Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's a rule, damn it, it doesn't have to make sense

I'm parked, with my family, in a tiny bungalow in the Los Angeles area right now. The bungalow belongs to my mother-in-law, who is in Pasadena's Huntington Memorial Hospital, awaiting either a quadruple or quintuple heart bypass operation tomorrow, as the situation dictates at the time (oh hell, why not go for six?).

Anyway, the hospital currently has unusual restrictive limits on visits by kids in place. It's not uncommon for hospitals to have some limits on minors during "RSV season" -- the time of year when kids might catch a virus that causes a cold in adults, but can be nastier in little ones. The RSV concerns often get wound up with flu season fears and result in restrictions -- like those at the Flagstaff Medical Center, near my home, confining the fresh-faced little weaklings (and potential vectors of contagion) to common areas, ground floors, and the like.

At Huntington Memorial Hospital, the restrictions (PDF) are a bit more far-reaching -- as in absolute. Taking the whole oh-so-last-summer swine flu panic and running with it, the hospital administration has apparently barred everybody's favorite beasties from anyplace to which the provider of "quality, uninterrupted healthcare" (editorial note: the word "quality" requires a modifier) can lay claim.

Today, not only was my four-year-old barred from wishing grandma the best, but he and I were then tossed out of an outdoor courtyard open to the street at either end and the sky above -- you know, a place where squirrels and pigeons shit -- while we waited for my wife. The uniformed security guard was polite enough, but he was insistent that the courtyard was hospital grounds, and children can't be anywhere on hospital grounds.

He was kind enough to suggest that we could wait outside the main entrance. Thanks anyway. We preferred a stroll through the streets of Pasadena.

Never mind that H1N1 has proved to be yet another disappointment to our neighborhood false Cassandras -- sure it's unpleasant to catch, but that's true of any flu, and lots of other bugs besides. Swine flu just hasn't been as big a threat as originally feared -- it's such a bust, epidemic-wise, that many European countries are trying to unload their wildly excessive H1N1 vaccine stocks, even though half the doses haven't even been delivered yet (buy your swine flu novelty collectibles now and watch the value soar!).

Nobody is putting in place specific swine flu-related restrictions these days -- especially not panicky ones that treat toddlers like emissaries from the Children of the Corn. The Huntington Memorial Hospital policy was clearly implemented months ago, at the height of the panic. Now that flu frenzy is passe, we're still stuck with security guards enforcing draconian policies that kick tykes to the curb.

But so it often is with rules and restrictions of any sort. Some urgent concern (often a social panic of one sort or another) seems to call for immediate response -- a really poorly thought out and wide-sweeping response, thank you. Fears subside, but the boneheaded policies remain in place months or years later, having acquired an awesome bureaucratic inertia that can overcome even irrefutable pointlessness.

As that security guard told me that, for the sake of protecting against an epidemic that fizzled, my son was persona non grata in a place where rodents run free and wind rats rule the skies, I couldn't help imagining what airports will be like, long after the fruit of the loom bomber has, himself, been forgotten.



Blogger Fred said...

Was at University of California at San Francisco Medical Center yesterday. The Oncology Dept. there is kind of a pain in the ass because patients and visitors are supposed to wear face masks and sterilize their hands before entering. I don't blame them, though, as many of the patients there are immune deficient, or suppressed. Getting the flu can be fatal for them.

There's also a sign there that says kids under 12 aren't allowed but that sign has been there long before swine flu.

My wife's doctor encouraged her to get a swine flu shot (although we wonder if we've already had that one a couple months ago) and she got one before we left.

January 5, 2010 7:10 AM  

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