Saturday, July 5, 2014

I rather pass a kidney stone surrounded by a TV crew than on a real ambulance

It may just be me but, have you ever wonder how would you react if you were driving on a highway at about 70 miles per hour, surrounded by cars going as fast if not faster than you and all of the sudden you were stricken by a horrible pain, or a heart attack or something like that? I did but I don’t anymore. You see, a few months ago I experienced something very close. It didn’t take place in a highway but it had all the other elements of such a drama: there was pain, lots of pain, there were cars, lots of cars, and there I was at the center of it all.
“Good morning” I mumbled over and over again as I walked past a row of cubicles to my left and managers’ offices to my right. It wasn’t a particularly cheerful morning greeting but it was one those few people already at work found very funny. You see, I’m not a morning person so waking up early in the morning takes a lot of effort on my part and yet I always get to work very early which means that my greeting feels as if I just woke up. A kind of sleepy greeting which those few colleagues who get to work even earlier than I do would use as an excuse to routinely crack jokes at my expense.
“Good morning! Rough night?”
“No. Not particularly. I actually had a good night sleep. I really wish I was a morning person.” I walked to the very end of the row of cubicles and entered my office. I turned on my computer and walked to the restroom before getting a cup of coffee. My daily ritual got me ready to tackle the challenges of my job. I don’t recall when was the last time my morning didn’t start this way. That is, of course until that Wednesday a couple months ago.
As I was walking towards the restroom I felt a sharp pain. Sort of like a stomach cramp. It was weird as I never get stomachaches but I didn’t think much of it. I went to the bathroom and…nothing. Nothing happened at all. I thought that perhaps I was constipated and that had caused the stomachache. The only thing that I couldn’t explain was why I couldn’t pee either. I wrote the whole thing off and went back to my office. That afternoon it happened again.
                “Aaaaahhh! What is this pain all about” I thought while holding my lower torso with both hands. I went back to the restroom but, once again, no luck. Again, I thought that I was experiencing a stomach pain most likely due to me being unusually constipated and didn’t think about it again until that evening at home.
                “Aaaahh! Well at least this time was not as sharp as the stomachache I experienced at work” I thought and went to sleep.
The next morning was going to be a long day full of meetings. We were in the last few weeks before the year end Holidays and the year-end closing which meant lots of coordinating needed to take place. As I arrived again I had the stomachache once more but this time I did notice a small crimson ring in the otherwise clean waters of the commode. I had seen that same crimson halo once before. At that time I was diagnosed with hemorrhoids. “Great… it’s back. I need to go see a doctor before this gets worse.” For the next couple of hours everything was fine. Finally, during a colleague’s presentation to my boss of a research project I had already seen a week earlier, a sudden urge to pee got me to excuse myself from the presentation and return to the restroom. This time things were different. I did pee, but it was mixed with blood. “This can’t be good” I thought “I really need to go see an urologist today.” I went back to the conference room where the presentation was taking place and waited till it was over before talking to my boss. ”I have two more meetings today and after that I need to leave to try get an appointment with an urologist. I just peed blood.”
My boss looked at me perplexed and without thinking it twice “Are you mad? Go to see a doctor now! Forget the meetings! They can wait. Go take care of your health now!” I left and went to the hospital campus where my urologist has his private practice.
                “Good morning. I need an appointment with Doctor Jonas but I need the appointment for like now.”
                “Sorry but you cannot get an appointment today.”
                “Ma’am, there is blood in my urine. A significant amount of blood.”
                “Sorry but the Doctor cannot see you today. The best I can do is to insert you tomorrow at 10:45am”
                I hesitated for a few seconds but seeing that any attempt to get an appointment that day was not going to be successful I agreed to return the following morning. As I was not going to be able to resolve anything by going home, I decided to return to the office instead.
                “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at the doctor’s office?”
                “I cannot get an appointment till tomorrow morning so since I’m not in pain or anything like that I figure I will take care of the things I won’t be able to take care of tomorrow.” During the rest of the afternoon I went to the restroom a couple of times and each time there was less and less traces of blood in my urine.
That afternoon I discovered that most people believe they have great insights when discussing other people’s illnesses. They generally ask you what your symptoms are and based upon your response they will offer a diagnostic of your malady. They are genuinely trying to help you process what you are feeling by letting you know that their wives, husbands, mothers, child, cousins or next door neighbor went through the same thing you are going through and it was _________ (reader, you can fill the blanks with one of the following words or any others you may have heard of whenever you have been less than healthy:  good, bad, painful, not a big thing, so bad the guy died, so bad the woman spend weeks at the hospital, a breeze, disastrous and extraordinarily expensive, etc.).  “It is a bad infection. I had the same thing once. It’s painful as hell. The good news is that they’ll give you some medicine and you will feel fine after that”, “for sure is an ulcer. Have you ever had one? Boy! You want to take care of it right away or you are going to know what excruciating pain feels like”, “You are passing a stone. Yep! That’s what you are feeling. It’s going to get worse though and the doctors won’t be able to do anything about it. It really is the worse pain ever! My brother just went through that recently. The poor bastard laid on the floor twisted like a pretzel. That is how much pain he experienced. And he is a special forces’ soldier who fought in Kandahar. He is no wimp!” (OK, the last quote I kind of made it up but that is how those conversations felt like after having them all afternoon!)
The next morning I went to see the doctor and I described to him what I was feeling and what I had seen in terms of the amount of blood on my urine. I also mentioned that I was traveling out of state the following Friday and that I was concerned that the pain may start again while I was in Miami.
The doctor kept looking at me, nodding, and taking notes as I spoke. As soon as I finished he looked at my file once more and finally said “Based on what you are telling me you may be experiencing one of two things: you could have a bad infection or you could be passing a kidney stone. I won’t be able to tell you which one until you have a cat scan done.”
Interestingly I discovered that doctors do the exact same thing well-meant individuals do: they pretty much guess based on prior experience. But it’s a guess nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting the doctor didn’t do his job right. In fact he communicated by both verbal and non-verbal language that he really cared and that he wanted to ensure I got relief as soon as possible so that I could go on living the life I had before the cramps started.
“I’m going to have my assistant schedule you for a CAT scan right now. If you leave quickly and get to the medical center in the next 30 minutes they may be able to do your CAT scan by 1pm and I may be able to get your results by 4pm. If everything works as planned, at that point we can decide how to proceed.”
“Excuse me doctor but what exactly do you mean by ‘how to proceed’?”
“If it’s an infection, which I doubt, I will give you a prescription and that will be it. If you are passing a stone there is no way we can let it come out naturally given that you are traveling next week. We’ll need to operate.”
I had heard horror stories about passing stones in terms of the pain it inflicts so I viewed the choice of surgery as the more desirable one.
“In the meantime I’m prescribing you a pain killer and a muscle relaxer you should start taking immediately” He gazed at my file once more and looking at his assistant he said “He is allergic to Codeine. We have to substitute with…”
I left the doctor’s office and went straight to get me the CAT scan. I wasn’t too concerned, after all I felt fine. What could go wrong! I drove to the place and was greeted by a very attractive young woman “Hello Mr. Lindley. Doctor Jonas’ assistant called and made your appointment so your scan will be done shortly. Please fill this form and return it to me when you are done.”
I took the clipboard and I went looking for a seat. I saw one nearby and as soon as I sat down I jumped right back up. I had just felt as if someone had stabbed me in the back. In the lower back to be exact. At first I thought it was a muscle pain due to the stress I had endured the last couple of days but the pain didn’t subside. I walked around the reception area hoping for the pain to stop. I walked and walked under a sharp pain. By then I felt as if the proverbial knife was been twisted over and over again. There were a few people waiting around and I didn’t want to make a scene. I was not going to show pain. That was that! I know it sounds foolish but I have issues: I don’t like making a scene or be viewed by others as someone making a scene. So sue me!
I kept walking carrying the clipboard with me hoping for the pain to stop. After a couple of minutes that felt … longer than a few minutes the pain started to go away. I quickly took the clipboard and filled the form. I wanted to get this over and done before another bout of pain started. I imagined what would happened if the pain started while I was getting the scan. I would be stuck in a cylinder not wider than I am without being able to stand up, move my arms, crawl out, or anything like that. Also, the test would take longer and my doctor wouldn’t be able to diagnose my ailment on that day which would have sucked because then I would have to wait till Monday for anything to get done. I returned the clipboard and a couple of minutes later I was inside the CAT scan equipment. Luckily it went without a hitch. The doctor had insisted on making sure that I got my results from the scan and that I carry them with me when I left the medical center so I had to wait around for about another 10 minutes or so. Finally with the results on hand I walked out to the parking lot in order to go to the pharmacy to fill my pain killer medication. Surely that would ensure I didn’t feel that awful pain again. I pulled out of the parking lot into the main road, a very wide avenue with four lanes and there is where I was when I started my story.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The pain came right back. I couldn’t stop the car as I risked getting hit by the cars around me. Just imagining what it would feel like if on top of the pain I had at that moment I got hit by a car scared the heck out of me. I couldn’t sit. I wished I could start walking around the car the same way I did at the scan office but that wasn’t feasible. I sat on one buttock and when that didn’t work I sat on the other. That didn’t work either. I leaned forward, sideways, back, nothing seemed to alleviate the knife-twisting pain on my lower back. I passed right in front of the hospital where my doctor has his practice but I figure if I go in they are going to ask me if I had taken the medicine the doctor had prescribed. I figured that once I told them I hadn’t they would tell me that the doctor couldn’t do anything about my pain and that I needed to take the medicine first in order to get any pain relief.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The dam pain was getting worse so I had to make a decision, “Should I go straight home or should I go to the pharmacy”. I gave it a thought for a few seconds and I concluded that if I went home I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of getting rid of the pain. However the pain was so intense I was afraid I was either going to pass out or hit something or someone on my way to the pharmacy. I considered my options and I passed right in front of my condominium on my way to the pharmacy. I parked and went straight to the drugstore.
“Merry Christmas.” A woman greeted me in front of the store wearing a Christmas hat and ringing a bell right next to the red till that is the iconic symbol of the Salvation Army.
I tried smiling, after all my pain was not a reason for me to be rude to someone who, in my opinion, was performing a very meaningful job “Merry Christmas” I sort of mumbled and entered the Walgreens store, walked past every aisle and went straight to the pharmacy. As soon as I was approached by the clerk I handed over my prescription and asked how long it would take to fill the prescription.
“About 15 minutes”
“I really would appreciate if it could be done faster than that. I am in excruciation pain and I really need to take the pain medication as soon as possible.” I must have looked pretty sick for the guy told me he was going to get it done as soon as possible. I thanked him and grabbed a bottle of cold water from the store’s cooler. I was ready to take the medication as soon as it was ready. The clerk called me to the counter and handed over my medication. I paid and tried clumsily to open the plastic bottle in order to take the medication right there. If child proof packaging is normally a pain for adults to open, you have no idea how much more difficult to open it can be when you are in as much pain as I was. I was desperate and not being able to open the bottle made me even more desperate. I handed the bottle over to the clerk and, just like a child would do when he can’t do something he knows his parents can, I looked at him and ask for help opening it. He quickly open it and I took the medicine, threw it to the back of my mouth and drank half the bottle of water, took the open bottle and dropped it inside the Walgreen’s bag without closing it. I left the store, got back to the car and after repeating a similar experience to the one I had on my way to the store I finally got home.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” I yelled once I got in and run upstairs to lay down. As soon as I attempted to lay down I realize that was not going to work, I stood up again and tried staying still, that didn’t work either. I kneel, nope, I went to the bathroom, maybe if I peed or crapped? No way. It didn’t matter what I attempted to do in order to get some pain relieve it didn’t work. “I got to get hold of the doctor” I told myself. “Where is his phone number?” You will be surprised to learn that people who like me are anal about keeping orderly records of all sorts: documents, pictures, music, phone numbers, etc., could on occasion lose something as critical as his doctor’s phone number…right at the most pressing moment. It is true what Murphy said: things will go wrong at the worst possible time. “Where is the dammed phone number!” At that point I was feeling so much pain that the only thing I could do was to walk in circles. It didn’t relief the pain but I felt as if by doing so I was able to redirect the burst of energy, or whatever it is, you feel when you are in excessive pain. I yelled a couple of times but I realized that wasn’t going to solve the problem “where is the phone number! Eddie, you need to focus.” I thought for a short while “The meds. It may be written on the meds packaging” and off I went searching for the bottle. I found it only to realize that the pharmacy information is the only thing written on the package. I was becoming more desperate and the pain was not letting go. I tried to describe the pain to myself as if that was going to help me deal with it. That obviously didn’t work but I can report now that the pain I felt was as if someone had stabbed me in the lower back with a knife that had several blades all of them converging on a central spike and the person stabbing me was driving the blade as deep as he or she was able to while twisting it non-stop. The pain wouldn’t stop. Not for a second. “My computer! That is where I keep my personal contact’s information. The doctor’s phone number has to be there!” I walked as fast as I could and went downstairs looking for my desktop computer. Before I described what happened next I feel I need to provide you with context. I have no problem with computers…but they don’t feel the same about me. Computers have an uncanny ability to find ways to screw with me. I kid you not. You can ask any IT person who has ever worked with me. I provide them with continuous learning opportunities because they invariably have to call software and hardware vendors to find out how to fix the problems I encounter frequently with my technology tools be it laptops, smartphones, even dumbphones! This being the case let me get back to the story at hand. I went into my home office turned on the computer and suddenly a message popped on screen. A message I have seen often but never caused me any anxiety before “Please don’t turn your computer off. You have 157 updates.” If this is maddening when you are trying to retrieve a file on an average day, you have no idea how it feels when you find yourself in the situation I was in. “You’ve got to be kidding meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” It was going to take probably longer to update than I could afford to wait. I ran upstairs again and continued to walk in circles trying to figure out what to do. At that point I felt like crying but I managed not to. I don’t subscribe to the notion that man shouldn’t cry. In fact we should and we do. However I’ve come to the realization that whenever I have cried I have weakened, not psychologically but physically. At that point the sheer thought of my knees buckling under me and falling scared me. I could imagine how much more intense the pain in my back would feel. “Millie!” My wife’s doctor and mine shared the same office. “Honey, you need to come home. I’m in excrutiating pain. I can’t find my doctor’s phone number. I need to call him to tell him I can’t withstand the pain anymore and to ask him what I should do next.”
I’m on my way, but is going to take me about half an hour to get there. Call 911!”
“No, that’s not needed yet. I need you to call your doctor. He shares offices with mine. Hurry up please!!!”
OK, let me get his phone number and I’ll call you back, I’m already on my way!”
I was finally going to hear from my doctor. Hopefully there were even stronger meds out there than the ones he had prescribed earlier. Minutes felt like forever. Finally my wife called me back.
I’m sorry! I don’t have my doctor’s phone number on my cell! Call 911!”
I swear by then I began to wonder if I was having a really bad nightmare or if I was a character from the old Three Stooges movies. “Please get back here as soon as you can” I said trying not to sound too desperate. I didn’t want Millie to worry. I knew she was a wreck already and I didn’t want to increase her stress levels any further.
I’ll be home in just a few minutes!”
I kept walking in circles and began to feel weaker and weaker. I also started to get dizzy. I kept drinking water and every so often I would try peeing but nothing would come out. I continued walking in circles holding to the walls to avoid falling. Finally my wife got home.
“How are you feeling, did you call 911?”
“Please call your doctor’s office and talk to Doctor Jonas. Ask him what can I do to get rid of this pain.” At this point I had no much energy left so I spoke in monotone. Later on Millie confided that when she saw the expression on my face she knew the amount of pain I was under. She told me she had never seen me look like that.
“This is Doctor Jonas’ answer service. He is gone for the weekend.”
“I need you to get hold of Doctor Jonas. My husband went to see him this morning about a pain on his lower back and now he may be passing a kidney stone. I need to talk to him!”
“Can you be more specific? What kind of pain is he having?”
I took the phone away from my wife and explained to the woman what I was going through.
“I will try getting hold of Doctor Jonas.”
That was the extent of her commitment. I thought “this really can’t be happening. I must be having a nightmare and soon I will wake up and the sense of pain will go away. Everything that’s happening  today can’t be for real.” I started to lose my balance a little bit while I kept circling my bedroom. My wife kept walking behind me in case I collapsed. After waiting for several minutes and not getting a call back I finally told mi wife. “Call 911.”
Everything that happened next has taught me a valuable lesson: whatever you see on TV shows do not resemble real life…at all. You may wonder what kind of an idiot is this guy? Everyone knows TV shows do not depict reality! Well I knew that. I Just never guessed to what extent.
“Hello, I need an ambulance.”
What is the emergency?”
“It’s my husband. He is in a lot of pain. He needs an ambulance. He needs to go to the hospital.” My wife said trying to keep as calmed as she could under the circumstances.
“Where is the pain?”
“In his back.”
At that point I took the phone away from her. I figured it would be better if I provided all the information regarding how I felt so that I could shorter the questioning process and get the emergency line operator to start directing the ambulance towards my place. This was the first thing I noticed it was different from TV.
“I have an intense pain on my lower back on my left side.” I said sitting down on my bed for about a second and then I sprang back and kept walking in circles.
“How bad is the pain?”
“Very intense. I may be passing a kidney stone.” And the questions kept coming. I began to wonder what would happened if I was alone and after calling 911 I felt unconscious. Would they continue to ask questions even though there was nobody to answer? Or would they simply hang up because they didn’t get their questions answered? Probably not. They probably still sent the ambulance so why they kept asking me question after question when I was truly close to collapsing. The last thing I wanted to do was to answer questions. Why it wasn’t like the movies? There the actress calls 911 and says something like “Operator! Please send an ambulance to 123 Main Street. Please hurry. My husband is really sick!” and the next thing you see is the ambulance taking the husband actor on a stretcher from his make belief home to the ambulance.
“An ambulance is on its way.”
“Thanks” and I kept walking in circles with my wife walking behind me. About 7 minutes later I heard (no, I didn’t time them, the fire engine people mentioned it to me) the faint sound of a siren.
“The ambulance! Do you want to go downstairs now or should they come upstairs and bring you down on a stretcher?”
I attempted to say that I would walk downstairs but instead I just mumbled something even I had a hard time understanding. I did walk towards the staircase which was a dead giveaway of what I planned on doing so my wife didn’t ask me what I meant. I walked slowly and with as much pain as I had being experiencing all along but with such little physical strength left that my legs kept shaking. With every step I took I had to wait for a few seconds in order to make sure my legs were going to hold up.
I finally made it down together with my wife. “I’m going out to tell the security guard to direct the paramedics to our condo.” Luckily we live a few homes away from the entrance so my wife went out and came right back within a couple of minutes. “They are here already but it’s not an ambulance. It’s a fire engine.”
I remembered having seen many times on TV that paramedics worked out of fire houses and arrived on red colored vehicles reminiscent of fire engines. I figure that was why my wife thought the vehicle that was parking outside my home was a fire engine. I don’t give my wife enough credit.
“Hello, may we come in?”
“Yes please, this is my husband. He is the one in pain.”
I turned around and I saw three people wearing fire fighters pants. You probably know what I mean. Those beige, bulky looking pants made from what looks like very rough material? Two man and a woman. The three looked at each other and walked towards me rather clumsily. I didn’t see the decisiveness I would have expected from firefighters. I got the feeling they had never done this. It really felt as if this was their first house call for my kind of situation. Just to clarify, I am not questioning their firefighting skills. I’m sure they are superb. Their paramedic skills on the other hand needed some work.
“Where is the pain?”
I gather all the strength I had left and answered her question.
“Are you taking any medication?”
I answered the same way as before.
“Are you under the care of any physician who is treating you for this pain you are feeling?”
These were the exact same questions I had already answered when I called 911. Don’t they talk to each other? Where is my stretcher! I wanted to say all these things but it would have meant using up what little energy I had left in me. It wasn’t worth it.
“I need to take your blood pressure” the woman told me.
I nodded. She took my vitals.
“We need to wait for the ambulance. It should be here shortly.”
“What?” I managed to utter. “Why wait? I’m in pain. I don’t understand. Why are you here for?”
“We are really sorry but we cannot do much.” One of the two man started “We have standing instructions to get to where the patient is as soon as possible and then wait for the ambulance to show up.”
I was really mad. I stood up again and started to walk in circles once again “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“We couldn’t agree more.” The second man intervened “We feel helpless getting to your home, watching you feeling this much pain and not being able to help you. This is one of the changes that have taken place since Houston decided to hire a new Fire Chief. The Chief is from Arizona. He knows nothing about Houston. He restructured…”
The fireman kept talking about firefighting and politics as if I really cared. All I cared about at that point was knowing when my ambulance was going to get here. The knife being twisted on my back had precedence over any discussions about politics or the morale at Houston firehouses. Finally I heard another siren. Hopefully this was not the police or a second set of firefighters. I needed meds!
“I hear the ambulance sir. They should be here any minute now. Do you want me to help you meet them outside in order to speed up your transport to the hospital or do you prefer to wait inside your home?”
I stood up and zigzagged through the living room on my way to the door. The firefighter figure out what was my answer to his question so he held my arm and helped me get outside. The ambulance was already parked and a short paramedic was walking towards me.
“Hello sir. How are you feeling?”
“Like crap. My back hurts like nothing I have ever experienced.”
“He may be passing a kidney stone” one of the firefighters volunteered.
“That is an awful pain. I’ve never experienced it myself but I have seen tough guys cry when passing kidney stones.”
I just nodded confirming how awful it was but I couldn’t figure out why he would make such statement. Shouldn’t he tell me that everything was going to be OK? Oh wait, that was probably something I heard a TV paramedic say. Apparently this didn’t happen in the real world.
“Are you taking meds?”
“Yes, he is.” My wife told the paramedic.
“When did he started taking his meds?”
“About 3 hours ago”
“Oh nooooo. That’s nothing. He needs to let the meds go through his system first in order for him to start feeling better. That takes from 6 to 8 hours. You should just stay here at your home and if you don’t feel any improvement in a few hours then you should consider going to the ER.”
Really? Would you have guessed that a paramedic…driving an ambulance…which was directed to your home due to a 911 call will tell you to wait and see if the pain would go away…without even checking your vitals!
“You are taking me to the ER now” I was so pissed to hear this dumb ass make such an un-TV-show statement that my words sounded incredibly strong given the fact that I felt like I was about to pass out.
“But the hospital is going to keep you in their ER waiting area and they won’t do anything until you pass the stone alone”.
“I don’t care. Take me to the ER NOW!”
“OK but I’m telling you it’s going to be a waste of your time”
Since that day I had being asking myself what kind of moron would hire this dumb ass to go to people’s homes to help with emergencies when he has no empathy of any kind and my only guess is that whoever hired this paramedic is either as incompetent as he is or was bamboozled by the paramedic who probably told him or her that he was able to read patients’ vitals simply by looking at them. I cannot come up with a better explanation.
“I don’t care. Take me there now”.
You would think that there is where my story ends. You would think that I was taken to the hospital and somehow magically got better but that would have been too easy. About a minute after I sort of demanded to be taken to the ER I started hearing the music from Three Blind Mice being played in my head. You know, the music that serves as the musical score for The Three Stooges? No, I was not going crazy.
“OK, sit on the stretcher.”
The ambulance driver was a tall, buffed guy who you could tell workout daily. He greeted me with a smile and, in contrast to the paramedic, seemed really eager to assist in any way he could. There was a third member of the team, a young girl who apparently had never even given an aspirin to a patient and seemed to be doing this for the first time. That didn’t bother me too much. Everyone needs to learn and in the case of healthcare workers there is no other way to do this than by working on real life cases. After all there was also a trained paramedic in the ambulance! The driver helped me get on the stretcher and the paramedic began the process of lifting the stretcher and rolling me in. Something I’m pretty sure paramedics and other ambulance personnel do daily. It was at this very moment when the Three Blind Mice tune was at its loudest.
“BANG” all of the sudden I heard the sound of two metallic structures hitting each other and the stretcher stopped dead on its tracks while I felt my upper body jerking forward and the back pain shooting up. All at the same time.
The stretcher’s front wheels hit the ambulance right below the ambulance doors.
“Sorry” I heard the paramedic say but he didn’t sound authentic. I’m not suggesting it was done on purpose but I don’t believe he really meant what he said.
“Aaaaaargh” felt the pain all over again. The incompetence of this paramedic became ever so obvious to me. He did this three times! Finally the ambulance driver took over and he was able to roll in the stretcher without any issues.
I was finally inside the ambulance and on my way to the ER. “It should only be a couple of minutes and I will finally be in Nirvana” I thought. A couple of minutes went by and I was still in the ambulance…and the ambulance wasn’t moving! I peeked through the two windows located on the ambulance’s back doors and I saw about twenty or thirty cars in back of us. All at a standstill. “Why aren’t we moving?” I asked casually as the young, inexperienced paramedic woman was trying to figure out in which finger was she supposed to put the clip that was to keep tabs of some of my vitals. She had already placed the blood pressure equipment on my arm while the hotshot dumb ass paramedic kept teasing her; she was the newbie after all.
“Traffic” was all the paramedic said.
“Why aren’t you using the siren in order for cars to let you get through so that you can get me to the ER quickly?”
“We can’t do that.”
“You can’t do that? Why?” I was tempted to ask why are TV paramedics able to blare the siren and you can’t? But I was just too exhausted to utter anything else.
“It’s against the law. We can only use the siren when it’s a matter of life or death. This protects drivers from getting into accidents with an ambulance.”
I just nodded in disbelief. This was one hell of an eye opener: no ambulance arriving within minutes of dialing 911. No meds, No sense of urgency or empathy by the paramedic, and no siren. In essence I think that if I’m ever in need of an ambulance again I will call one of the networks and request that one of their actors come pick me up. I’m sure they will arrive faster at my home, I will be given something, even if that something was a sugar pill, I will be told that everything was going to be OK, I will be placed in an ambulance without hitting the back of the vehicle, and I’m sure they will give a rats’ ass about a stupid law and will turn on the ambulance siren. All in all I will be much better off…oh, and before I forget. I was billed over one thousand dollars for all of this. It wouldn’t have cost me a dime and I would have gotten to the hospital much faster if I had decided to let my wife drive me there. But then again, I shouldn’t watch TV so much. It made me have higher expectations of the 911 system and ambulance services than I should have.

I wrote this piece on my Microsoft Surface.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Let’s celebrate the Census results today for tomorrow we will need to get ready to receive the torch.

I have been following the news regarding the census numbers for a few months now and with each article I read I sensed an increasing level of excitement emanating from our Hispanic community. The last few weeks have been especially exciting as weekly communications from the US Census Bureau kept informing us that the total number of Hispanics residing in most of the states for which data was being released was higher than previously estimated. This led to the climax: the recent information shared by the US Census Bureau informing us all that the number of US Hispanics residing in this country surpassed the 50 million mark. I cannot think of a better way to describe what the process of receiving data from the US Census Bureau little by little felt like to me than to compare it to a lottery drawing. When people buy lottery tickets they do it with the hopes of winning even though they know that the probabilities of that happening are small. In essence, they don’t quit their jobs just because they bought a lottery ticket! As each of the individual numbers are drawn, you can see the faces of those who selected the right numbers gradually changing from a slight smile to a look of surprise, to a sense of expectation, and when the last number is drawn and the winners realize that all the numbers drawn match their selections…well I have never won the lottery but I can imagine the emotional explosion, the yelling, the jumping and the dancing that ensues.
I’ve read and heard several Hispanic and multicultural experts’ comments about the Census results and they all agree on at least one thing: the fact that we should celebrate. Why? I don’t know that there is a 100% rational reason to do so but one reason may be that 50 is a nice round number or because if it was to refer to someone’s age it would have been celebrated big time. But most likely because our numeral system is a positional base 10 system under which 5 marks the midpoint…or maybe there are other mathematical, sociological, psychological, philosophical or crazy reasons why we should.
I don’t mind the celebration; in fact I encourage it. It’s good to celebrate landmark events that take place during our lifetimes. However I would like to remind my fellow Hispanics that the results are not just a reason to celebrate. The census results should also be a wake-up call for us to get ready to receive the torch that is coming our way. In essence this situation is a little like the Brazilian Carnival. Brazilians celebrate Carnival for days knowing that come Ash Wednesday they will enter a season of stern religious discipline. Maybe the example is a little too dramatic but I think it makes the point. Celebrating the census results is a great thing to do as long as we stop celebrating at some point soon and begin preparing for the real work that lies ahead of us. I hope most Hispanics, if not all, are as excited as I am about witnessing the torch being turned over to the Hispanic community and the awesome opportunity and responsibility we are inheriting to help lead the US in its journey to the future. Max Benavidez, Managing Director, Public Communications Strategies, and news analyst, points out in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post on 3/4/11 called “The #Hashtag Generation: Young Latinos and America’s Future” that young Hispanics “…by demographic default, going to be the backbone of the U.S. workforce for the next thirty to fifty years.” And William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who has analyzed most of the 2010 data, stated that Hispanics and other minorities “…will form the bulk of our labor-force growth in the next decade as they continue to disperse into larger parts of the country" as reported by MSNBC on 3/24/11. According to writer Damarys Ocana even the White House is linking the future of the US to that of our community. Ocana quoted Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans in who said “The future of this country is inextricably linked to the future of the Latino community. The census figures just cement what the President has been saying, that we can’t win the future without out-educating and out-innovating the rest of the world, and that we can’t do that without Latino kids taking part.” (See my blog dated Jan 27 called Hispanics as our nation’s builders)
These are very exciting times for us Hispanics in the US. But this is not just empty excitement. There are responsibilities attached to it. Responsibilities we shouldn’t and quite frankly can’t shy away from. We are creative problem solvers. It is in dealing with any issues, existing or new, arising from our increased responsibilities that we will make our mark in the US. We will show the world how creative we truly are as a community and as a nation. But this takes planning.
One of the most important contributing elements in any generation’s success has been the quality of its education. We are creative problem solvers but we need to know what to solve for. We need to acquire intellectual tools, tools that can become in the hands of creative problem solvers like us “tools of mass construction”. We need to peek into the future to ensure that we choose the right careers. Not just those that are right for us based on what we like doing but also careers that are going to be viable not just today but in another 30 to 50 years. It is not sufficient to ensure our community has jobs today but it is equally if not more critical that Hispanics have jobs in the future when they are in their 50’s and 60’s. I was reading "Physics of the Impossible", a book by Michio Kaku, a renowned physicist, writer and futurist and in it he stated that even when our society becomes highly dependent on robots and when they take over a sizeable number of tasks from humans there would still be certain things robots wouldn’t be able to do: they would not be able to perform jobs that required common sense, which is something that jobs that require creativity, originality, analysis, and leadership have in common. However college educated workers such as low level accountants, brokers, and tellers may lose their jobs in the future since their work is semi repetitive and involves keeping track of numbers which is something robots do well. Today a large number of Hispanics work in fields that are of the semi repetitive kind. We need to do much better in the future. We need to choose those fields where we, Hispanics, can make an important and positive contribution to society and that can be viable for decades into the future.
Things are changing fast in the US and will soon reach a critical point for Hispanics. But this is not all that is changing. The world at large is changing: the world order, global finances, sourcing of manufacturing and services, alliances, etc. But that’s alright! Rosanna Fiske (MediaShift) in her Op Ed dated 3/8/11 titled “Why Are Hispanics Missing in Leadership at Media Companies?” wrote “Hispanics aren't fond of sticking to the "way things have always been." We're living proof that change is the only constant.” Why would creative problem solvers want to stick to the way things have always been? Create problem solvers thrive working on solving issues that affects them and most likely others so a changing world is a perfect place for US Hispanics.
Max Benavidez and Fernando Torres-Gil have coined the term “Latino Imperative” to refer to the need we have not only as a community but more importantly as a country to educate our young Hispanics. In an article dated 10/07/09 for Latinos & Economic Security called “The Latino Imperative Is the Answer to Future U.S.” they wrote: “That’s why education is the key to ensuring the future economic prosperity of our nation. We call this the Latino Imperative because it’s essential to our continued status as a First World economy…Given America’s vast global responsibilities, the unrelenting requisites of national security, the strong presence of Latinos in our military and the proliferating growth of the new high tech economy, we have no choice but to ensure that Latinos are educated…If we commit to improving the education of young Latinos, we will, in fact, be making an enormous commitment to improving the future for all Americans. Simply put, Latino resiliency plus education equals U.S. prosperity for the 21st century.” To this I say “Amen!”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hispanics, multiculturalism and creativity

If someone had asked me last week to share with my readers what proof did I have to support the statement that US Hispanics are creative problem solvers my answer might have been less than reassuring for many of you. Last week I would have said that the above statement was the product of 15 years of personal observation of US Hispanics’ behavior. That is the number of years I have worked in both the US Multicultural market and in Latin America and doesn’t include the over 30 years I have lived in several Hispanic communities in various cities around the country. In all those years I have seen Hispanics solving problems creatively over and over again. I must admit that a couple of people I knew used their creative problem solving abilities for less than legal activities…but they were very creative!
However, the fact that I have being observing Hispanic behavior for so many years does not mean that I was not researching this topic all along. Last week, in order to support or debunk the theory that Hispanics are creative problem solvers, I reached out to David Livermore, President of Cultural Intelligence Center. David is an expert on the topic of cultural intelligence and has written a couple of books on this subject (David has a book called “Leading with Cultural Intelligence” and is publishing another book on the same topic in May called “The Cultural Intelligence Difference”). In essence cultural intelligence, or CQ, is defined as the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. Interestingly one of the traits of high CQ people is that they are better innovators.
From the moment Hispanics arrive in this country we, first generation and Bilingual / Bicultural Hispanics alike, are constantly negotiating between at least two cultures. I would add to the mix the fact that most Hispanics live and engage with Hispanics of other nationalities other than theirs on a regular basis due to linguistic and certain cultural similarities. This leads me to state that Hispanics in the US function effectively across national and ethnic cultures which to me is an indication that US Hispanics have a pretty high CQ. If this is true then it would also be true that US Hispanics are better innovators which would support my comments about Hispanics being creative problem solvers.
This was a great starting point but I felt I needed stronger scientific evidence in order to defend my comments about Hispanics and so I asked David Livermore if he would be able to help. David read my blog and commented that my theory resonated with him based on his personal experience but that he had not seen any study that looked at specific ethnic groups and their connection with creativity. He went on to tell me that what he had seen was a study that dealt with creativity and intercultural effectiveness which he was kind enough to forward on to me. I read the study and I found in essence what I was looking for, sort of.
The study is not ethnic group specific but the results of the study do support the fact that Hispanics in the US are creative problem solvers. The study states that “The evidence reviewed in the present article should reassure …that multicultural experience does indeed confer distinct beneficial effects on creative performance.” It also states that “…our research is the first to empirically demonstrate exposure to multiple cultures in and of itself can enhance creativity. Overall, we have found that extensiveness of multicultural experiences is positively related to both creative performance (insight learning, remote association, and idea generation) and creativity –supporting cognitive processes (retrieval of unconventional knowledge, recruitment of ideas from unfamiliar cultures for creative idea expansion).” In the absence of a study done specifically for US Hispanics I feel this study does include US Hispanics and to me its results are enough supporting evidence that Hispanics are creative problem solvers. Does it say that other immigrants are less so? Not really but I have never said that creative problem solving was a trait that could only be found in the Hispanic community. What I have said is that Hispanics are creative problem solvers and that we as a community have to leverage that trait in order to succeed and to help the US succeed in this new highly competitive world we live in. Does anyone disagree?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hispanics as our nation’s builders

I found it interesting that as we are discussing Hispanic Creativity, President Obama would choose to talk about “…out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world”. Not surprising, but certainly interesting. I also thought it was interesting that he would talk about innovation in education. He shared the fact that about ¼ of today students do not even finish high school yet in the next 10 years ½ of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree.
The reason I find this so interesting is that at the heart of it Obama’s comments address the future of Hispanics in this country. Today about 22% of kids under the age of 18 are Hispanics. This percentage is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future due to the higher percentage of Hispanics in the 5 - 12 Cohort. So roughly ¼ of all the kids that will be impacted by any changes to the current system of education are Hispanics. Also, when President Obama speaks about the failure of the current system i.e. kids not finishing high school, math and science scores below those of many other countries, etc., he is basically talking about how the system is failing our children and the future of the Hispanic community. And by failing the Hispanic community, it is failing the US.
Innovation requires creative minds. It requires that people find creative solutions not just to today’s problems but to tomorrow’s reality. And yes, I will say it once more, we Hispanics are creative problem solvers. So if we are already creative problem solvers, a new system of education that concentrates on improving our kids’ chances of becoming innovators feels to me as a system where our kids can excel. This is especially important since, as I stated on an earlier post, we Hispanics are inheriting a huge responsibility as we become a very large percentage of the labor force in this country.
When the President said “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lifes. It’s how me make our living” and “That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years. Reinvented ourselves.” I thought “Those statements certainly describe the Hispanic community.” I discussed in my first posting how when our forefathers and even some of us arrived in the US had to work doing things we never did before and we became “experts” due to what could be categorized as on the job training. Engineers became house painters, farmers became plumbers, etc. We reinvented ourselves to meet an immediate challenge and to ensure that our children had a better life. And our children are living a better life. All indicators point to a higher average income for Hispanic families than what we had in the past (those indicators have suffered due to the recession but apples to apples they are still better than before.)
So, why am I writing about this? Because I think we have a great opportunity as creative thinkers to influence what the new system of education can look like and how it can help our children excel in the world of the future; a future that starts right now. Our children cannot wait for the next generation to figure this out. We need to improve today their chances of success in a new world. A world where time frames are a lot more compressed than ever before and where waiting for tomorrow to improve something critical to our competitiveness could put our children and consequently our country behind many other countries perhaps forever.
In South Korea teachers are call “nation builders”. Only Asian wisdom could articulate such a brilliant insight! In the next 5 to 10 years US teachers will be building our nation through our Hispanic kids.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hispanic Creativity - How to get additional space for a soccer complex

Last week I was thinking about Hispanic’s creativity and on how to make the point about Hispanics being creative problem solvers in a more tangible manner. I decided that I would look around and showcase some Hispanics who are doing just that. While trying to figure out who to reach out to in order to tell his or her story I remembered a conversation I had with Tab Ramos a few months ago at an MTV3’s event in Los Angeles.
Tab Ramos is best known for his role as a former US National Soccer team player and for being the first player signed with MLS. Tab also participated in the US Olympic team and played in Spain for Real Betis and for UANL Tigres in Mexico. He retired in 2002 and was inducted to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005. But Tab is not just an accomplished athlete; he is also an entrepreneur and a caring individual interested in helping children grow as individuals and reach their maximum potential.
I reached out to Tab to pick up where we left off in LA regarding a project he was working on and got a hold of him as he was coming back from a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) convention in Baltimore.
EL – Hi Tab, Happy New Year! I hope things are well with you. I’m writing a blog about Hispanic’s and the way they go about solving problems creatively and I remembered a conversation you and I had last year about the indoor / outdoor soccer complex you were trying to build.
TR – Happy New Year to you! That’s right. That is a project I have been working on for the past 3 years.
EL – How is that coming along?
TR – It continues to move forward slowly and to some degree it has morphed a little bit from the original project due to the challenges I faced while trying to make it happen.
EL – Challenges! Great segue way. You are an entrepreneur and as such I imagine you deal with challenges every day. What kind of challenges you face on an average day?
TR – There are all kinds of challenges in running a 50,000sf multisport facility, a 22 team national development soccer academy, personally coaching one of the 22 teams, serve as assistant coach and main scout for the USA under 20 National Team and manage multiple appearances for some major companies such as Pepsi Cola and, as you know, Subway Restaurants. I also run practices for a couple of the academy teams on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 7pm to 9pm.
EL – Wow! I knew you did lots of things but never imagined you did that many. So which challenges you deem the most critical to address in your business.
TR – It runs the gamut from parental concerns for individual players in a variety of recreational sports, to facilities issues, to personnel management issues, to legal issues, and so on. The parental concern issues can be the most time consuming because they require personal interaction with each particular individual and although they are handled by each individual sport’s manager they are all reviewed by me. The facilities issues are amongst the most important. They could range from maintenance of the bar, the hockey rink, the soccer and football turf, the concession stand, the party room, meeting rooms, offices, parking, etc. On the subject of personnel management, it is very important that I have meetings with my managers to evaluate their work and their production, review the programs they have in place and introduce new ones that can produce higher revenue and higher profits. I also discuss with my management team our advertising budget and see where it has been effective and where it has not. And lastly, my other daily challenge related to personnel comes from our National Development Academy Club (NJSA 04). It has over 20 teams who travel nationally so the schedule for each team is a challenge in itself. We also card players, keep track of their progress and ensure their parents are pleased with their children’s development. I have to hire and keep track of all the coaches and program directors as well as clinic directors and keep in touch with all the major Division 1 College Programs to be able to place our players into the Universities that best fit their skills on the soccer field and in the classroom.
EL – All of that on an average day.
TR – Yes.
EL – And then you have to add your project to that list!
TR – That’s right.
EL – Can you tell us what this project is all about?
TR – Sure. For the last 3 years I have been trying to build an indoor / outdoor soccer complex. Our soccer academy (NJSA 04) has grown so much that we have completely outgrown facilities available to us.
EL – What was the challenge you had to deal with?
TR – The recession. Initially the most difficult part of the project was finding a major sponsor to help us. After speaking with many major corporations we realized that in these economic times it would be difficult to be able to find the 5 Million plus required to build what we needed.
EL – How did you go about addressing the challenge?
TR – We first approached corporations and asked them to invest $2.5M for a 50% ownership of the facility plus naming rights and sponsorship mentions in all promotional materials for 15 years. At the end of the 15 years the corporation would still own 50% of the facility and would have right of first refusal to continue owning the naming rights to the facility plus could choose to continue being a sponsor. Unfortunately due to the country’s financial situation we were not successful in finding the right investor to partner with. This forced us to look for alternative solutions to our need for additional space which lead us to modify the original concept and decided to build an outdoors facility that could be used during the winter months by covering one of the soccer fields with a bubble.
EL - Were you able to execute the concept?
TR – Not yet. We have found a 20 acre parcel of flat tree-free land that is perfect but we have spent the last year and a half negotiating with the owner and with the township as we would only buy the land contingent on getting all permits and approvals for the turf soccer fields and lights.
EL – So what is the outcome going to be? Do you think you will be able to resolve this situation any time soon?
TR – As I said we are still negotiating but in the meantime we have found another solution to the problem. One that is a medium term solution while we work on the more permanent one.
EL - So first the indoor / outdoor complex was too expensive and you were not able to find investors. This prompted you to change the original concept and it morphed into an outdoor complex that could be winterized by implementing a bubble during the cold, snowy months. Now, since the outdoor complex concept is taking some time to execute you have found a third albeit temporary solution. Is the new solution you mentioned a third concept?
TR – I think is similar to the second concept except we don’t have to build anything and is only temporary. During our meetings with the township’s Mayor, Clerk, Attorney, Director of Recreation Department, etc. we were able to negotiate taking over a 5 year lease of a 5 field complex with 3 lit fields that the township is currently struggling to support due to budget cuts. It comes with several restrictions but we believe that this lease will hold us over until we are able to get all the approvals and move forward on our 20 acre parcel of land. It also buys us more time to find the right sponsor and build the type of facility we need to host the huge number of teams we will have as well as run all the additional programs we are hoping to add.
EL – That’s awesome. Can you share what those additional programs are?
TR – Yes! We are looking at inner city programs, Special Olympics, international exchange, etc.
EL – What would you say is critical for people to do in order to address and solve problems like the ones you encountered in this project?
TR – I would say that it is very important to be extremely patient, persistent and prompt. I can’t think of anything but the “Rome was not built in a day” saying. All phases of a project can be on completely different time frames. Also people need to build good relationships with other people. The person you met briefly at the beginning of a process may be the one that eventually helps you find the solution to your problem. The 5 year lease we signed with the township originated with an idea the Mayor pitch to us. He knew how hard we had worked for the last 3 years to build something. We have been good to the township and its kids and we stand for the right things. I believe the township will be fully behind us when all the pieces are in place to take the next step.
EL – Hispanics are very much relationship driven individuals and I know firsthand that you are very much a person who likes building relationships. Would you say your upbringing has played a role in the way you approach your everyday challenges?
TR – Definitely! My upbringing plays a major role in my everyday life. For instance I always remember what my dad used to say: “Al que madruga Dios lo ayuda”. I am always very early at work! Also as you mentioned above I am very much a person who likes building relationships. I believe in people more that I believe in the power they may have. I believe that people who are smart and who care will always be successful. I always want them on my team. My parents believed that education was very important and that stayed with me. Education is always the single most important investment anyone can make and it’s with you forever. I never took my athletic ability for granted and realized that at some point it would end. My education will still be with me long after my athletic ability is gone.
When I left Tab he was planning a business trip to Nebraska. I have known him for a few of years and I can vouch for his work ethic. I’m sure he makes his dad proud! I can also say that he is not just an athlete but also a great human being who is truly interested in making a difference in the lives of the kids he trains in his multisport facility. Lastly he is a Hispanic entrepreneur who has and continues to solve problems creatively.
If anyone has any question for Tab, just post them and I will forward them to him.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hispanic's creativity will help the US succeed in the 21 Century

Hispanics are creative almost at the DNA level. Just think about what our parents and grandparents or perhaps even ourselves had to do in order to survive when first arrived in this land of opportunity. I've known Hispanics who held two and three jobs and somehow managed to keep some sort of family life. Now that requires creativity! New arrivals are mostly nimble. They are here to work and to succeed for their families. They follow work where ever it can be found. Move from city to city, from state to state. They have side businesses or perform small jobs whenever asked if they can do this or that. They may have never done that type of work before but end up "learning on the job" and do plumbing, electricity, carpentry and all sorts of things. If that is not a creative way of making a living I'm not sure what is.
But that is not the extent of how creative we are. We are not only blue collar and agricultural workers. We are also a tremendous force in just about every profession there is in this great country of ours. And as the baby boomers retire in droves, Hispanics are entering the work force in a similar fashion. Let's face it: Hispanics are going to shoulder the future growth of our country in just a few years. And as prior immigrants have done before, we are about to impress in the US our fingerprints and in the process we are going to show the world that we still are and will continue to be for the foreseeable future a creative nation. And Hispanics are going to be in the driver’s seat. Mind you, not alone, but definitely in the driver's seat.
As I mentioned above, Hispanics are going to impress in the US our fingerprints. We are going to "touch" all aspects of life and infuse them with our creative essence. In fact today Hispanics are performing incredibly well by finding solutions to problems creatively. There are Hispanics working in government trying to solve issues that will affect America for the next few decades, Hispanics are working on creating the next "big thing" in the areas of new materials, digital media, ways of learning, green living, etc. Hispanics are also creating fresh new art, solving business problems and finding new medicines and new ways to fight and win the war on Cancer, HIV, Diabetes, Heart disease, etc.
To me and many others the 21st Century is the "Hispanic Century" and I in particular don't call it so to make us feel superior to others but more as a wakeup call to all of us to realize the tremendous responsibility that lays square on our shoulders and the great expectations that all of us have as a nation, irrespective of ethnicity and race, from all of those, yes, you included, who are working to ensure that this country remains the great, creative, entrepreneurial, empowering country our fathers and grandfathers strove so hard to get to.
So let’s show the world how creative Hispanics are. Let’s create new businesses, help create new jobs, new careers, new opportunities for all.
I would love to hear from the readers what are each of you doing in the area of creativity: whether solving a great engineering issue or creating a new painting, searching for the cure of a major illness or writing the next blockbuster movie. I realize there are lots of confidentiality issues to be concerned with but you don’t have to let us know the specifics. I just want to know how are Hispanics using our “DNA level” creativity to improve the companies we work on, the US and hopefully the world at large.