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This tiger don't burn so bright - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

This tiger don't burn so bright [Sep. 6th, 2007|01:45 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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A couple of years ago I decided to do something about my chronic low back pain. The doctor made me sit in my underwear while he did various strange things like tapping on my joints with a pair of tongs. After this went on for half an hour, he sent me off to the physical therapist.

The session with the therapist was considerably more interesting. He had a couple of apprentices standing around watching the whole thing. First he brought out some measuring tape a variety of other instruments and measured every bone in my body. Then he made me stretch all my joints and measured all the angles. Among the other things he did was to make me walk from one end of the room to the other verrry slooowly so that he could observe the posture. Everything the man did was slow and deliberate.

The examination lasted a good hour and a half. He was multi-tasking me with another patient (an 85 year old woman; he was teaching her how to walk all over again), so this involved periods where I was lying on my belly for 10-15 minutes, unattended, but with the two interns watching me.

Finally the guy comes back and announces that the trouble with my back is that one of my legs is three-eighths of an inch longer than the other.

This, of course, came as a bit of a surprise. I mean, I wasn't the kid running around in circles on the school playground. I wasn't under any delusion of being the most symmetrical guy around -- there's my trademark sarcastic smile, for instance, where I only smile on the left side of my face -- but my legs? Could it be? Nah, the crazy old coot must have measured them wrong. I did take note of the stretching exercises he prescribed me, but forgot all about the leg anomaly and the recommendation to use a heel-lift.

And so things were until this summer, when I ran into a friend who told me he'd had a very similar problem and that a heel-lift fixed it. Hmm, maybe the physical therapist dude knew what he was doing after all. So I go and buy one, and I'm about to insert it into my shoe when I realize I have no idea which shoe to put it into. No big deal, right? I called the doc's office to have them look at my records and tell me which of my legs is longer.

They wouldn't do it.

Nope, not even if I gave them my social security number and whatever else they wanted. I mean, you can pretty much empty my bank account if you know my social security number. But the length of my legs? No, that's too confidential to divulge so easily. How about calling the number they had on file for me to make sure they were talking to me and no one else? Nuh-uh, no can do. It's not like they actually care about my privacy, it's just basic cover-your-ass. But that's a topic for another post.

Anyway, they made me make another appointment. I went in today. After answering all the mandatory questions, such as asserting that I was not, in fact, a pregnant woman, having my blood pressure taken and various cavities probed and examined, and finally waiting for another half-hour, I got to see the doc. Two minutes later I found out that it's my left leg that's longer (which is weird because my left arm is a lot shorter than my right!) But I couldn't get out yet, because the doc decided that since I was there anyway, he was going to put me through the tong-tapping and other procedures all over again. At least he let me have my clothes on this time.

When I pointed out the absurdity of it all to the check-out clerk, I was told, "oh, but it's free, so why worry?" Free? FREE? The heel-lift cost three dollars at Walmart. Figuring out which shoe to put it in cost a couple hundred dollars of taxpayer money in wasted time. But we all know that all our healthcare problems can be solved by uttering the magic words free and universal, don't we?