Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Where I Went (or How a Weekend at NPE Turned into a Spot Check of the Pheonix, Arizona Health Care System)

So the blog has gone dark for a few days. In the meantime,I had some adventures and drew some conclusions in the process. Feel free to skip the tale; but I figure I owe an explanation to both loyal readers who aren't related to me.

What actually happened, short form:

On the way to the Network for Public Education convention in Oakland, CA, I missed my connecting in Phoenix due to illness, resulting in a brief stay in a Phoenix hospital

What actually happened, longer form:

Whatever it was that felled me kept a low profile from Pittsburgh to Phoenix, but at the beginning of the second leg of the trip, my Issue announced itself with explosive enthusiasm on the taxiway. And so I got to be the medical emergency that turned the plane around and headed it back to the terminal, where nice paramedics escorted me off the plane. Pro tip: if you want to really make an impression on fellow travelers, make sure the meal you’re going to share includes some Twizzlers for striking color effects (Note: Twizzlers did not pay me for that endorsement.)

A nice American Airlines lady offered to rebook me for later that evening or the next morning. It became clear that Late That Evening was not happening, so I booked a room in hopes that a good night's sleep would make me more travel-worthy. It did not. A nice lady at the hotel front desk helped me find an urgi-care, and called me a taxi. Roberto, my taxi-driver and 23-year Phoenix citizen, nicely suggested that I probably wanted the big hospital. The nice medical people at the urgi-care agreed with him, so it was off to the ER at Banner University Hospital, where some very nice people helped reassemble me until later in the afternoon, when (and there is no delicate way to recapture the moment) the airport Chinese made a surprise reappearance. The possibility of blood in that event led to being booked for an overnite stay in the observation wing, where some more nice folks kept me hydrated and relatively comfortable. There was an endoscope, with the most dashing anesthesiologist ever, and by late Sunday I was sprung. I took the red-eye back to Pittsburgh on Sunday night/Monday morning after sitting in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport ("America's Friendliest Airport").

Things I noticed (when I wasn't pre-occupied with my body's betrayal):

Niceness really matters

This whole business was simultaneously scary and depressing. Depressing because I was missing a conference I really wanted to attend, the registration and hotel room an anniversary gift from my wife. Missing also meant I was letting down the people who had included me in a panel. And as the adventure stretched on, I was acutely aware that I was leaving my wife to handle our four-month-old twins without husbandly assistance. She's fully capable, but I felt as if I was really letting down the team-- several teams, in fact.

On top of that, feeling so sick in a strange place, with no support network, friends, family, and no clear answers on what's happening next-- that is also not a great feeling.Not when you're far, far from home.

But as you may have noticed above, the people I dealt with were unfailingly nice and kind, without sacrificing a bit of their professional devotion to their jobs. It was a reminder to me that any system or institution can be made infinitely more human and supportive and nurturing simply if the people operating within that system are nice. "Be nice" doesn't necessarily fit in a policies and procedure manual, nor is it often written into the sort of curriculum-in-a-box programs beloved these days, and it certainly isn't something that can be written into a computerized algorithmic academic content delivery system.

It's worth remembering, when we're about to get into deep, complicated arguments about the relative merits (or lack thereof) of computer-based teaching systems, that some of it comes down to simple things-- human beings can be nice and kind, and computer software cannot. And it's worth remembering ALL the time as teachers that our ability to be nice and kind is one of the most important abilities we bring into a classroom. Dealing with a big system when you are beat down and far from home is hard and scary; it doesn't cost any of us a cent to be nice and kind to that person.

Thank God for professional expertise

Looking at my situation, and watching the medical professionals respond to it, made me grateful that a nursing degree is not based (yet) on micro-badges that can be earned anywhere. When I consider all the various factors that went into just my case alone, and then try to imagine how all those features and intersections of features could be broken down into a checklist of badge-worthy competencies-- well, it's just silly.

No, I'm glad I dealt with people who were professionally trained, professionally experienced, and ready to make the complex and complicated judgments involved in balancing all the data they were receiving. All data is not created equal, and it still takes a human to sort out the meaningful from the not-so-important data.

How the hell do people without health insurance even live in this world?

Seriously? How? I defy anybody to navigate the medical labyrinth and think to himself, "Yeah, somebody who had no insurance at all could totally manage this."

It is possible to drive too hard.

I'm slowly becoming open to the possibility that, occasionally, one needs to Give It A Rest. It's a possibility.

The end of the story

So what actually felled me? Maybe some virus (as I type this, my mother-in-law, who stayed with my wife to help with the twins is at home, in a condition similar to mine). I'm willing to blame the airport Chinese food from PIT. Or maybe flying without my wife makes me really anxious. Meanwhile, the NPE conference sounded and looked great, and I missed it. And this blog went dark for three days. But now I'm just shaking off the effects of jet lag and sleep deprivation, and the twins have trained me pretty well for that sort of thing. Tomorrow I expect to be back here waggling my fist at the state of public education in this country once again.


  1. Good to have you back. Good to have you feeling well (or, at the very least, better,) again.

    Giving it a rest is good policy.

    Working full time, posting 40-50 times a month, being a father to twins, and doing the myriad other things you probably do can be a drain. My suggestion...prioritize and give yourself some time each day to relax. 1) Family, 2) Work, 3) maybe limit yourself to one post a day, 4) you figure out the rest...

    In this post you talked about how important it is to have experienced people to help you. Since I'm older than you (pushing 70), I have more experience...listen to your elders.

  2. Glad to hear you're better--I kept wondering why you weren't blogging/tweeting about the conference!

    --one of those readers not related to you :-)

  3. Welcome back - I was getting worried about you. I thought you were just busy with NPE - guess it was worse than that. So sorry.

    Incidentally, I suspect that there are more than two of us not related to you who are loyal readers. Many more.

  4. Remember the most important responsibility you have is for you to be alive & healthy until your twins are 18 years-old.

  5. Glad you are back, and hopefully feeling better! Please take care of yourself, for your sake, your family, and your loyal readers - even those of us not related to you!