American Hospitals

This is probably not an informative post for most people who’ve visited my blog, but I thought I’d share a perspective.

Last week, I signed up for a health care plan, and discovered that the plan to which I’d signed up was offering free flu shots.  Not being one to pass up on an offer like that, I traipsed down to the local hospital’s paediatric division, to get my daughter ready for the flu season, with a scheduled stop at the adult clinic just down the street on the way home.

Upon arrival, it turned out that the whole family could get our shots at once, saving us a trip across the park to the adult shot clinic – a nice bonus for us.  Anyhow, once the forms were filled out, and the (now expected) confusion about the existence of people without social security numbers was sorted out, the deed was done. (And, I might add that the woman who did it was exceptional – I barely noticed the shot, and my 2 year old daughter looked at the woman and said “Ow…” before promptly forgetting all about it and enjoying the quickly offered princess sticker.  “Princess Sticker!!!”)

In any case, the real story is what happened after – although it was as much a non-event as the actual shot.  We walked back home, taking a short cut through one of the hostpital’s other buildings.  It was new, it was shiny and it was pimped out.  It looked like the set of Grey’s Anatomy or the set of a Holywood sponsored action movie that will shortly be blown into a million pieces by several action heroes.  I half expected the counters to glint and glitter like a cleaning product commercial.

But, it was also, in a way, surreal.  That hospital doesn’t exist to cure people, or to as a place of healing – or even to do research.  Unlike a Canadian hospital, which is the bulk of my experience with hospitals (although I did visit Danish hospitals disproportionately more than you might think for the length of time I was there), the whole building, it’s contents and it’s staff are all there to turn a profit.

It’s not a tangible difference, but it makes you think about the built in drug stores and cafeterias and posters advertising drugs in a slightly different light.

Why are they promoting that drug?  Would that security guard kick me out if he knew I didn’t have my ID card yet?  Is that doctor running down the hall just trying to cram in as many patients as possible?

It’s strange, because superficially, the hospital isn’t any different than a Canadian hospital (other than being newer than any I’ve ever visited, and the ever present posters advertising drugs, of course), and yet it’s function is different.  It’s roughly the difference between visiting a community centre and a country club.  In any other country in the western world, a hospital is open to all members of the community, whereas the hospitals here require a membership.  It’s just hard not to see it through the Canadian lens, which tells us it’s one of those things American’s “just can’t seem to get right.” Well, that’s the Canadian narrative – whether it’s right or wrong.

Anyhow, a hospital is a hospital: the net product of the hospital is keeping people healthy.  Whether it’s for profit or government run, it does the same things and works the same way.

At the end of the day, I can’t say anything other than that the experience was pleasant, and this is the first year that I’ve gotten a flu shot and didn’t get sick immediately afterwards.  So really, all in all, I guess you get what you pay for…  It’s just a new experience to see such a direct connection between the money and the services.

I just have to wonder how Americans see Canadian hospitals. (-:

Ikea furniture and bioinformatics.

I’ll just come out and say it:  I love building Ikea furniture.  I know that sounds strange, but it truly amuses me and makes me happy.  I could probably do it every day for a year and be content.

I realized, while putting together a beautiful wooden FÖRHÖJA kitchen cart, that there is a good reason for it: because it’s the exact opposite of everything I do in my work.  Don’t get me wrong – I love my work, but sometimes you just need to step away from what you do and switch things up.

When you build ikea furniture, you know exactly what the end result will be.  You know what it will look like, you’ve seen an example in the showroom and you know all of the pieces that will go into putting it together.  Beyond that, you know that all the pieces you need will be in the box, and you know that someone, probably in Sweden, has taken the time to make sure that all of the pieces fit together and that it is not only possible to build whatever it is you’re assembling, but that you probably won’t damage your knuckles putting it together because something just isn’t quite aligned correctly.

Bioinformatics is nearly always the opposite.  You don’t know what the end result will be, you probably will hit at least three things no one else has ever tried, and you may or may not achieve a result that resembles what you expected.  Research and development are often fraught with traps that can snare even the best scientists.

But getting back to my epiphany, I realized that now and then, it’s really nice to know what the outcome of a project should be, and that you will be successful at it, before you start it.  Sometimes it’s just comforting to know that everything will fit together, right out of the box.

I’m looking forward to putting together a dresser tomorrow.

Biking in Oakland

I am slowly feeling like I have more to write, but today, I have a rant.  What the heck is up with Oakland cyclists?

Perhaps I’m just used to Vancouver cyclists, but I’ve never seen a group of people with less regard for the rules of the road.  I always thought drivers who complain about cyclists were just being whiney jerks…  but after 1 week of biking in Oakland, I’m starting to complain about cyclists.

Oddly enough, I think I’m the only cyclist who actually waits for lights to turn green before crossing intersections.  (Though I did go through a red light the other day, when I misunderstood a signal… mea culpa.)  I’m definitely the only cyclist in the city that signals before turning or changing lanes – and probably the only cyclist that isn’t aggressively swerving in and out of traffic!  (I think I’ve seen one other person, but she was going really slow and holding up a line of cars instead.)

Clearly, the insanity is not constrained to cyclists, however.  My wife was yelled at, inexplicably, for coming to a complete stop at a 4-way stop, because apparently that meant she was giving up her right of way.  It was hard to tell, really, as the woman who was yelling tried to cut us off, scream out her window at us, and ignore her own stop sign at the same time.  Oakland is clearly a culture in flux, and I have much to learn, yet, about how to stay safe on the road!