I had a remicade appointment this morning. Driving through Portland to get there was eerie- barely any cars, barely any people, in a city where one of the favorite complaints of people is traffic.
I got a parking spot right in front of the clinic- most of those are usually taken by 7am, I was there at 11, in a record time, without me speeding (believe it or not). When I entered the Oregon Clinic, what struck me was the silence. Usually there are patients, caregivers and random people from the transit center next to the building, and people at the pharmacy waiting for their prescriptions.
I talked to the scheduler who checked me in, one person sitting where there are usually five. He told me that they have established a rotation system. Each of them works for one week, then they go on unemployment for one or two weeks. This is so unfair and so rough, and it confirms my conviction that the Coronavirus Crisis is exposing all of our vulnerabilities, and in this case a shitty health and social system.
The Remicade nurse too, told me, that all of the nurses are working reduced hours, and that they are not taking more than three patients (instead of five or six). While I was there both of them were on the phone trying to re-schedule patients to accommodate their needs. All other, non infusion appointments are cancelled, and barely any procedures (such as colonoscopies for example) are happening. I guess I am lucky that I am not in a flare right now. This remicade was the most quiet remicade infusion ever. No chatty nurses, no patients loudly talking on their phone- but it wasn’t a comforting silence it was a “something is seriously not right” silence. So I kept on chatting with them, and it turns out that a lot of patients, who have been laid off, now of course also lost their healthcare, or had to switch plans, with the result that insurance companies gleefully refuse to pay for infusions. I guess there’s no profit like profit made over people’s well being. In addition to trying to re-schedule patients then, a lot of the nurses and schedulers who still are working, are calling insurances or the manufacturers of medications to advocate for their patients. I overheard one staffer tell whoever was on the other end of the phone line: “if people don’t get their infusions you’ll soon have ER’s filled with people with Crohn’s in flares. And then you have to give them steroids, putting them into even higher risk groups.”
Portland, like most cities in the US have been clapping and banging on pots and making noises for healthcare workers, and I of course participated (feeling helpless enough as I am). But I’ll be extra loud from now on.