Boxing Day 2021 (U.S. Style)

Dear Vermont Dude,

I hope you had a good non-believing winter festival you heathen. This morning, I thought I would drop you a quick “Boxing Day” email. We are still in the U.S. – at my father’s house in Pennsylvania.

In fact, I am sitting here, in the kitchen:

[Photo by me, Pennsylvania, December 26, 2021.]

We were supposed to return to Britain today you know. We left back on November 21 under one set of rules, but “Omicron” appeared on the planet three days later or so and our masterful governments shifted the travel goalposts on us. We left not needing a test to return to Britain, but now we do – the day before. Yep, and try to find a Covid test center that is not $300 on Christmas Day. So we ordered home kits (we are both fully vaccinated, too – which does not seem now to matter all that much) that we could do ourselves today before a video health care worker; but those tests failed to arrive on time. They were supposed to be here by the 24th AT THE LATEST; and now they will not be here until the 28th – over 5 days later than promised.

British Airways helped us out in their own way, though. Travel must be down some, so they canceled our flight (among some others). We rebooked for later in the week… and since our home test kits were PROMISED to arrive by the 28th we should be going later in the week. Stay tuned.

With our rental car returned on Christmas Eve and it not worth renting another to go back to the Catskills for only a few days, Dad said we could stay here with him, of course. (“What am I going to do, throw you out?”)

I did not tell you this beaut. My wife had a mishap cycling in Florida: she REALLY slammed her shin with a peddle. We thought it would just get better, but while the cut healed fine the lump that arose did not and she was in ongoing varying discomfort and seemed even to be feeling worse. It all began to concern me.

After flying back to New York, I tried to take her to a New York urgent care business (because that is what they are; they are not a service) on a Sunday. The helpful woman at the door greeted us: “You don’t have an appointment? You’ll have to come back at 2 o’clock.” [4 hours later.] I asked – obviously naively – in reply: “Can we make an appointment now?” She said, “No.”

So I took her to a nearby hospital emergency room. (I have to admit I have not been to a US emergency room in decades – aside from with my mother in Pennsylvania in 2015.) And I was starting to feel embarrassed because it felt like we had stepped into the healthcare stone ages. The staff were mostly pleasant enough, but the entire treatment environment felt depressingly antiquated and rough. The ER was not visibly busy (there were barely a dozen waiting room chairs and most were available), but it seemed people were being seen to so slowly they could have died of old age. The building itself could have used work, and it felt “institutional” and unwelcoming and even intimidating. It was sort of like a bad British hospital maybe 25 years ago, my wife said.

Especially on the political far right here they deride the British National Health Service (NHS) as “socialized medicine”, but from my personal experience let me tell you NHS hospitals are now SPACE AGE compared to that New York one. Similar people brag here too about this being the “greatest healthcare system in the world,” but I suspect they say that because they have never experienced one anywhere that is actually better or they are paid to declare that. Oh, and speaking of money, the bill? Over $2,000 for X-rays and an ultrasound (to check for a fracture and/or a blood clot). All was clear and she is fine – the lump will just get better on its own apparently and since then (a week ago) it has improved a lot. Fortunately, we also have travel insurance to cover most of that cost.

That is this country’s “retail healthcare” in a nutshell now. If you do not have private insurance – and lots of people here don’t – you go without or you risk going broke seeing a doctor, which is, bottom line, appalling and indefensible… yet there are people here who actually twist themselves into debating knots in trying to defend it. Forget too about the most basic “free market” argument of, uh, by the way, that if I am paying ANYONE in any other “PRIVATE” field more than $2,000 for a service or a product I would expect to be viewed as a valued CUSTOMER and treated WELL at the very least. Here in “the greatest healthcare system in the world” they charge that amount without batting an eye in a PRIVATE hospital where while waiting for treatment you sit for hours on plastic chairs in a room that does not even have a water fountain.

Oh, and the best bit? On our arrival the triage nurse asked my wife if she had any allergies. She is allergic to Ibuprofen and cannot therefore take it and pointedly said so. I watched the nurse type such information into the computer.

Four hours later, we were finally out of there. As we drove away and my wife read the doctor’s written recommendation for her treatment, she saw it included taking, uh, guess what? Ibuprofen.

Over $2,000.

“The greatest healthcare system in the world.”

Give us all strength.

Yes, yes, the novel is late. I did not make it for Christmas – I just could not finish it. That is the first time I have missed a self-imposed publication date.

You wrote in your previous message you wanted a quick summation of it. Okay, why not. I’ll go for it. You know the story builds on the previous two books, but you don’t have to read those books to read this one either. The main character is now in his 40s and feeling older and aspires to make a diplomatic mark before he ages out of it. In 1806 in the U.S. he mends fences with President Jefferson – with whom he had serious political differences. He is in madly in love with his England-born wife, but unexpected separation puts that to a severe test. Alone in France, depressed, he meets another – gasp! – woman (and I will not say more about her here). His relationship with a long-time French woman friend also takes an unexpected turn – as does an incident with one of her young maids. He patches up differences in France as well with an old political adversary. He travels the continent for U.S. diplomacy. He straddles the long war between England and France. (His brother-in-law rejoins the British army; his French sister-in-law runs the family estate in England. An old French friend serves Napoleon and wishes the British would see the folly of having a king.) Indeed, in the background there is always the French emperor Napoleon, including invading Russia. And there’s lots more, but I am not saying more here. You will just have to wait for the book! It will be out early in 2022… I promise.

I am now sitting here finishing my coffee. My wife is having a “lie in.” My father and my sister are well. We may not have wanted to stay a few extra days, but my dad is now 80 and when one reaches that age you never know what might happen. Travel has become so difficult and unpredictable, I have no idea when we might be back, so I am glad we are here longer than planned if I am honest.

[A Christmas present from my father. The Last Tycoon, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Photo by me, December 25, 2021.]

I hope things are well up in Vermont and your latest wife is well also. I want to see some pages of your next book too, or at least I want a summation like I just gave you. LOL!

All the best:

R. J.

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