Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dimitri's Lair

Strange though it seems, but the other night the entire weight of the concerns and fears about medical care were revealed in a small family owned off-road rural restaurant. It sits nondescript and shaded by an oak tree at the road bend. If you blink, you can miss it. I was there.

The owners are Greek, hard working, dedicated to the spirit of providing the best faire to their customers and for that they have earned a loyalty, it seems, of the many that visit them daily. More come here for their meals and a lively discussion of current affairs then in most other places. Don’t get me wrong, the food is phenomenal and the establishment super clean and sparkling with images of care and concern for the patron.

The owners are an interesting pair. The wife is a tall woman with a quick and easy smile and the husband has a perpetual frown that falls heavily on his bushy moustache. His girth belies the enjoyment he gets from his own cooked meals. Graying at the temples, he looks more like someone who should be in a pinstriped suit in Manhattan, but no, this is a quiet, intelligent man, enjoying the fruits of his toils. Their two sons help manage serving and bussing needs in their restaurant, both with the same easy smile as their mother. The restaurant is a tiny haven, a pastiche of bucolic long-ago rural countryside hospitality.

I sit down on the wooden chair next to the wall waiting for my take-out Gyros and watch the wife deftly arrange the meats, greens, onions and tomatoes on the pita bread. Nothing spectacular but oh so delicious! My mouth waters as she delicately places each element in just the right proportion before layering the surface with the home made sauce. If the aroma had calories then all patrons would be walking out as calorie filled
Humptey Dumpteys. Thankfully it only causes sprinkles of digestive juices.

“I come to this country ten years ago, to start a new life with just a few dollars and a dream.” The owner/husband now straddling the wooden chair facing the two guests at a table. He is within earshot, but his voice carries, after all this is his domain.

“You did a wonderful job, Dimitri,” the thin man with a balding head, answers.
“But look at what we got now. It is like my homeland all over again.”
“Not that bad, Dimitri?” The man’s heavy-set wife asks with concern.
“Yes this is how it started.” He muses for a moment. “The same, everyone wants something for Nothain.” He exaggerates the “nothing,” and shakes his head in disgust.

“You know Dimitri,” the woman chimes in, “You are right, look at what they are doing to our health care here.”
“That is a part of it.” Dimitri answers.

“I was at my doctors the other day, you know. Well he wanted me to have a CT scan of the chest because of a chronic cough, I have and some fuzzy stuff on the chest X-Ray that no one can figure out.” She exaggerates her cough for emphasis and without missing a beat goes on, “but then his secretary told me the other day that the insurance would not cover it.”

“Ah ha.” Dimitri is able to get an acknowledgement in.

“So my doctor, God Bless his soul, says to me, you know, Anna, we might have to code you with a higher diagnosis so you can be covered for this test.” She is now fully animated, “But wont that stay with me as a diagnosis? I asked him. No! he says, we are sending it as a suspect diagnosis.” Her face now contorted in abject alarm. “He sat and explained to me the games the insurance companies play to reduce their costs…”

“But sometime the doctors do order a lot of tests?” her male companion interjected.

“Yes, but my doctor explained all that. He said if we don’t do this test, we can continue to monitor with six monthly chest X-Rays.” Her eyes dart from Dimitri and now to me trying to engage anyone who will listen. “And a CT scan can pick up any problem earlier.”

“But now, I read somewhere, they say CT scans can cause harm, even cancer.” Dimitri professes.

“Yes, and I asked my doctor that. He said, that it is the same amount of radiation as one would get flying from the East Coast to the West Coast, or something like that.” She answered.

“So what happened?” Dimitri is inquisitive as another patron enters the restaurant and the tiny bell atop the entrance door jingles his attention.

“I finally got the CT scan two weeks ago after weeks of phone calls and letters from my doctor to my private insurance company.” Anna quietly eyes Dimitri and with the emotions of a motionless rock she says, “They found a shadow!”

“What is it?” Dimitri asks.

“My doctor says, he will need a biopsy next week, but he suspects cancer.”

“I am so sorry, Anna.” Dimitri puts his large hands on hers in sympathy. “Maybe it will turn out to be nothing. Don’t worry, half the time it can be a pneumonia or something like that.” He offers.

“I don’t think so. My doctor wants me to see a surgeon. He says that if it is cancer they can get rid of it” Anna falls silent.
Dimitri pushes back his chair, ready to leave. “That is good!”

“Imagine, if my doctor had not pursued? Just Imagine!” Anna says.
“He is a good doctor.” Dimitri answers. “But soon they will take that responsibility away from him and people over a certain age may not get any treatment for cancer at all!” he waves his hands with a finality. “It happened to my father in Greece. The government disallowed his treatment and then he had to pay a doctor from his own pocket to get the chemotherapy. Now he can’t even get the medicine anymore because the government is so deep in debt, the companies wont supply the medicienes!” His face turns red and his bushy eyebrows narrow and meet in the middle of his forehead. He becomes for that brief moment, all eyebrows, nose and a mop of salt and pepper head of hair. Dimitri pushes back, shakes his head and goes behind the counter to assist his wife.

“Sad. I say, real sad!” Anna says shaking her head. “It can’t happen here?” she asks with her eyes screwed in close together, her face contorted and a forehead lined with deep wrinkles of worry.

Or can it?

I feel a tap on my shoulder. Dimitri’s wife is standing with a plastic bag filled with stacked Styrofoam boxes in it. I must have lost a few moments somewhere. The smell inundates my senses and momentarily, I am wheeled back into my reality. I look back at Anna and our eyes meet. She smiles, a concerned half-smile and our paths diverge..

Dimitri’s wife remarks as she swipes the credit card, “Oh those two are the most negative people on this earth!”

Are they?

I exit the restaurant cajoled with the temper and tantrum of life’s vicissitudes. The insolence of every falsehood and every entrenched thought is cascading through my mind. We have succeeded in burying ourselves in all forms of despair, under every constraint and behind every discipline. While Dimitri was concerned about the entitlements and their devastating effects, Anna was angered about services expected but being denied, both frustrations finding a voice in that fraction of a quiet evening. Life has become the lockbox of anger, dissent and inaction. The past does suddenly look greener. And yet, my hope in our humanity and its resilience still remains firm. We shall overcome!

And we will!

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