporting another specialist. Primary care docs like me aren’t especially pleased with how specialists have garnered power and money for themselves in the AMS (Am. Med. System). In particular, I’m speaking of orthopedic surgeons and cardiologists. Specialists make fabulous money by ordering tests and procedures, none of which have ever been regulated or rationed in any way. Echo’s and caths pay for the boat, private school and vacations to S. Pacific islands nobody can name. Don’t tell me the only force driving clinical decisions is scientific evidence and standards of clinical care…money is money. But even so, I’m for rationing.
Let me say that I’m not happy about Obamacare. It was said well @ a recent conference, “who’s going to do a better job coming up with a fair, affordable national health care plan, 189 laywers in a room for half a year, or 10 family doctors in a room for a week? Obama went with the lawyers, he should have gone with the docs.”
That said, I FULLY AND COMPLETELY agree with rationing because it’s a necessity. In training, I followed a patient in the ICU who was costing close to 1 million dollars a day of PUBLIC MONEY for the last 4 months of her life. Somebody, somewhere needed to compassionately deny further intensive care to this woman, instead providing dignified hospice end-of-life management. Her case justified ONLY taxpayer-funded hospice care but nobody had the cajones to tell her that.
Every precious resource, if pooled for the common good, needs to be rationed. It’s where we get the term ‘rational’ and there’s a reason for it. Closer to home, my sister apparently has a University doctor telling her that she needs a thousand dollar procedure (colonoscopy). The procedure is not done by this doc’s specialty, and my sister hasn’t even had a rudimentary work-up to justify the cost of the scope. She has not had a professional analyze of the risks vs. the benefits of doing it, either. Yet she’s already being told that she needs this procedure.
Remember…EVERY test and procedure has significant risk associated with it. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the doc my sis sees for a scope is a specialist? And, since that specialist pays for the Benz and sailboat from scope income, wouldn’t it be nice to know that he moved in a stepwise fashion through the GI workup process, a process that is peer-reviewed and widely accepted as essential before a scope is ordered? This is the ‘rationing’ process that Obamacare advocates. It puts serious limits on specialists in the provision of their care when it comes to big-ticket stuff like scopes, imaging and surgery.
But remember, we’re talking about rules in effect ONLY if you intend to get your neighbor to pay for your health care. YOU are welcome to pay for your own scope any time you wish. YOU can fund your own health insurance – one that doesn’t make docs do ANYTHING before they dig into your body – if you want. I watched it work this way in Israel, and it was a pretty good deal.
However, the fact is most Americans believe they are SO important that they have the right to be treated like kings…paid for by peasants. But ethically, Americans have no right to whatever care they want whenever they want it, if they also expect someone else to pay for it.
The AMS does too many procedures and tests. The result of both is astronomical costs and HARM TO PATIENTS (through false-positive test results and procedure errors). So, not only is care rationing ethical and less costly, it is absolutely safer for patients. Healthcare is NOT safe. There is a risk-benefit ratio that must be considered any time a patient comes in contact with the health care system. Waiting for non-urgent care (knee replacements) and rationing of tests and procedures is ethical, cheaper and flat-out safer.
Incidentally, I argued this point in a debate in med school…waay before Obamacare. I have seen nothing since that time to sway my opinion. In fact, training and practice have only solidified that opinion with real-world facts.
Obama didn’t make our health care system right, but he did make it better. The Tea Party idea of repealing the new law is lunacy. If they REALLY want a free-market system, they need to dispense with EMTALA laws which dictate that ER docs (and now other specialties too) are required to see any and every patient. THIS IS UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE!! It’s just the most inefficient, ineffective and expensive system in the world. We do have a social healthcare system. We just need to make it rational…starting with sensible rationing of limited resources.
- Myths of The Health Care Reform Law/defense of Obamacare (socyberty.com)
- “The Hill: Obama calls for compromise, won’t budge on tax cuts” and related posts (hyscience.com)
- New Medicare chief speaks out against rationing (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Obama: I’m thinking maybe my problem is poor messaging (hotair.com)
- 98% right (greedygoblin.blogspot.com)
- Freedom, rationality & religion (stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com)
It’s Not Just Sex
A good approximation of how sex and intimacy is regarded by the U.S. Armed Forces can be summed up in the phrase I heard recently: “If you needed a wife…we’da issued you one.”
These days, the U.S. Army is perhaps the most chaste and constrained military organization on planet earth. No drinking on duty, no sex, no pillaging, no cavorting…and go easy on the damn swear words.
Contrast this with the Russian Army, and German, which frequently serves beer with lunch; the harder stuff after dinner. And numerous armies – no joke – provide prostitutes to their deployed troops. Effectively, a little mini-platoon comprised of practitioners of the world’s oldest profession gets sent to war zones right along with the soldiers. No doubt this idea is regarded by these armies as a Godzillian leap up the ladder of human rights. In the past, when victorious they just raped the women (and men) of their vanquished quarry. At times, a veritable sexual bonanza was promised as the leading incentive to engage in vicious battle in the first place.
Members of the U.S. Armed Forces by contrast, seem expected to never have sex of any kind. If sexual organs didn’t come already attached to the bodies of their troops, I’m rather certain the Army would have confiscated all tissue related to human reproduction – and especially the related pleasures of it – on the first day of basic training, relegating every appendage to iron storage boxes next to the gold bars in Fort Knox. “You can have your clitoris back after your 20, soldier. Until then, kill stuff. And like it.”
I’m a happily-married, loyal-to-death-do-us-part, honest-to-a-fault type of husband who, with the perfectly understandable exceptions of Rachel McAdams and Jennifer Connely, can provide infinite assurances to his wife that she has minimal reason to fear infidelity (in kind, if she ever meets Johnny Depp in a smoky, sultry, bean-baggy, beatnik bar…she has my blessing). That said, I think the “Hooker Platoon” is a great idea. Presumably, said professionals are well-paid, in control of their lives, and free of drugs. Like it or not, humans are sexual beings and they go about obtaining it in a myriad of ways. Might as well make it safe, fair, protected and consensual, even if questionably moral.
But what about the ones who aren’t deployed? Or the ones who, by choice, remain celibate as they await – with admirable fidelity – their dear lover back home? What about the people who have returned from over a year’s deployment, waay beyond ready to re-start a healthy, loving sexual relationship with their spouses?
Unfortunately, many soldiers return from war zones with major emotional and physical damage – and major problems having sex. PTSD, insomnia, chronic pain, depression and anxiety all affect sexual ability. And these problems are like cockroaches…if you have one, you probably have others. Worse, the meds used to treat the above problems often severely inhibit sexual function too. Am I the only one who sees the Faustian irony in “You can be happy…OR you can have sex. Not both. Your choice.” For many (including me), that choice is an oxymoron…emphasis on moron.
While not always the problem, erectile dysfunction is one of the more common issues I deal with. Given the ubiquitous commercials displaying medically-enhanced virile men, one would think ED wouldn’t be such a problem. And it is true…a pill can solve the problem sometimes. Cool, right? A nice, easy fix. The problem is that sex is considered by the Army to be something of a sport. Golf, but morally suspect and generally distrusted. As if to clarify their position, one of the more odd policies I’ve seen is the meet-you-1/20th-of-the-way idea of providing 6 pills of Levitra per month for up to 3 months for erectile dysfunction. 6. For 3 months. Then…good luck.
But 6 pills? A month? I know they’re expensive – something like 10 bucks a pill – but who came up with a number like that? Was he (or she…or it) ever in a loving, happy sexual relationship? Had it already donated the entirety of its copulation gear to NORAD for weapons testing? Turns out the decision comes from the Department of Defense. Yep. The guys buying fiber-plated bombers and infra-red rifle sights and inventing bombs that suck your inner organs out through your maxillary sinus, are also the ones who decided that 6 sexual encounters a month should keep the average couple happy.
Truth is, for many of my returning soldiers, sex and intimacy isn’t simply a nice addition to their lives after over a year of living in austerity. It is life. This seems to be especially true of the committed, married soldiers I work with. Their marriage, and the love they share within it, is often the only salve on wounds that cover their bodies and souls. Imagine falling into the yearning arms of your wife after 15 months alone, after encountering horrors on the battlefield you will never describe, only to have to say you’re sorry, you just aren’t the same as you were…even as a lover.
A patient recently said to me (to paraphrase), “My wife and I LOVE to have sex, doc. It’s an every day thing, if not two or three times a day. At least, that’s how it was. Now we spend most of the time we would have spent in bed – or in the kitchen, or in the microwave, or in the neighbor’s tool shed, or on top of the dresser, or under the aquarium, or in the chimney, or dressed up as Tonto and the short curly-haired lady from Cheers – with a counselor, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me.”
Most (not all) healthy, vital, loving relationships are comprised of sex more than just once a week with an occasional “two-fer” on the weekend. Especially if one of the partners has been gone for over a year. If returning injured soldiers have anything to look forward to, for many of them it’s their longsuffering, waiting, pent-up, willing spouse. Divorce is a catastrophe, especially when it’s between a broken soldier and the person who typically is the last one standing in their corner when the world is running down. Seems to me that we could forgo a couple of those useless air-to-air combat fighters everyone’s arguing about and use the money to give these soldiers as many nights of intimate bliss as we possibly can.
Nothing makes an Army drill sargent (prounounced something like ‘Sar-Ughnt’) more testy than when a good number of his/her unit skips morning physical training.
I take that back…there’s a veritable Olympics of things competing to be the thing a drill sargent hates the most. But showing up late for PT is definitely on the list.
One of my jobs is to set up patients with this Army thing called a Profile. THE profile. After a few months here, I can say in all certainty that the profile is my own personal battlefield. Everything I do seems to revolve around this paean to administrative oversight.
Simply put, the profile defines what an injured soldier can and can’t do. They get very specific: Soldier may mix cocktails, but d/t a herniated C-4 disk, he may not tip his head back to drink them.
One of the big reasons I see patients is to “review the profile.” Read between the lines, and typically, the visit is really about the patient trying to get some other restriction put on their profile. Restrictions that will make most soldiers ecstatic and drive a drill sargent nuts.
The most ubiquitous profile restriction is the “0900 work call”. Prounounced “Oh-9 call”.
Droopy-eyed private: “Uh, man, sir, uh. Need an Oh-9 profile. TONS of sleep meds. Can’t get up for 0630 PT. Help. Desperate and all that.”
Me, Dr. Naive: “Ok.” Fill out form.
Private: “THANKS, man. Can I get Oh-9 profiles for the rest of my X-Box buddies. Now that I can stay up all night playing Soldier of Fortune, I need my buddies cuz we compete against each other.”
“Soldier of Fortune…isn’t that pretty bloody.”
Evil smile, “YEAH, totally. We just run around shooting everybody.”
“K. Why are you on meds again?”
“Can’t sleep. PTSD. Keep seeing people get shot when I close my eyes.”
Embellished only slightly, I’m coming to the point where I can’t see a SINGLE medical reason to approve someone for 0900 work call. Sleep meds don’t last forever. If you take them at 7pm and are in bed by 0800, you should be able to get up in time for PT.
I’m asking around to doctors I know: Any medical reason you can think of to allow someone to come in at 0900 rather than 0630?
The Toilet Excuse? Really?
“I need more drugs because I had a heart attack yesterday and in my monumental pain I flushed my Percocet down the toilet.”
“No really. I’m serious. I don’t know what’s going on with my heart and I accidentally flushed my drugs down the toilet when it was causing me, like, serious pain. I REALLY need some more. I’m in like 24/10 pain.”
“That’s a pretty strange fraction.”
“Well, that’s how bad it is.”
I hope my eyes are at least a little more than half-closed, “Dude. That’s your excuse? Really? That’s the best you have for me? Flushed?” My ever-blindingly cheerful mood deflates a bit.
“Well, it was the case manager who told me to come to you for more Percocet. I tode her Dr. SW101 isn’t cool with narcs, so I figured you wouldn’t go for it, but she told me to try.”
“So, the NURSE made you do it?”
“No…well (looks hopefully at me), uh, maybe?”
He did utter one truth, I’m not cool with writing for unfathomable doses of highly-addictive, mind-altering substances that have outrageous street value and regularly cause the utter destruction of families, careers and lives.
He’s right. I’m not cool with that.
Sometimes it feels like I’m just sitting in my clinic handing out bullets…each one stamped with “If this causes a disaster of any kind, please blame Dr. SW101. His bank account number is 7749220485, and you can find his children at 13 XX street, usually after 6pm. Punish him accordingly for making such a mockery of his Doctor’s Oath, society, God, the memory of Elvis, Stonehenge, Hello Kitty, Gooeyducks..and everything else even remotely sacred to humanity.”
But I’m used to that. I’m used to being the candy man. What I’m NOT used to, is being taken for so dimwitted that the medical equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse might work on me.
“You’re really using THAT one on me?”
“Look man,” (whips out his Blackberry Smartphone, provided free of charge by the Army to help with his healing), “I got pictures of the pills in the toilet.”
I decline the visual. Don’t even need it.
“You’d need to pin my face to a cork-board with something in the range of 34,000 thumbtacks to talk me into giving you more narcotics with that lame excuse.” I say. What I DON’T say is that aside from fighting the good fight against blatant drug addicts (I do take care of true heroes; he’s not one of them), I’m just flat-out annoyed at the excuse.
“Frankly, you’re story is miserable. Put in a little work, and you might score a few hits out of me for creativity. I’ve been known to drop a few Vikes on someone just to tribute their impeccible style alone.”
“Yeah, you know, do some deep-thinking before you try get me to double your daily horse-halting, blue whale-euthanizing, brontosaurus-stupefying doses of addictive opiates.”
“Liiike, a better story?”
“Yep. I loovvve fiction.”
“Um, like what?”
“The doc I’m replacing was partial to “I washed ’em in my uniform”, so I’d say that’s a little, uh faded haha no pun intended *aHEM*, sorry, not making light of your “pain” or whatever, just a little side-joke for this glorious Army morning. Anyway, where was I?”
“You were helping me come up with a story to score more narcs out of you.”
“Oh YEAH. Thanks! Let’s see, maybe I can help you….next time, try something along the lines of:
After a valiant but ultimately tragic battle, a saber-tooth tiger ripped your friend’s head off. In desperation, you heroically dispatched said wildcat with your bare hands (careful with the back). Then, without pausing to consider yourself, you gave him your ENTIRE BOTTLE of pills strong enough to drive the entire population of Gambia into rehab.
Unfortunately, when he swallowed them – since his head was removed from his body – your pills just dropped out on the ground, all slimy and spit-covered and quickly dissolved. Thinking fastly, you propped his body up and then held his head over what you figured was the esophagus part of your life-long friend’s neck so the remaining few pills – “Damn you, Johnny, swallow! – dropped out and settled into one of his neck-tubes, hopefully not the trachea. Then you got him to a local ER, where they skillfully re-attached his head.
ONLY THEN, after your friend was recovering (he just might pull through, snif), did you think of yourself, realizing that you were, in fact, out of drugs for your endless back pain and heart attacks which you’ve been suffering from since you were born, 20 years ago.”
“That would work?”
“No. But honestly, that story has more credibility than, ‘I flushed ’em, brah, gimme some more.”
20 year ago tomorrow, the Berlin Wall was breached. The first East Berliner to make it across – legally – was a woman named Angelika Wachs (news to me…old hat to everyone over here).
My favorite band of all time – U2 – performed a live show in Berlin this past Thursday to start the festivities, which will continue through this week. We live 3 hours from Berlin, and may as well still be in Olympia, unfortunately. The celebration isn’t history…but it will get close and I’d love to be there.
The U2 show was free. All you had to do was get a ticket via the internet. And you had to do it within a 3 hour time-span because that’s how long the 10,000 available tickets were available. Being a free concert, you might find the need for tickets a bit ironic.
Even more ironic: if you didn’t have a ticket, you couldn’t see the show. Why? Because MTV (the show’s producers) had erected – you guessed it – a WALL to obscure the performance.
If You Want to Learn English…Move To Germany
The German village where we now live – Bruchmulbach – is surrounded on all sides by American military bases. And we’re not talking quaint Alamo-throwback musket armories, either. The bases around here are the real deal.
Ramstein – 10 minutes from us – is the largest Air Force base in Europe. A totally self-sufficient fenced city, the installation comes complete with a 2-level mall, restaruants, sports bar with the requisite 38 flat panel high-def T.V.’s, 18-hole golf course, fast food, a police and fire force, grocery stores, gas stations, brand-new 10 million dollar pool facility (I’m lovin’that), preschool through high school and a wide array of corresponding sports teams, as well as a full-sized airfield with trans-continental military flights leaving and arriving daily.
Just up the road from us is Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which is one of the largest military hospitals in the world and one of the largest hospitals in Europe, military or civilian. As mentioned recently, I got lost in there and wondered if I would ever escape without the assistance of a space-time wormhole (I did, but it was close).
Oh, another thing your tax dollars fund is a complete bussing system to get all the civilian kids from their outlying German villages to the schools on the bases. This made our initial choice to put all the kids in base schools a pretty easy one. Teachers are shipped from the States all credentialed and up to the exacting standards of the U.S. Dept. of Education. Schools have playgrounds and dry-erase boards and gyms and cafeterias. The whole thing.
Little America. Right here in the south of Germany.
But just the other day, I saw a patient who has lived in Germany for 40 years…and doesn’t speak anything but rudimentary German. Clearly, you can live an entire life here and never really learn the local language, the customs or the culture.
The military, actually, is trying for this. Most of their people have been moved here, will move again in 3 years, and so the more like America their lives are, the better it is for these families. You even spend U.S. dollars on the bases, even though everyone for hundreds of miles in every direction uses Euros.
But for people like me, who came here volitionally and want to intersect with this new world, this re-creation of where I just came from, isn’t such a welcome thing. Cindy Lauper had some chops 20 years ago, but do I really need to hear “Time After Time” as I drive across the pastoral German countryside on my way to work?
Since the bases here are such a huge part of the local economy- wait, amend that: They ARE the economy here. They’re it. We’re talking millions of dollars every year from these military operations. As a result, along with all the completely Americo-centric base workings, the local area totally caters to Americans too. As soon as you say you want to speak English around here…they just switch over from their German to usually a very well-learned English. Walking down the street in Portland, if some guy came up to ask you a question and said he only speaks German, could you switch over and cordially address his needs in his own language?
I couldn’t. Not in ANY other language on planet earth. MY ways are the ways of the world, right? I should mention, in my defense, that for a few ultra-geeky years in Jr. High I might have had some hope using Klingon, but again, we’re talking about this planet. And if I did meet a monolingual Klingon speaker in downtown Portland, we’d have much bigger problems than mere cultural ignorance.
Anyway, our big decision (among what seems like a gagillion of them lately) was to pull the kids out of their American schools…and HOMESCHOOL them. That’s right. We’re pullin’ em out. They can learn the 3 R’s in the AM, and work on German during the afternoons. I’m hoping to find some nice German grandma who misses her kids to come over 2-3 times a week for cheap to tutor them as well, and we just bought Rosetta Stone, homeschool edition (created for monolingual parents with visions of grandeur).
If I leave here bankrupt and sick with some strange German microbe that ate the flesh off my face and all tips of my body…but my kids learned fluent German, I’ll be perfectly happy with our time here. I promise. No complaining.
The military base schools have a German “appreciation” class, but they should be ashamed of it. It makes no attempt to actually teach the German language. It’s just meant to let kids know about life in Germany (makes sense, if you live in Thailand). The first class consisted of some guy opening up his laptop and reading off Bill Gates quotes – in English – about following your dreams and not letting anyone tell you you’re a loser. Frankly, if enough people tell you you’re a loser – in, say, French, German, Farsi, Hindu, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Russian – at some point, we Americans might want to listen.
And, when approached critically, I have to say that much of American school is laughable. So much time is spent lining up, obeying, filling out forms and being entertained…I’m not sure that kids learn much at all. We’re certainly not keeping up internationally (AGAIN! Health care, education…what ELSE can the rest of the developed world do better than us?).
In France, for example, every village kid is entitled to real, genuine, music training in their local villages. As part of their taxes, every kid gets a solid hour a week of actual music theory. I’m talking just the bookish part of music for an hour every week, no instruments. The boring stuff. The hard stuff. The stuff nobody has to learn in the States unless they REALLY want to do it, go to college to learn it, and spend 2 years on lower-level classes before they’re allowed to jump into the real thing. This is America! Learning is FUN!
Back to France: THEN, kids get an hour a week of training on an actual instrument. This would be the fun part. The payoff for muddling through a weekly hour of theory. They learn with a private instructor, in small groups of 4 or 5. THIS is the way to actually learn music. For American taxes, kids get some goofy music appreciation class where 55 kids sit around listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while making sure to keep their legs crossed. In my 6th grade music class, I got to listen to a recording of Janis Joplin mumble in a drugged stupor on stage until she collapsed.
It’s true that our 4 kids could end up total imbeciles. I don’t think the U.S. Education system is totally worthless, and there are some good things about the schools that we will lose. We worry about that. But I think, given the options, that our Rosetta Stone + Grandma approach holds out at least as much hope of truly teaching our kids another language and culture than what is offered on the military bases. With good curriculum and focus, we should be able to get them up to speed on the academic topics too. We aren’t the first one to plow this field.
Then again, we’ve been at it a week. I’m still all filled with principle and certainty. We’ll see where we are in a month.
Never Offer To Cut Off Your Own Leg
At least, not in the Army. They might just take you up on your offer.
Joe (do I really have to tell you that this isn’t even close to the guy’s real name?) had problems with his left leg after 2 deployments to Iraq and multiple exposures to high-velocity trauma. Lots of problems, shall we say. The leg often doesn’t work much at all. Sometimes, this overwhelming feeling of burning pain spreads from his mid shin up to his knee and then pulses up into his thigh for hours.
But what’s debilitating leg pain got to do with being in the Army? At least, that’s how Joe sees it. Unlike most soldiers in the WTU, Joe is determined to stay in the military. He wants to be sent “down range” (deployed) again. Tomorrow, if possible. He loves his unit and enjoys the excitement of his job.
Joe does not understand that a soldier who can’t walk probably isn’t going to do well in a war zone.
Actually, Joe is quite smart. He understands perfectly well that a debilitated soldier can’t perform a required in a combat situation. But he doesn’t care. He loves the Army. Lives for the Army. So he has worked with a lawyer for over a year now to keep himself in the Army. The WTU doc before me has worked to this end – admittedly with some bemusement – for the past few months as well.
Recently, Joe met with a special review board comprised of high-ranking commanders. They evaluated his chart, looked over the reports of his injuries, and then interviewed him personally. I think this occurred at Walter Reed Hospital, in Washington D.C. in – the Mecca of Army Medicine. As you might imagine, this was a big deal.
I don’t know the exact specifics of that interview, but here’s my reenactment:
“Soldier, you’ve served your country well. We thank you for your sacrifice and heroism. After thorough review of your file, we have determined that you are no longer qualified for active duty and will therefore be separated from the military with full medical coverage and benefits. You will be given an honorable discharge and should have no problems entering civilian life.”
“Sir, it’s the leg, right? That’s the problem?” Says Joe.
“What if the leg wasn’t a problem? What then, sir?”
“Why, you’d stay in the military, Son! Send you down range week after next. Get you back in the fiiigght, boy!”
“Then cut it off! Just cut the damn thing off! I can run on a prosthetic. There’s less to clean up if I get crosswise of an IED (roadside bomb) again, right? Just send me down there with a couple of extra legs in my pack and I’m all good.”
This – honest to God – is a relatively faithful reenactment of this soldier’s conversation with his Army superiors. Admiring his courage and commitment, I was more surprised to find that, following this meeting, our doctors in the WTU received this order from on high:
****de, de, d, d, deeeee —Official communication from High Command: SGT Joe to be referred to surgery for evaluation of chronic leg dysfunction and pain. Consider surgical correction. Amputation a viable option.——-de, d, d, deeee,
Favorite Quote of the Healthcare Debate
“The Government should stop trying to run ‘Death Panels’ to decide who gets what care. This is terribly wrong. Death Panels should be run by insurance companies, just like they always have been…”
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