Chronicles from the ICU

On an usual Friday morning, I took my children to get their annual checkup with their pediatrician. By Friday evening, my son who is almost three years old ended up in the ICU, hooked up to a blood transfusion pump. Why did he end up in the ICU? Over consumption of milk (really), which lead to dangerously low hemoglobin levels and severe iron deficiency. My son became extremely anemic. It was a shock to us. It’s a shock I am still processing and trying to get over. What followed in the subsequent five days are a series of specialists consultations, meetings with doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists and updating concerned and worried friends and family.

I’ve written a lot about Obamacare and our broken healthcare system on this blog and now I’ve got a chance to personally experience it. I live in California, the more affluent Southern California to be exact. California was once called the ‘ungovernable state’ because of our persistent budget deficits due to ‘wild and irresponsible social spending’ but in recent years, it’s absorbed quite well the implementation of Obamacare, at least to the best the poorly designed system would allow, and it expanded medicaid (Medi-Cal) as well to cover the poorest and neediest of Californians. And while other states enacted savage cuts to food stamps, social services, children’s services, California – to its credit, has resisted such drastic cuts under governor Jerry Brown. In the January 2016 budget, it increased the budget for health care for the poor, and it’s projected by 2017 – Medi-Cal will cover nearly one-third of all Californian residents.  All of this is done without minimal borrowing and by taxing the wealthy. Last I checked, the wealthy have not fled sunny California to go live in Arizona or Florida, and the supposed capital flight from businesses moving out of California to more business friendly states haven’t happened either. Most have opted to stay put and paid their fair share.

If this is what ‘ungovernable’ looks like, I’ll gladly accept this over the ‘fiscally responsible’ Texas where maternal mortality rates have soared due to savage social service cuts. California has been criticized as a ‘shelter state’ for undocumented residents. It may be a little known ‘secret’ but one need not be a citizen or legal resident to apply for food stamps in California. The forms ask you for your social security number, but if you haven’t got one, you cannot be denied just for that. California also has what they call ’emergency food stamps’, which means if your income and cash on hand is less than your housing and utility cost, you will be approved for food stamps within a 24 hour period, again, valid social security number not required. In spite of all this, our state is not bankrupt like all the hysterical people out there said it would be within three years time, every single year.

I am not shilling for my home state here. There’s lots wrong with California and there is a lot of contradictions within it as well. One need to look no further than the liberal haven of San Francisco to see that contradiction. San Francisco touts itself as the hub of the counterculture movement, a liberal city of brotherly love and tolerance of the subversive and outcast, the gay movement was founded and established there, but in the last 20 years it’s undergone the most aggressive form gentrification any city has ever seen all fueled by tech money. The same people that that came to San Francisco to enjoy its ‘charms’, have proceeded ‘gentrify’ those same charms away. Now San Francisco is a city for rich liberals who don’t want to be confronted with some of the social problems which come with a large and diverse city like San Francisco. The gentrifiers seek to whitewash the bits of San Francisco they find unsavory and replace it with people who resemble themselves, socially liberal but economically conservative people who pretend to be socialists. The deliberate lack of supply of housing (of any kind, affordable or not) has contributed to a real estate imbalance where people of lesser means have been priced out of the the city they’ve lived in their whole lives by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. Old restaurants and bars have been turned into vegan, gluten free restaurants where they sell spirulina smoothies and charge you $20 for a green salad with chia seeds in them – absolutely revolting and not even real food! Away from the Californian coast, you also have the ‘sacrifice zones’ where whole communities have been left to fend for itself, where business investment is on the decline and communities falling into disrepair and eventual ruin. So, it’s no utopia, like many other states, many communities on its last legs have given out with the last recession never to be revived again. But the silver lining here I suppose is, Sacramento state legislators haven’t totally forgotten about everyone who don’t reside in the coastal regions. Perhaps the capital city of Sacramento has fallen into irreversible decline (the recession hit Sacramento particularly hard) may have something to do with that basic level of compassion.

Here I will attempt to document my journey with my small boy through the ICU at the local children’s hospital. I will document my emotional journey and the bureaucratic as well and what the pitfalls are. Since my son was admitted to a children’s hospital, social workers employed by the hospital immediately looks at why a child is hospitalized and since my son was hospitalized partly as a result of his ‘diet’, we immediately came under scrutiny. It’s a friendly scrutiny and they are all just doing their jobs, but when everyone you come in contact with has a concerned furled brow when they speak to you about why your son drinks an obscene amount of milk; you being to get the hint on where it’s going. This is where familiarity with American bureaucratic language will help you (i.e. talk ‘white’).

About my son’s milk consumption, I had no idea until now excessive consumption of milk could lead to anemia – in fact, nurses who looked after my son told me they had no idea until they were studying to be a nurse. After all, I consumed obscene amounts of milk as a child, to the point where my mother said I must have been deprived of milk in a previous life, but I loved milk, I loved the taste of it and I grew out of it eventually to where I just put milk in my coffee now.  I assumed (wrongly) the same would be true for my son. But everyone’s physiology is different and it was a scary and tough lesson learned. It will never happen again. Presently, our home is a milk-free home until further notice by doctors.