10 November 2010

Marabunta and Obamacare

Once upon a time, I was fascinated by a novel I had borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library (Eastern Parkway branch, corner Schenectady Avenue). The story line involved a cattle rancher somewhere in South America who confounded the natives by monthly butchering a segment of his herd, loading the carcasses on a barge and hiring a local tug to pull it 25 miles upriver. The terminus of the voyage was an apparently abandoned pier in an unpopulated part of the jungle. The captain's instructions were to tie up the carcass-laden barge to the pier, and return down river with the now-empty barge deposited there the previous month.

At the risk of spoiling it for you, I’ll reveal the bare bones of the plot. The upriver area was in the control of the Marabunta, a/k/a Army Ants. There were gazillions of them; nothing could stop the omnivores' progress in search of food. They were highly organized, and had developed the means to cross rivers and climb mountains. While on the march they devoured everything in their path. The delivery of slaughtered cattle on a monthly basis was part of a deal the rancher had made with the Marabunta chief. In exchange for the latter’s agreement not to advance farther south and eat the rancher out of house and home, and maybe his family as well, the farmer paid a ransom of providing an alternative food supply.

Grisly, huh? Fantastic, right? However intriguing (to me, at least) total science fiction you say? Impossible?

Not so fast.

It would appear likely that person of my acquaintance has entered into a similar bargain: the marauding insects in this scenario are not ants, but ticks, and the ransom meat offered up to the blood sucking octopods is not bovine but human. Which humans and where does the farmer find them? He invites them to spend a weekend on his farm, takes them for walks in the woods where the Tick Chief, alerted to the coming event, has established effective ambushes. Mmm, Mmm, good!

Chapter II

What does Obamacare have to do with this story? No, the Tick Chief/Farmer deal is not part of a right wing conspiracy, and the latest victim is not Keith Olbermann. The victim is moi, and the conspiracy was revealed the day after I arrived here in Paradise and found one of the Chief's followers happily nestled in my inner thigh, where she, no doubt, hoped to enjoy a free trip to the Carib on the American plan. She was discovered this morning. While I had, in my salad days, been extraordinarily brave and effective at removing ticks from our Labrador Retrievers, I was neither when it came to working on myself, and off I went to seek local medical intervention.

Unlike his U.S. counterparts, Dr. Bernard Housson has walk-in office hours. He is on duty Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his wife Chantal takes Tues, Thursday and Saturday. The walk-in hours are from 8 a.m. to noon. Afternoons and Sundays are for office appointments and (gulp) house calls. The few times I have visited Dr. Bernard, I have gone in the morning and waited, usually for not longer than 20 minutes or so. I did that this morning, with Pinks along for emotional support.

Because this was Tuesday, I expected to see Doctor Chantal Housson, whom I had never met. When I walked into her office, I was stunned to see that Dr. Bernard Housson, whom I had judged to be about 60 years old, was married to a teen-age girl! She looked like my granddaughter Hannah, only taller and with glasses. Do the French allow one to finish Medical School before high school? Or is it that perhaps one does not need medical school at all, one just applies for a medical license when old enough to drive a car? Or perhaps the license to practice law is acquired by marrying a doctor: sort of like immigration. I dunno.

The teenage doc was neatly dressed, wore coke-bottle-thick glasses, and tolerated unmanageable long curly red hair which refused all efforts at confinement. When I blundered by calling her Dr. Housson, she blushed and explained she was NOT Mrs. Housson, but a temporary replacement for the Houssons who were currently on vacation. The explanation took a while because the telephone rang every thirty seconds and she felt an absolute obligation to take every call. We waited at her desk in the room adjacent to the treatment room. Between calls, I was able to involve her in my problem. I had a tick, half buried, half not, in my thigh. She looked, said “pas de problem” and she led me inside to lie down on the treatment table.

First, she went to the glass-fronted cabinet where the Houssons kept their instruments. She was frustrated. Whatever she was looking for, it was not there. She opened tray after tray of medical implements. When I picked my head up I could see her poking through the pile. When I stared at the ceiling, I could hear the clatter of the once-sterile, once-sharp tools. She explained that in France, they have special tools for removing ticks, but inasmuch as there are no ticks native to Saint Barths, those tools are missing from this office. I knew then I was in trouble because we certainly do have ticks here, as every dog and goat owner well knows! But instead of leaping off the table and making my way to the hospital, I let her proceed. A unique adventure.

She went to work with whatever substitute tools she could find—as far as I could tell they were a miniaturized pick and shovel. I expected a bright light and a huge magnifier. What I got was Dr. Coudron, peering at my upper inner thigh with her nose but a few inches from my crotch in the dim general lighting of the 40 watt ceiling bulbs. Twenty minutes later, I was unable to ascertain who was sweating more, she or I. While staring at the ceiling, I was hoping to hear, “OK, got it, you can get up now.” Or at least, “Almost there, another minute.” Instead, I heard, “Mon dieu”, and after five minutes or so, she displayed her bilingual talents by muttering “Shit, shit, shit.”. She kept moving about, changing the angle of attack, muttering French words that did not sound at all encouraging, and interrupting the work to search for different instruments of torture at the equipment cabinets. And the telephone! She was one of those obsessive people who believe a telephone caller more important the person sitting opposite her at her desk--or lying on her surgical table. After she took the first two calls in the midst of the procedure, and the next call came in, I said “Leave it, do not answer that telephone, please!”—all to no avail. Pinks, my coach, was trying her best not to laugh at the scene, but could not entirely suppress a grin when she was out of Dr. Coudron’s sight line. I, not so much.

The tick was obviously a jihadist and preferred dismemberment to surrender. After 45 minutes (seventeen treatment, 28 on the phone), the Doogie Howser wannabe mopped her brow for the last time and declared victory. She said she had successfully removed “most” of the tick, and she gave me prescriptions for antibiotics, a drug to counter the adverse digestive effects of the antibiotics, an anti-bacterial spray, and a plaster cast that ran from upper thigh to ankle. Well, all of the above except for the last.

Total cost of treatment and pharmaceuticals: 116 euros. Value of the experience: priceless.

Of course, Obamacare will not reimburse for any of this. Where is my President when I need him? What is he doing in India with half the U.S. Navy, spending 200 million USD a day, and renting all 250 rooms in the Taj Mahal? Hey, just because I am overseas does not mean I don’t still get the news straight from Michele Bachmann.

Pinks recommends I send the bill to John Boehner.

It’s good to be back in Paradise, even for this ten day trip.. At least we didn’t miss any beach time while at the doctor. It has been raining here for thirty days straight. Nice.

A bientot.

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