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Biff America: Plumbing problems

Jeffrey Bergeron
Biff America

There is a Pavlovian response when I see a cop’s lights in my rearview mirror. For a second, I wondered if my mate had called the authorities on me. She did not think I was fit to drive, though I knew I was.

I was driving myself to the emergency room on my birthday. It was Christmas week, and the COVID-19 numbers were spiking like sunburns during college spring break. My contention was that it would lower the odds if only one of us ventured out into the petri dish which was our county.

Earlier in the day, I was driving home from skiing when I had difficulty breathing. I assumed the worse and took a rapid COVID-19 test that was negative. I felt a little better after sitting still for a while. My physician friend FaceTimed me to wish me a happy day and he noticed that my complexion was more deathlike than normal. He suggested I get checked out that night.



Thoreau said, “We make ourselves rich by keeping our wants few.”

Though I have good insurance and money in the bank, I weighed my options. Certainly an emergency room visit is way more costly than making an appointment. But both were way less expensive than a cremation and the surreptitious spreading of my ashes on Lauren Boebert’s carpet. I decided to go for door No. 1. In retrospect it was well worth it.



As I left the house I said, “I’m fine to drive. If I get short of breath I’ll pull over.”

Part of my desire to fly solo was selfish. By not being under the watchful eyes of my mate I could chicken out and leave or not even show up. I knew I needed some medical attention, but I thought I could wait a few days and save some bucks.

I could not help but wonder if a guy like me, who can afford what is required and has cause to anguish, how would a poor person with a sick child feel? What would it feel like to have to choose between getting your child the medicine they need or pay the rent?

It was my indecision that I blame for my abrupt driving. I saw the last place I could pull over before the road narrowed and I did so without signaling. I was doing the math in my head when the red and blue lights went on.

The cop was polite and professional and only gave me a warning which maybe saved my life. He might have increased my medical costs out of my price range had he cited me with a possible fine.

After getting checked, rechecked, prodded, pricked and probed, the doctor came in and told me he had good and bad news. I asked for the good first and was told I had pneumonia. “Pneumonia!?” I said. “What is the bad news?” Paraphrasing, the doctor said my heart is leaking like a poodle with a bladder infection.

While determining that I had a lung infection, it was also determined that I had a blown valve in my heart that needed to be dealt with. The best guess was this had been an ongoing condition that had worsened over the last several months. This was not a total surprise. Both my brother and father had the same condition, but they also had really high IQs and nice hair, so I always assumed that I had dodged that genetic bullet.

I was assured that I would feel better than I had in years a few months after surgery, but unfortunately look the same.

The last time I spent a night in the hospital, LBJ was in office — I recall them using leeches. After the recent surgery and five days overnight, I am amazed at what modern medicine can do. They took images of my ticker from the outside, images of my arteries with something they put up my wrist and fixed my valve by cutting through muscles under my ribs. I will say the design of the backless gown has not improved. My apologies to anyone who walked behind me.

Many thanks to Dr. Mehall and all the staff at Penrose Hospital. I’m amazed at the skills of the surgeons as well as the skills and kindness of the nurses. I’m sure I’ll be spending the next several months dealing with medical billing and insurance adjusters who maintain that the fix would have been cheaper if went to Jiffy Lube instead of a hospital.

The good news is I’m on the correct side of the dirt, the better news is now I’m no longer sporting a backless gown. Though my insurance might not cover my butt, my clothing will.


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